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Are TV, Computer Games and Social Websites Preventing our Children Discovering the Joy of Reading?

Article by Auriel Blanche


Thursday, March 31, 2016

A young toddler reading a book at a table in the living room

Picture credit: Stephen Andrews of Unsplash

Many parents, educationalists and politicians are seriously concerned with the lack of reading skills and literacy in today’s children and young people.  Devotion to TV and computer games means a lack of personal interaction, damage to eye sight, little personal socialization and a lack of one-to-one and group communication. A generation of illiterate children will have a disastrous effect on our social fabric and the economic success of the country.

The government have expressed their concerns with the lack of reading skills for today’s children. In 2007 the Guardian reported that Children in England read less outside school and the performance of bright youngsters has dropped since 2001, according to an international research report published in 2007. Only 33% of children in England and Scotland read for pleasure, compared with the international average of 40%. There is a strong link between this and their achievement in Pirls tests.” The then Shadow Education Secretary Michael Gove said: "Despite the success of books like Harry Potter, there is still a worryingly large group of our young people who have absolutely no interest in reading. …. We have to ensure that youngsters can not only read and write but that schools and parents breathe enjoyment back into what otherwise can be a rigid programme of learning."

To reinforce the importance of reading, London Mayor Boris Johnson and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg joined forces to issue a call to parents in London in June 2011 asking them to devote more time to reading with their children. They stressed the seriousness of the situation claiming that“ One in three children do not own a book and in parts of London one in three 11-year-olds cannot read properly.”

Boris Johnson in the same report said "Illiteracy severely limits life choices, closing doors on further education and career aspirations, and it also impacts on the capital's economy, starving business of the skilled workforce it needs”

Most people can appreciate the positive aspects of TV, computers and social networking, but it is important to moderate this and set time aside for pleasure reading.   Television has many positives for children as they can help develop their imaginations and learn new things. Reading has the same stimulus effect without staring at a screen.   Previous studies have raised concerns that watching too much television can affect children's behaviour in later life. In May 2010, a study of 1,300 children by Linda Pagani at the University of Montreal found that those who watched most TV as toddlers performed worse at school and consumed more junk food.

Everything in moderation is fine as long as reading and social interaction is also provided. Reading provides education in language and literature, plus the confidence for social interaction, personal interaction and communication.  “UK children watch an average of more than two and a half hours of television a day and spend an hour and 50 minutes online a day, a poll suggests.”   When a child gets home from school, has dinner and a bath, they only have a finite amount of time. Are our children only watching TV and going on the internet? “These figures suggest the 12 million under 16s in the UK watched 23 million hours of TV a day and 62% have a television in their own room.” 

 This all adds to the concerns regarding social connection and engagement with people. The internet is a major part of our lives now, and most young people connect via the internet - this allows global connection and can be a great source of information.  Computer games can be great for fun, good for reflexes and relaxation, but a balance between these media types with book reading is paramount for educating our children. To benefit fully from the positives of the internet – such as information at their fingertips - children need to be able to read and comprehend. We must emphasise the importance of reading before buying computers and offering internet access and gaming to children. “A survey of 2,445 children aged five to 16 by Child Wise found almost two in three have their own computer (62%).”  

Having access to television and computers is fine so long as children’s viewing is monitored. The main concern is the time they spend on it and what they are viewing. For the same survey: “.. nearly half have internet access in their own room (46%). The poll suggests two thirds (65%) of children go online most days and collectively children in the UK spent 13 million hours on websites every day.”  During this time the children are often alone, without social interaction and not necessarily learning. Social networking sites such as Facebook and Bebo are a phenomenon and a great asset for businesses and individuals to connect with the masses. Do children really benefit from this? Or is it a popular culture issue? A survey of 2,445 children aged five to 16 by Child Wise found that “A third (36%) of seven to 10-year olds visited Facebook in the week before the survey was conducted. F

or 11 and 12-year-olds this rose to 71% of and to 85% for 13 to 16-year-olds.” Children do need to interact and socialise with their peers, as communication and development are all connected with personal development, self-acceptance and respect for others. Perhaps Facebook and other social websites can help with this. Some might argue that with Facebook reading is included. But surely a group or class activity/hobby including face to face communication, exercise and imagination is more appropriate – and more fun? A book club, or book workshop would be perfect, meeting socialization, education, imagination and creative elements and all the needs for a healthy, well-educated child. Looking at the effects of modern media on our children and their development it is clear there are some  arguments against the media (social websites, internet, TV etc).

We can’t escape the fact that they are all in popular culture and children will seek to be involved in popular culture. Why don’t we also strive to bring back the joy of reading, and make sure that is one more avenue open to our children?  With the advent of iPads and iPods, Kindle and e-books, reading is keeping pace with modern technology and can be an equal – and prized – part of popular culture. Auriel Blanche – Creator of the Magic Sunglasses Programme –