Original from CNN.
And now, my new and improved verison:
I was visiting my nephews, again. Within seconds of seeing me fiddle with my Kindle, my older nephew, Jack, who is 8, asked me, again, if my Kindle had any books on it.
“Uh, no, sorry Jack,” was my reply, letting a white lie skip through my teeth. I knew his mother and father might be none too pleased to see the two of us hunched over the tiny screen reading “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” or “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.”
What his parents are doing is difficult. They’ve chosen to keep Jack book-free for as long as possible. Of course, Jack has gotten a taste of books. He gets to read on special occasions, and will probably read at friends’ houses where the rules are different.
I suspect his parents will persist until they can’t hold out any longer, until peer pressure from schoolmates, combined with the reality that kids of Jack’s generation will be inexorably bound to printing technology like none before them, forces them to relent.
Perhaps it’s a lost cause. Still, key questions can be raised here, and they are good ones to consider. What is the appropriate age to let kids loose in the paperback playscape? Are books OK for 8-year-olds? Seven-year-olds? Six? How young is too young?
Some books are appropriate for certain age groups and some books aren’t; obviously, no one is allowing their 5-year-old to read “The Lord of the Flies.” (Jeezum, let’s hope.)
I’m no expert, but I’ve been reading up on some of the research. For one, the trend is that each year, younger and younger kids are experiencing page time.
This article references a study saying that since 2005, “the average age that U.S. youngsters started to use printed materials had fallen from just over 8 to just over 6 1/2.”
Educational psychologist and author Jane Healy recently wrote: “My position is that children are better off without books before the age of 7. By age 7, their brains have undergone a great deal of maturation and the basics should be in there. They can start to expand the type of thinking they can do so they can actually start to get something worthwhile using good literature, for example, good travel guides.”
To my mind, the issue goes beyond the debatable ill-effects of book violence — which I debunk in this op-ed, suggesting that book violence can be a good thing.
To me, the issue isn’t about fears that books instill violent behavior, but rather that books are usurping the power of more conventional toys. There may be merits to shielding boys and girls like Jack from their vellum futures, at least temporarily, if kids can first learn to amuse themselves without automatically reaching for a bound sheaf.
The truck, the toy sword, the soccer ball, the sandbox, the board game, the pad of paper, the videogame: All can be as magical and entrancing as anything a publishing house can cook up. Perhaps this is the rule of thumb: Once a love of digital play is instilled in young minds and habits, then let kids run free through the wild world of words.
Obviously there are no definitive answers. These are questions that have been discussed on Wired.com before. But I hope this space can continue to provide an excellent forum to discuss the issues. I’m curious to hear your viewpoints. Please comment below.
And, next time I see my nephew Jack, I’ll have a better idea of how to counter his whining — sweet whining, but whining nonetheless.