Thursday, January 20, 2011

Why digital Newspapers are bad for kids

Isn't it strange the things we remember as kids? I very clearly remember going to Ed's Cigar Box on Main Street in Danbury, CT to get the Sunday papers with my Dad. He'd get the New York Times, the New York Daily News and I think the Danbury News Times (or the Danbury paper was delivered on Sunday, since it was delivered every day.)

I remember their always being today's paper in the house for me to read the comics. And eventually for me to start paying attention to the other sections. I think this was a big part of why I love reading today. Pre-internet I would read anything I could get my hands on. Sometimes to put it down immediately, sometimes to read it fascinated by something I hadn't read before. In college I was one of the few people on my floor who got the Boston Globe every day (I know, I pretty much skipped the sports sections) and remember a woman on the floor asking me why I get it. And not being surprised later when she told me she hates reading.

Why the trip down memory lane? Because I think the movement away from dead-tree newspapers and magazines to digital in the home is a very bad thing.

This last weekend my now-13 year old rummaged through the Sunday paper, got the comics and sat and read all of them. She's been doing that for several years and sometimes stops to look at other parts. My 16 year old hunts out the ads and Parade also sometimes stopping to look at the other stories.

It occurred to me a few weeks ago that I don't think they would have taken time from whatever stupid TV show or Facebook game they were playing if they hadn't seen me reading all these years. When Deb and I moved to Atlanta in 1990 I subscribed to the Atlanta Journal (or Atlanta Constitution, I can't remember which was the afternoon paper before they merged). I was a subscriber until about 3 years ago when I got sick of the incredibly Liberal views and superficial reporting of events. So I started receiving the Wall Street Journal. A lot more conservative, but a lot more stories and better depth into the stories. So for their entire lives my kids have had daily newspapers and lots of magazines in the house and have seen me and Deb reading them.

So what does this have to do with digital? The WSJ has an online version and I expect an iPad version soon. Many magazines have online versions and iPad versions too.

The difference is when a child is watching their parents do something, what they see now is not them reading a newspaper or magazine that they can pick up, it is the parents on the computer. Which at first is no different than when they play a game or watch a YouTube video, so they don't see something to mimic. Or something to catch their attention.

I have pictures of my daughters sitting on the floor at various ages looking at my magazines. No way they would understand them, but at least they were doing what I did. And as they started to read, they found lots and lots of things to read 'laying around'.

Look around your house. What is to read that is just sitting around vs. something that you have to boot up to see?

Here is a case where 'do as I do' can have a very powerful change in a child's life.

Another memory I have, in fact something that still happens, is the various articles that my parents or Deb's mom would send me/her/us. Things about investing, about raising children, funny stories. I don't know how many Zits and Calvin and Hobbes cartoons my mom mailed to me in college, but it was a way for us to communicate.

Today, you get a link in an email. Or dozens of them. It isn't the one thing that Mom read and said 'Boy, I think Chris needs to know this', it is whatever joke they got forwarded, so I don't pay them as much attention. (Following in all of their footsteps, I save newspaper articles for my kids and share them. Though I do also send lots of things to them via email)

No, I'm not being a Luddite. Heck I'm anything but one at work and in my personal life, but having a PDD-NOS child who struggles with so many things that we take for granted, I am looking at how he learns more closely than I did with either of the girls.

What I see is a lot of mimicking, including looking at the pictures in my magazines or the Sunday ads. Unlike the girls he doesn't make up what he thinks the pictures are about, but he is looking at them. So I am going to make damn sure I leave things 'laying around' and being a good example to him so in hopes that one day his basic mimicking that he does today turns into recognition and maybe some day reading.

So if you are an adult with children in the house or frequent visitors (grandparents, family etc.) please think about ways to 'leave things sitting around' so the kids can see you using them and mimic you.