Raising Boys Who Read

Lately, I’m feeling like I’m floundering in the mom department. I was on top of things when my job in shaping August’s character (like, 3 months ago) was teaching him to say “thank you” and nudging him to use “please” in an appropriate way. I was feeling proud in social situations when his sweet two year old self said “thank you” to the grown up in the room, without being coerced.

 

But tonight I’m recovering from a full day (Tuesday afternoon to Wednesday afternoon) with August’s little buddy Alton staying over while his parents celebrated a night away for their anniversary. Alton and August are sweet friends and I love watching them communicate and play together. But, my son is demanding. And stubborn. And rude. So far I’ve failed to teach him that yelling, “Come play, NOW!” at his friend who is obviously far more interested in the trains than in August’s game of the moment, is not the way to be a friend.

 

As I watched August in a close-up relationship with another kid, I felt a rising bile of fear in my throat. How am I going to teach him to be kind, to share but not be a pushover? Where’s the balance between forming a leader who serves others and forming a weakling who gives every toy away? How do I encourage August’s boyishness (his constant need to jump on the bed) and still teach him how to be appropriate with furniture (especially in other people’s homes)? This is not as simple as please and thank you.

 

One thing I did love seeing was August and Alton’s shared nerdiness when it comes to books. Alton’s family is about as bookish as we are (probably more…his dad works for a super cool national Lit journal). So he and August both have tendencies toward their books. Alton’s a little edgier. His favorite book is The Man Who Lost His Head. Enough said.

 

I loved watching them tear through the bookshelves and sit by themselves looking through books, leaving a mass of book bodies lying on top of each other. I was thinking about that when I came across this article from the Wall Street Journal titled “How to Raise Boys that Read.” (Shouldn’t it be boys who read? Just saying.) The article focuses on the growing problem among boys (from all socio-economic backgrounds) who are scoring ten points behind girls in reading proficiency. The culprit? What else: electronic media.

 

My son already knows how to clear my computer screen when the screen saver arrives mid-Skype chat. He regularly hits “play” on his cd player in his room when he goes in to play with toys. And he begs to watch TV any chance he can get.

 

I’m trying to lay down the media laws, but I know this is only the beginning of a difficult and hard won battle. We’re not going to be a family without a TV. So for us it has to be about balance. How are we going to teach our kids to value a Saturday afternoon of reading on the bed over a solitary and brain numbing game on the DS?  How are we going to feed the imagination of that little boy and his love for those beautiful cardboard-paged books?

 

These are just among the many parental questions I will probably never figure out. But I’d love for you to read the article and give me your thoughts. (Even you, person with no children: Did your parents give you any tools to feed your love for reading?)

Comments

  1. CAQ says:

    Person with no children says…we weren’t really allowed to watch TV. We could watch Saturday morning cartoons and animal/nature shows. That was pretty much it for our kidhood (for the three eldest in my family). We didn’t have cable until after I left for college. We didn’t have a choice. And I have not owned a TV of my own, ever.

    Also, my Dad bought me a ton of books (probably some of them age-inappropriate–what 10 year old reads Vonnegut?). I couldn’t automatically get whatever I wanted, in general, but if there was a book I wanted? I got it. My Dad actively encouraged reading, and since I saw him reading all the time, I thought it was cool since I looked up to him. We spent a lot of time in bookstores and the library–places without TV’s.

    My youngest sister grew up with a TV in her room and has gone through about 6 laptops in the time I have managed to hang onto my second (fingers crossed) and needs to be connected at all times. To everything–she watches TV while doing homework, texting, and chatting on her laptop. It’s such a different culture–she’s 12 years younger than I am. So I think setting boundaries and making library time/bookstore time fun alternatives to other forms as media will help balance.

    I don’t really know…I am at the point where I want to get rid of my cellphone (which is not fancy–I can access the internet and a bunch of other things on it but have never wanted these things enough to figure out how) and my Netflix. I don’t think I could non-internet, though sometimes I unplug it, because all of this gets in the way of what I want to/should be doing. I’m basically a Luddite.

    I don’t know what DS is (you can laugh at me) but I assume you can save shows you and Chris want to watch for when August is sleeping? (Because you probably have nothing else to do. Joke.)

    If I am not making much sense it’s because I am tired. xoxocaq

  2. Steve says:

    Micha,

    Great post and great questions. We certainly don’t have all the answers, but a few things we’ve instituted around the Bezner home:

    1. No video games except on weekend. Exception: We are going into an important meeting/dinner and our children are in tow. We then break out the goods like meth dealers to our awaiting addicts.

    2. During Summer, if you want to earn an hour of video games or TV, then you have to do something else for an hour, namely reading and playing outside.

