Want to raise a reader? Cut down on that screen time

Published on: 07 September 2016 Author: Alison David

Author, mum and Egmont's consumer insight director Alison David says regular reading time with your child can bring so many great benefits - and a way to find the time is to crack down on screen use.

Alison David

As a parent, and a researcher, I know there are many different things we can do to encourage our children to read - most obviously (and most pleasurably, I think), read to them and share the great joy it brings.

There is one thorny thing that needs to be tackled, too. We need to limit our children's screen time. Your heart might be sinking to hear that - but to be honest it's not really that hard to achieve (although it does require some determination).

A year spent on screens

The truth is, screen time is eroding or even replacing time for other things, and that includes reading for pleasure.

It is estimated that by the age of 7, the average child born today will have spent one full year - of 24-hour days - watching recreational screen media. Why? Because it's instant fun, compelling and easy.

Spending so much time in front of a screen means children have become accustomed to immediate entertainment. This is one of the reasons that reading can hold less appeal for children today.

The ultimate reward for completing a good book is enormous, but it is not instant. It takes a while and some effort to get there. Watching YouTube or TV is passive and instant. Gaming and texting are interactive but also instant. They only really need short bursts of concentration. Reading needs sustained concentration and quiet time.

So if we want our children to read for pleasure and unlock the benefits that come with this, we must limit screen time - both to make space and time for reading, and to help our children to focus and concentrate on enjoying a good story.

How to get a reading habit

The way to tackle this is to make some family rules about screen time, carve out that regular reading time, and use it to read to your child.

Revel in the time together, the closeness and the cuddles, and watch your child get the reading habit for themselves.

Kate Alizadeh illustration

This is what I have found works:

  • Have no screens in the bedroom - reading does not stand a chance if there is a TV, computer, tablet, and/or a phone to look at...
  • Screen time is not a right, it's a privilege. Make sure your child asks before they turn on the computer or games console.
  • Agree a time limit for all screen use up front.
  • Give a 5- or 10-minute warning when their time is nearly up.
  • Use a timer of some sort for younger children, who don't yet understand the concept of time, and say the alarm will go off when their time is up.

Don't feel bad about setting rules! Remember you are making time for them to do other things and so doing your child a huge favour in the long run. Also, it helps to know that children like boundaries and like to know they have been good. You make it easy for them to be good and be praised by helping them stick to these rules.

Finding a balance

You can find a balance so that children can have both screen time and reading time.

One mum told me that her son Alfie, age 7, is an avid gamer and into playing the same games on the iPad and Wii as his friends. But he is also a very keen reader.

She told me: 'Alfie reads to relax. He reads in bed every day. We have a routine and he is not allowed to have any gaming kit or phone or TV in his room.'

It really can be done!