Using Screen Time For Good

My 7-year-old is a reluctant reader.  Truth be told, he is a reluctant almost everything good for him.  This has frustrated me to no end and is essentially the reason why I decided to homeschool him.  With most things, he has good and bad days.  Though with reading he hasn’t budged on.

I have never, in his seven years, seen him pick up a book voluntarily and just read.  When I want him to read I have to be there beside him, and even then he refuses. Finally, he succumbs to a compromise of reading a page each, usually insisting on reading the ones with more picture and less text.

This is contrary to anything I’ve ever experienced.  I have always loved reading and can’t imagine a life without books.  I spent countless hours as a child with my head in a book, imagining make-believe places, sharing in the excitement and fears of the characters, and always wishing it was me going on the adventures.

Likewise, his three older siblings have also loved reading. My second, in particular, was practically born obsessed with books.  As a toddler, she would walk about the house carrying books with her everywhere.  At the age of three, she would pile up a stack of books so high on her bedside table that I would have to remove them each night, worried it would collapse and fall on her head as she slept.  Unfortunately, though, my seven-year-old appears to have taken his lead from his older brother, who at some point discovered that reading wasn’t considered cool by his peers and by the time master seven was old enough to notice, his older brother had long given up on books.

I have tried everything to pique his interest. I have started off books with him, hoping once his interest was sparked that he would continue on his own.  The first half of the plan would work, he would become absorbed, asking for more. Unfortunately, however, his laziness would overpower his interest, having to actually read himself was just not worth the effort. I’ve taken him to libraries and tried buying him books on topics or characters he is interested in, he just begs for me to read it for him.  In desperation I even went on a homeschooling page on Facebook asking for advice, I was actually shot down by some who thought I shouldn’t be forcing my values on him and that I should just let him be.  Ummm thanks, but no thanks.

Then the other day when complaining about the situation to my husband, he turned to me and said: “You need to understand that these days books are competing with other things that we didn’t have growing up, they are more interested in their devices.”

Like most children these days, master 7 loves his screen time.  He becomes obsessed, to the point where I have pretty much banned and confiscated everything he had access to.  It was after this remark by my husband that I realised that this technology obsessed boy was never going to willingly chose to read a book over his devices.  And even if he doesn’t have access to them, it’s that kind of stimulation that he is after – the instant gratification, not the long toil.  I realised that the mistake I was making is that I was setting up books against technology and books could never win.   I decided then and there that I had to find a solution that made screen time work for us, not against us.

What I decided to do is set some pretty strict guidelines where he can earn time on the computer.  Firstly, in order to qualify for computer usage, he needs to complete all his homeschooling requirements for the day.  Then once he qualifies he can earn time on the computer by either using educational games (both online or otherwise) and reading.  So far it is working great.  And the beauty of the system is that by the time he finishes all his work and then goes on to earn credit, he really doesn’t have that much time to use his screen time anyhow!

I can’t say it’s not without its hiccups.  Today he tried to blackmail one hour out of me so that he would hold onto his rubbish instead from throwing it on the road like he wanted to.  He is also earning too much credit too quickly so it seems that I may need to tweak the credit system a little. However, on the whole, it’s working like a charm and for somebody who has always avoided work like the plague and refused to read on his own for his entire life, it’s wonderful to see him so motivated.

As an added bonus I have a new discipline strategy under my sleeve.  If he ignores my requests as he has a habit of doing when I’m unable to follow up (eg, annoying his sister in the car when I’m driving) all I have to do is tell him that if he continues I’m taking an hour off his accrued time and its pretty much instant obedience from there.

Will it last? I can’t say for sure, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction. For now, I’m just savouring the simple pleasure of seeing him read in bed before sleep and praying that during this time he finds the magic that can be found in books and he can love reading as much as I did when I was a child – as much as I do now.