    3. Mondays are family nights. We eat a meal together and play a board game.

    That having been said, my kids still love technology. I suppose I do, too. I am, after all, reading and posting on a blog at the moment.

    But I still find time to read. Lots. And so does Ben (the oldest). I think Drew is headed that direction.

    As long as you guys model it, I think you’ll be fine.

    But if you find something else that works, shoot it our way.

  3. Tracy says:

    This is so supportive to me a mom of a 9 yr old daughter who loves to read and two sons 6 and 7 who beg for “potty” books and such. Just this week I won the battle over buying Diary of a Whimpy Kid for my son but it was long and I needed persistance and conviction. My son even found a write your own version of the series and tried to convince me that this was a way to make it “not in-appropriate”. He almost had me until I looked in the book and saw a fill in the blanks chapter on the “fart police”. Don’t get me wrong, I know boys will be boys and I love that but there is a balance and I just don’t want to encourage “rude”. Dad and the boys have settled into Stuart Little and are looking forward to Charlie and The Chocolate Factory. If we give in to fitting in and give up intentional for easy we may be saddended by the outcome. I often hate that I have to be so intentional and confess that I am not always but this week I was. Thanks for the encouragement!

  4. Sam says:

    First of all, don’t worry TOO much about raising a polite young man at this point. I mean, I know what you mean – I was so thrilled when Thomas started saying ‘thank you’ and it’s adorable times a thousand. Here in MS children are expected to say ‘yes sir’ and ‘no ma’am’ but he can’t quite manage that. August is TWO and the whole playing-together thing is still rare, parallel play is still happening, mostly, right?

    The funny thing I’ve noticed about Thomas’ older friends (his dearest friend is already four) is that they start to make things into a competition. Everything is a race! I can draw that better than you! I can climb faster than you can! I was a bit taken aback. Of course, Thomas doesn’t care, but I don’t know if it’s from playing sports (yes, here 3 year olds can play soccer or T-ball, which is LAUGHABLE) or just a boy thing.

    I completely understand where you’re coming from when it comes to TV/computer – as the experts say, ‘screen time’. It adds up alarmingly fast. I am constantly in front of a screen, if I am home, most of the time. I make an effort not to sit around and watch TV, but the computer…always. I don’t let Thomas play video games or computer games yet…but he is very fond of Angry Birds on my iPhone. (He also plays the toddler games.) So I guess that does count as a video game, when you think about it…but I have discussed with my husband, I want to wait as long as possible for a DS or whatever comes around next, to put off having a Wii a few years. At least with a Wii, we can all play together. I just know that video games are crazy addicting and absorbing.

    Yes! So that leaves books…thankfully, we both love to read, and I want Thomas to love reading, too. I realize that he doesn’t SEE us reading from books all that often…I tend to read after he’s asleep. His daddy likes to read from iPhone reader. But I established reading to Thomas before bed wayyyy before he cared about books and now it’s part of the routine. I feel awful when he’s too pooped for a book and we skip it. Still, he has scads of books in his room and nothing makes me happier than when he dumps them all out and sits and ‘reads’. I’ve discovered that he has more than one memorized!

    (this is a book of a comment. forgive me!)

  5. Sam says:

    First of all, don’t worry TOO much about raising a polite young man at this point. I mean, I know what you mean – I was so thrilled when Thomas started saying ‘thank you’ and it’s adorable times a thousand. Here in MS children are expected to say ‘yes sir’ and ‘no ma’am’ but he can’t quite manage that. August is TWO and the whole playing-together thing is still rare, parallel play is still happening, mostly, right?

    The funny thing I’ve noticed about Thomas’ older friends (his dearest friend is already four) is that they start to make things into a competition. Everything is a race! I can draw that better than you! I can climb faster than you can! I was a bit taken aback. Of course, Thomas doesn’t care, but I don’t know if it’s from playing sports (yes, here 3 year olds can play soccer or T-ball, which is LAUGHABLE) or just a boy thing.

    I completely understand where you’re coming from when it comes to TV/computer – as the experts say, ‘screen time’. It adds up alarmingly fast. I am constantly in front of a screen, if I am home, most of the time. I make an effort not to sit around and watch TV, but the computer…always. I don’t let Thomas play video games or computer games yet…but he is very fond of Angry Birds on my iPhone. (He also plays the toddler games.) So I guess that does count as a video game, when you think about it…but I have discussed with my husband, I want to wait as long as possible for a DS or whatever comes around next, to put off having a Wii a few years. At least with a Wii, we can all play together. I just know that video games are crazy addicting and absorbing.

