The Battle of Reading vs Screen Time

Yesterday, I presented thoughts about The Importance of Reading to Children, mostly based on The Read-Aloud Handbook. Author Jim Trelease has written a well-researched book that should encourage parents in taking the lead in their child’s education.

This book was challenging and helpful to me, but I especially learned four key principles:

  1. Adults need to set an example.
  2. Quantity over quality.
  3. Screen time is a detriment.
  4. Teach children to focus.

The first two points I covered in that post. But I wanted to save the other two for this blog, as they are issues that we especially see in Allendale. It’s not that only Allendale has these challenges, but that they just seem to be core issues that we need to address.

So, if you want to see how education is related to television, computer games, and focusing, you’ve come to the right place.

Screen Time

Is there something inherently wrong with television, computers, and video games? Absolutely not! These can be great tools for education, entertainment, and even pure relaxation.

However, my concern is the over-abundance of these technologies, which causes a range of problems. Trelease writes about the social harm, “For the introverted child (or adult), the computer offers an escape from reality, and that can lead to social dysfunction.” Along these lines, whenever we’ve done camps, we don’t allow children to pull out their Nintendo DS games. I allow them while on the bus for field trips, but it still makes me cringe a little, since they cause the child to be isolate from interactive conversation and community.

As I wrote in Constant Conversation, I see instances where a TV is on, or music is blaring, or people have their earbuds in. In these situations, community and productive conversation are not being fostered.

Most alarming is the research that shows that internet use actually changes the structure of the brain, even causing atrophy (see this post from Michael Hyatt). “New brain scan technology shows that our brains are being rewired. Heavy web users have fundamentally altered prefrontal cortexes. The brains of Internet addicts, it turns out, look like the brains of drug and alcohol addicts.”

When a child plays video games or watches television, it’s not just the effects of these activities, but what else the child can be doing. When you play video games, you are not reading a book. When you watch TV, you are not exercising outside. In a study of over 1300 children, researchers from Montreal showed a correlation between the amount of television watched as preschooler with that child’s waist size at age 10. Parents need to instill a range of healthy habits in their young children. Letting them watch TV is easy, but not beneficial.

Neither Jim Trelease, nor Michael Hyatt, nor the American Academy of Pediatrics, is proposing that we completely turn off these technologies, but that we need to moderate them. We need to set daily and weekly time limits, which includes not letting our children have a TV or computer in their bedroom. Interestingly, Trelease points out that even for first generation black families that have moved from poverty class to middle class, they have more of a likelihood of having a TV in kids’ bedrooms, as opposed to white families who do the same.

Being Able to Focus

Why read to an infant or toddler, before he can read or even understand words? Part of the reason is academic, setting the stage for future educational growth. After all, we all learn by being exposed to new words and concepts.

Part of the reason is social. When your child sits in your lap or in your arms as you read, she learns to associate books with pleasurable feelings. And the time you spend together strengthens your bond.

Another important reason has to do with character, especially the ability to focus. No one is denying that ADHD is a growing phenomenon in our culture. And while some of these cases may be of uncontrollable causes, much research shows that ADHD in older children can be traced to them not being trained to focus when they are younger.

Much of this inability to focus is connected with television. For example:

  • A group from Seattle has shown the short-term effects of television viewing, as it relates to ADHD. Trelease summarizes the paper, “For each hour of daily TV viewed by the child before age three, the risk of ADHD by age 7 increased by 10 percent.”
  • In 2005, another group from New Zealand showed that the more television a child watched through adolescence, the less likely he would be to earn a bachelor’s degree by age 26.

Especially in an area like Allendale, where we need urgency in improving the education that we are giving our children, we need parents and families to realize the dangers of media over-saturation, and the need to train our children in the ability to focus.

It’s not just that our children are entering kindergarten unable to read or count, but that by being unable to sit still, they are not prepared to learn. After all, having preschool children who can pay attention is a better indicator for college success than early math and reading.

Related Link:

**image courtesy of nevit via


Tags: , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: