Saturdays With Shivani- Be Mindful Of Your Child’s Reading

Last week when I was writing an article about online libraries in India, I got to speak to some of the individuals who are running them on their own steam. The experience was thoroughly enjoyable and it was refreshing to hear from them that their reader base has been expanding since inception. COVID was a challenge but due to the restrictions, children ended up upgrading their skills and more joined their ilk.

In the writer circles that I now move in, I often hear the lament that we are a country of writers and not readers. Hearing their stories left me with a deep sense of gratitude because these women were out to change that— converting one child at a time and turning them into lifelong readers. When I mentioned this, some of them said that once the children reach teenage, their interests start changing and academics take precedence.

Though I have no data to support this but I think the attrition rate in readership is maximum in the age group of 13–18-year-olds, an age where they are exploring possibilities, discovering themselves and the world around them, trying to fit in and form opinions. Ironically, when they need it the most is when they are walking away from reading. Once they do, what are the chances of their coming back to reading? No one knows.

When it comes to toddlers, there’s a growing awareness among parents to expose them to books. When little children move upwards in their phonics reader levels, I see the happiness in their parents’ eyes but when it comes to teenagers most of us are seen shaking our heads. We can’t put everything on the ‘raging hormones’ (I hate that phrase).

Part of the problem is the ever-increasing load of academics. Report cards and career start taking precedence and reading gets relegated to the category of ‘extra- curricular’ activities, something that you might do if you find time and this attitude is often endorsed by parents. Reading outside the textbooks may not be ‘curricular’ but can we atleast upgrade it to ‘co-curricular’?

This is a crucial age when children are curious about their surroundings and an ideal age to introduce sensitive topics like gender equality, sexuality and orientation, politics, religion; an age when their opinions are shaping and taking root. This is the time when we need to be mindful of exposing them to wholesome reading material that helps them see things from different perspectives.

The other issue is the generation gap and the changing tastes that it brings in its offing. As parents we need to be less judgmental and allow them to explore different genres before they settle in their niche. Suggestions essentially have to be there but delicately delivered.

Before I start repeating myself, I think all I am trying to say is that be it a toddler or a teenager, we need to be mindful of exposing our children to books and reading and encourage them in making their own choices; the operative word being ‘mindful’. With toddlers, maybe it’s simpler but then teenage was never meant to be easy, neither on the child nor on the parents.

Dr. Shivani Salil

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