According to an article yesterday in the UK’s DailyMail, declining attention spans in children are doing away with bedtime reading in some homes.
Technology is destroying the ability of children to concentrate for any length of time. This shouldn’t be a surprise to any of us. I sat in a doctor’s waiting room alone where the TV set had been left on. Some cartoon channel was on, top volume. There is no other way to describe it but as an aural and visual assault. The scene changes were so fast I do not know how any child could even keep up with the nonsense going on. Screaming, pounding music, bizarrely drawn cartoon characters. It looked like something Franz Kafka would have come up with for television.
Attention span? None required. That is not to mention the iPhone use, the tablets for tots, TV, the DVD’s and YouTube videos. Kids are pointing and clicking and touch-screening their way into a digital hell where no thought is allowed to linger for more than a second.
I despise what this is doing to children. According to several published studies, it is changing the actual wiring of their brains. How do you undo this damage once it occurs?
I was blessed to be raised with a mother who valued books. She read to us from the time we were small. There was no TV in the house when we were little. Any ability I have to concentrate was fostered in those early years of story time and discussion about what we had read. We didn’t read trash, either. The classic children’s stories beginning with books like The Little Engine that Could opened up not only language, but character concepts like perseverance, kindness, empathy, and so forth.
Reading to children has to begin early. Having watched all six of my children, two of which came from orphanages in Eastern Europe, I can say that if a child is not read to early, a window will close in their minds. Our daughter from a Romanian orphanage came as a toddler, and she loved nothing more than sitting in her jammies with her brother William, one on each side of me, as we read and read and read. The pictures stimulated her mind, and her new language, English, was developed through hearing it. I believe that reading time together each night helped her tremendously to adapt to English. She did so well that she learned to read at age 5 on the exact same track as our biological son, William.
It’s a commitment to read. Years later, I am reading to our little 3-year-old daughter the same classic children’s books all over again.. We are currently reading the series of Edith and Little Bear books. She adores these stories. Dare Wright, a photographer, took a doll and 2 stuffed bears and posed them doing all kinds of things, and then wrote stories around those beautiful black and white photos. Edith and Little Bear have all kinds of adventures. The stories teach forgiveness, consequences for not obeying, kindness and many other things in the context of the stories. Published in the late 50′s and early 60′s, they are great books for little ones! Many libraries still have them. I bought some used copies online in case they go out of print.
Some nights I am nearly too tired to read at all. But having Emmy’s sweet-scented head under my chin as she eagerly turns the page is such a precious time that I make every effort to do so.
Our Bible stories are the most important. Emily is learning foundational things about God. Her Aunt Marilyn gave her a Bible story book from Concordia Publishing with gorgeous illustrations. We are really just beginning the greatest story ever told, the story of God’s love for us. Reading time is also a teaching time. I can’t afford to miss that with our little girl.
I don’t intend to buy technology any time soon for Emily Frances. I don’t care about computer tablets and such for her. She will use technology fast enough. As Will said, the more advanced technology gets, the more user friendly and easier it becomes to learn. She will pick up what she needs later, just as William and Mary have done. For now, she is developing the priceless ability to think deeply. She needs to be able to appraise the worth of ideas. She needs an imagination. She needs internal quiet to grow emotionally and spiritually. Reading time each night, I believe, is a crucial part of making that happen.