Books Are Not Spinach, Kids Are Not Stupid, And Parents Should Be Parents

I really wish adults, from President Obama on down, would stop insisting that those damn kids turn off the television/video game console/computer and read a book instead. It’s not so much that I think books are bad — in fact, I think they’re pretty great — but this formulation’s an automatic loser, positing books as spinach.

When I was in elementary school, I absolutely smoked our town’s reading contest during Turn Off the TV Week (now Screen-Free Week) mostly because I didn’t grow up watching television, and had no sense that it was a satisfying experience in comparison to books. And this is what I’ve never particularly understood about parents who pretend they’re helpless to get their kids to read in the face of other distractions. If you value reading, read to your kids, and read them not just dry, lesson-oriented stuff, but the myriad exciting, compelling literature that’s written for children and young adults. If your kids are into a book series, read those books so you can talk about them with your children. The Hunger Games may not be Tolstoy, but it’s not bad! Obviously, it’s easy for television or the internet to be hypnotic, almost narcotic, but kids aren’t stupid, either: it is possible to teach a preference for good characterization and well-paced storytelling in any medium. If you think your kids are watching too much television, their consumption is something you have power over. If you’re worried about them spending too much time on the internet or playing video games, make sure they don’t have a personal computer or a console in their room. Go on vacations to places without televisions or video games and give everyone’s brain a reset. Visit a minor league baseball park, where tickets are generally inexpensive, there are people in goofy costumes, and the crowds are friendly. We are not living in the Matrix. It is possible to unplug.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go chase a bunch of parents who say they love books but have no idea how to promote reading off my lawn.