Among the many hats that I wear, I am the proud parent of an extremely creative little boy. Some time ago I got him a Wii for Christmas, but the motor wore out so he was game-less for quite a while – unless he went to his friend’s house.
After observing my son in both states – gaming vs. not-gaming – I have come to accept this as part of the culture we live in now. For his birthday he was given a handheld game system so that he could play while waiting for me to get done with certain necessities (like work).
And then his father got him a PS3 and, to be honest, my son uses it more for Netflix than anything else. I would balk at this but he chooses British shows far more often than I expected (thank you Doctor Who and the like) so I feel like I’m not having to regulate everything he’s doing.
However … Netflix is not a good book. And games are not good books.
Plainly – visual media is not a good book that really allows you to grow by digging into to the mindset of another person and walking in their shoes for a while. It’s a proven fact that people who read are far more empathetic to the world around them than people who don’t.
Reading fiction is, to be frank, not just about learning character tropes and getting a larger vocabulary. You’ll get those things, of course, but the larger and more profound effect reading has on us is a deep connection to humanity.
Yes, the characters are made up.
But the reactions – if they’ve been done right – are utterly true. Sometimes the settings are fake, but the human nature on the page is not. And reading about them helps us to understand both ourselves and the world around us.
How then do we find the balancing point between allowing our kids to enjoy the visual media prominent in our culture and the clearly necessary act of reading?
My son recently grumped about having to shut the game off and sit for his designated reading time and, as any writer-parent should be, I was quite alarmed. But I couldn’t take away his game system and make reading a punishment, that would be counter-productive.
My solution was a trifle unorthodox, I’m sure. And anyone who is a parent but not also a writer would find it difficult to do, but I’ll share it anyway.
I began to write a classic fairy-tale story for my son. And I told him about it.
This, of course, has meant quite a lot of work on my part because it means I need to have written every single day. Because every day, at the end of his reading hour (or sometimes at the beginning) we read the progress of the story together.
Sometimes he reads it from the beginning, out loud, to me. Other times he just wants me to read it (I apparently make a good wolf-voice.) And at the end he is always speculating about what he thinks is going to happen in this tale. He engages and asks questions about the main character and is, as far as I can tell, deeply interested.
When it’s finished I’ll likely publish it as a stand-alone novella, though I admit that is mostly so that he can hold it in his hands as an actual book instead of a spiral notepad.
Will this make a life-long reader out of my son?
No. Not just one book. It can never be just one book that does it. But it’s a start.