Tag Archives: parenting

Bedtime stories: How long till I’m ‘sacked’?

Some parents struggle with ‘story time’. It can be hard to fit it in with all the other demands modern parents have on their time.

All the same, my family and I have somehow managed to squeeze ‘story time’ into our routine from the very beginning.

I really mean the very beginning; on Logan’s first night home from the hospital I sat beside his cot and read The Lion the With and the Wardrobe. (And yes, I knew he didn’t understand. It was just nice to have an excuse to spend some time with the new little person in our house).

Why we continue night after night

Since then we’ve barely missed a night. Maybe the routine has been easier to maintain because we started so early (and I genuinely don’t know how we managed to fit it in alongside nappies, feeding times, and utter, bone-crumbling, exhaustion). Maybe we’ve just been lucky to have to free time in the evenings to read a story together.

Reading to my kids is one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve shared with them. We’ve gone on a lot of adventures together, each longer and more complex than the last.

However, there’s no escaping the fact that my kids are getting older. They’re both avid independent readers now and, to be honest, I’m not sure how much longer I’ve got till I’m ‘sacked’ as a Storyteller.

New adventures

We don’t really call it ‘story time’ any more but we still keep up the tradition. Our nights used to consist of a quick visit to the ‘deep dark wood’ with the Gruffalo, an adventure with the ‘Night Pirates’, or dropping in for some hunny with Winnie the Pooh.

Now, we’re adventuring with Harry Potter, ‘The Wee Free Men’, or more recently following high tech shenanigans with Artemis Fowl. We’ve enjoyed a seasonal adventure with the Christmasaurus and visited a very odd spaceship alongside ‘Cakes in Space’.

These stories are deeper than their old picture books (even the wacky ones). It has changed our evenings a bit. Now we might discuss tricky topics and my kids can ask about some pretty grown-up concepts but it’s easy(ish) as it all comes from the comfort of a fictional universe.

A parenting tool like no other

This is the tricky bit for me, if reading were simply an entertaining thing that myself and my kids enjoy together, then I could step back and let them enjoy it themselves. However, it has always had a discussion component too.

Years ago we would ask about whether Winnie the Pooh was being selfish by eating all of Rabbit’s honey, or we might talk about fear and what it means to be brave while reading the Gruffalo’s child. Because you’re reading, you can slow down, you can stop for a moment and go over story points. It’s not the same as watching TV or a movie.

The more nuanced books we read now let me check in with my children in a casual way. Topics in the book can be compared to their school or home life to see if there’s anything troubling them, or even simply something that they don’t understand.

Learning big life lessons in a fictional universe

This is what’s so hard about letting go of story-time now; at precisely the moment when discussions like these are of growing importance, my children are pulling back on family reading time in favour of reading by themselves.

There’s so much good for them to get from reading alone, I can’t deny them that, but I also feel the increased need for this distinctive form of family time.

I know the time will come (and soon) when I really will have to step back, but for now I’m going to try to hold on tight to what has been one of the most useful parenting tools I have ever had access to.

A tool to communicate? What do you use?

I can’t help but wonder how many other parents might be feeling this tug. Losing a tool for parenting that has few rivals.

To use a programming expression, I have always found fictional worlds to work as ‘sandbox’ worlds; places where you can experiment with ideas with no real-world risk. It’s imaginary so the (real-life) stakes are low, but you can still encounter complex social and moral problems.

Are any other parents missing the loss of their ‘sandbox’?

Do parents of older children have any insight on what can take the place of reading together?

Let me know in the comments below, and as always, thanks for reading,

All the best, John

Books are bad for you!

The primary criticism we hear about technological entertainment is that it is ‘anti-social’. I’ve also heard people insist that it makes people ‘less creative’.

When it comes to parenting advice it’s hard to ignore the growing idea that ‘Technology is BAD!’.

We seem to have a very different view when it comes to reading. It’s not a screen, it’s a ‘traditional’ form of entertainment, and it has a well-recognised link to creative and critical thought. All good, wholesome stuff, surely?

I’m not going to trawl the data running pros against cons. Instead I’ll share a very odd encounter I had with my wife’s grandmother. It was a few months ago and both my sons were fully absorbed in activities on separate hand-held devices. I felt the familiar squeamish sense that most modern parents probably feel; my children were ignoring guests in favour of their tech!

I was about to take their devises away when their great-grandmother looked at them with a smile: “It’s just lovely to see them like that.”

“Books are bad for you.”

It threw me into a sharp mental u-turn. She explained that as a child she was often criticised for her love of reading as it was ‘anti-social’. For some it was even seen as a waste of time, many told her that she should be doing something more ‘productive’. In short, she was told ‘Books are bad for you’. She looked at my sons’ use of tech as being equally beneficial to her childhood reading.

Penguin books began in 1935 and with the help of Woolworths, it pushed the notion of mass-market paperbacks into the public consciousness. It’s hard to speculate what the overall opinion of this new influx of books would have been even decades later but I imagine it would still be quite a new thing to see children in all walks of life sitting reading.

Computer games have been around since the seventies but the hand-held game didn’t appear in the mass market until I was a child (the late 80s early 90s). Even then it was only my ‘rich’ friends who had one. They were still a luxury and by no means ubiquitous.

Since then hand-held devices have grown cheaper and more accessible. Their capacities have grown more diverse as well, as they come to serve an increasingly social and educational role (Gameboys didn’t let you chat to your friends after dinner, and to the best of my knowledge Mario never helped any of my friends with their homework). This sort of tech has a lot going for it.

Even the gaming itself has come to offer more depth, with more demands on critical thought, and on creative energies. Should we be so quick to condemn these glowing rectangles that now permeate our lives?

Where’s the harm?

There’s clear evidence that the actual light generated by screens can have a detrimental effect on sleep patterns, but at the end of the day doesn’t all artificial light? Gaming is also known to increase serotonin levels to a degree that can trigger addictive behaviours. This isn’t good and I’m sure I see a degree of this in my own children, but the same jittery, manic effect can be achieved with a big bag of sweets sneaked in by Granny.

I’m not going to say screens are perfect (and as an author I obviously have a vested interest in getting people to read books) but I can’t help but wonder if we’re vilifying the tech rather than turning the lens on ourselves as parents.

At the end of the day my own interest in my facebook/twitter feed, my blog reader stats, or even my work e-mails, will have its own (fairly large) part to play in any detrimental technological experiences that my children have.

It’s not the zombie in their game that will do them the most harm, it’s the zombie on the couch beside them. He doesn’t demand ‘brains’ but instead insists ‘I can’t just now, I have to answer this e-mail’. It is here that technology does the most harm to a child’s development, and the solution is blindingly simple (though it will make most of us uncomfortable to admit it).

Does my out-of-hours attention to my e-mails etc. mean my kids will grow up thinking that they should never have ‘down-time’? Does my own interest in social media make it look like ‘likes’, ‘followers’, and ‘shares’ are of equal importance to real-world feedback? Tech isn’t to blame for this, it’s me. Tech isn’t bad, books aren’t bad, it’s the lack of family engagement and shared interests that does the most harm.

I’m off to read with my kids now. If you’d like to do the same feel free to grab a copy of my book Jack Reusen and the Fey Flame, a fantastical family adventure with were-polar-bears, magical fairgrounds, odd little men who kick heads first and ask questions later, and (of course) a world hidden just behind our own; a world called Fey.

As always, thanks for reading, if you have anything you’d like to share about this post feel free to pop something in the comments section below or over on my facebook or twitter profiles (and yes I do see the irony, given what I’ve just said about screens and social media).

All the best, John