We teachers think long and hard about what we say to you about your kids. We spend days — weeks even — trying to figure out how to say that difficult thing that needs to be said, because we know that talking about other people’s children is always a sensitive matter. We’re not trying to tell you how to raise them and we’re not judging you.
With that being said, there is something I’d like to tell you on behalf of your child’s teacher.
Earlier this year the mother of one of my 13 year-old students told me she wanted to talk because she was very worried about her son. She never saw him reading books at home; he only ever seemed interested in his phone and watching Netflix. She and I met for about 40 minutes in which she voiced her concerns and I mostly listened.
This example is illustrative of what I see year after year. Plenty of parents are worried about phone and Internet addiction. I get it, because a connected phone is compelling. The Internet is easy and entertaining. Even we as adults have trouble resisting the temptation to veg out on our favourite app.
But I think I have a surprisingly easy solution to this problem.
The easiest way to get your kids to put down the cell phone/turn off Netflix/ read something other than Houseparty messages, is to make them. Force them. Obligate them.
I’m not a parent and don’t pretend to know what’s best for your child, but I am a teacher. And what I know as a teacher is that my students read in class because I make them.
In my class, those same students who don’t read at home read for 40 minutes at a time. I set the expectation and we practice routines. Of course, none of this happens without complaints, at first. But once the students see that this is a challenge I want them to meet, and that it isn’t up for negotiation, they read — sometimes even getting completely lost in a story and requesting more time.
I let students choose what they want to read because I don’t want it to be torture. It helps if the caregivers are readers and there is a culture of reading and loving books at home, but that isn’t essential — practice, however, is.
I know not everyone is going to fall in love with reading, but I think we can all agree that reading is a necessary skill — perhaps the most fundamental life skill there is. I tell my students that I don’t need them to love it, but they need to be able to do it, and I don’t want them to shy away from it due to fear or difficulty.
If you were waiting for permission, here it is: In the same way that you make your kids brush their teeth, eat their veggies, and go to bed at a reasonable time, you can make them read. At the very least, you can put limits on their use of the devices you are paying for. This is totally reasonable and it will not make for a miserable childhood about which your child will write a book one day.
I don’t know that I believe in this idea that “children want you to give them boundaries,” but I do believe that children need boundaries. And while they learn what they want, what best serves them, and how to do things they don’t feel like doing, it’s up to us to help them figure it all out.