    Yes! So that leaves books…thankfully, we both love to read, and I want Thomas to love reading, too. I realize that he doesn’t SEE us reading from books all that often…I tend to read after he’s asleep. His daddy likes to read from iPhone reader. But I established reading to Thomas before bed wayyyy before he cared about books and now it’s part of the routine. I feel awful when he’s too pooped for a book and we skip it. Still, he has scads of books in his room and nothing makes me happier than when he dumps them all out and sits and ‘reads’. I’ve discovered that he has more than one memorized!

    (this is a book of a comment. forgive me!)

  6. Sam says:

    You might like this blog…and Tracy, too…it often deals with ‘my kids want to read less-than-’good’-books…

    http://www.thediamondinthewindow.com/the-diamond-in-the-window/

  7. The best thing you can do is simply read to your child as much as possible. If your own life is filled with books, there is a pretty good chance, your children’s lives will be filled with books. I struggled with this same fear, especially when my first born was in K and his teacher doubted he would ever read. As a 4th grader he was reading at a 6th grade level, but more importantly, he read all the time. Why? I don’t know. He just grew up surrounded with books, and screen time was limited to an hour a day and he happened to be a boy who did not like to play out doors, so reading was it. You might have a boy who would rather play outdoors . . embrace it, love it. There are many days I wish for an outdoor boy instead of a boy who would sit and read for 2 hours on a beautiful fall Saturday afternoon. Love who your kid is. He might not enjoy books in elementary school or high school, but will he remember you loving him anyway, yes. So . . . I don’t have answers except, there is no formula. Share what you love and get to know what your kids love, you might learn something new . . .

  8. The best thing you can do is simply read to your child as much as possible. If your own life is filled with books, there is a pretty good chance, your children’s lives will be filled with books. I struggled with this same fear, especially when my first born was in K and his teacher doubted he would ever read. As a 4th grader he was reading at a 6th grade level, but more importantly, he read all the time. Why? I don’t know. He just grew up surrounded with books, and screen time was limited to an hour a day and he happened to be a boy who did not like to play out doors, so reading was it. You might have a boy who would rather play outdoors . . embrace it, love it. There are many days I wish for an outdoor boy instead of a boy who would sit and read for 2 hours on a beautiful fall Saturday afternoon. Love who your kid is. He might not enjoy books in elementary school or high school, but will he remember you loving him anyway, yes. So . . . I don’t have answers except, there is no formula. Share what you love and get to know what your kids love, you might learn something new . . .

  9. Christina says:

    Hi Micha, this is a bit tangential but reading has been the biggest topic in our house over the past 2 weeks. My sister gave me phonics curriculum and Elena and I are doing it for 15 minutes each day. I won’t get into too much detail but let me know if you want more info at some point. It’s actually been really fun and somehow isn’t stressful for me (or her)!

  10. Christina says:

    Hi Micha, this is a bit tangential but reading has been the biggest topic in our house over the past 2 weeks. My sister gave me phonics curriculum and Elena and I are doing it for 15 minutes each day. I won’t get into too much detail but let me know if you want more info at some point. It’s actually been really fun and somehow isn’t stressful for me (or her)!

  11. Lauren O'C says:

    Lots of thoughts to unpack here!

    First, reading, specifically with boys. I agree with everyone who has said: read, read, read. Read to/with your kids and let your kids see you read for pleasure. For boys, it is especially important for them to see their fathers and other men reading. And when they get older and seek content on their own, I’m of a non-restrictive mind-set, as long as you are reading it too. Boys LOVE funny books and gross out stuff is funny. (Though I draw the line at Snark/disrespectful stuff…I guess we all have our buttons :) ). The other thing to remember is that it doesn’t have to be fiction. Boys, especially, are drawn to factual information and parents should encourage/nurture that. There are studies showing how women (moms and most primary teachers) are drawn to and push narrative…which can backfire. And don’t insist on books: magazines are reading, comics are reading, etc etc. … Literacy is a personal and professional passion so I’m going to stop myself there. :)

    Television/screen time. We’ve chosen not to have any gaming systems in the home. My older son (grade school)loves ‘computer games’ at websites like national geographic and pbskids.com. But they all count toward his screen time for the day, so usually he chooses to watch a show :) he is in love with the medium and has pushed us to have more screen time in our home than i would have envisioned when pregnant years ago :)

    in general, i think the screen time vs everything-else-that-makes-a-balanced-life is the challenge of the age. it’s critical to be intentional and proactive on setting boundaries because (again as someone already mentioned) it just creeps into anything and everything.

    and lastly, I think the issues of reading/valuing learning and video games/plugged-in-culture become challenging in a new way once the kids hit school-age. we are not luddites, but it can feel very counter-cultural not to own a DS!!