The ultimate goal of literacy education is developing children’s love of books and reading. That’s because such love will manifest in patterns of lifelong learning via daily joyful reading of self-selected books and other media.
But it’s not just having the books and media that will make a child a lifelong reader and learner. It’s the thoughtful sharing of those books in conversation with more accomplished readers that adds depth and spurs new explorations in a child’s reading life.
Reading is a wonderfully solitary pleasure. We all read alone, and that’s good. However, these days, children are at risk of encountering materials they are not prepared to handle. That unwanted input can come out of nowhere.
The knee-jerk impulse to use digital parental controls is a natural impulse, but sadly, utterly inadequate to do what needs to be done. Parental controls have always been a crutch rather than a cure, not because those barriers to unwanted material don’t keep children safe in the moment. The problem is that without an adult or older sibling to guide children in handling objectionable materials, kids will still not know what to do when they inevitably encounter them while alone.
The first job of parenting and teaching is to prepare children for handing themselves when older family members and other well-meaning adults can’t be there to hold their hands and help them process something troubling or confusing.
When parents begin to anticipate the need to put filters and such on book selections and digital devices then that is the best time to begin planning to sit down with their children and have frank discussions about what to do when such encounters happen…and they will. With no preparation, those little and sometimes big talks about what feels dangerous can be experienced as upset rather than growth opportunity.
Adults understand the pitfalls that await children, but adults are often more uncomfortable than the kids are about discussing touchy and taboo topics. However, critical subjects like racism, bigotry, human predators, violence and the vulnerabilities of personal intimacy, deleted via clamping on parental controls can leave children completely unprotected when alone out in the world.
Absent sufficient time spent in preparing children on where to turn in these circumstances, naturally curious kids can be caught off-guard. Concerned parents should seek guidance from educators, librarians and other community resources for teaching positive steps to take to move toward safe and healthy reading and viewing decisions.
It’s easier to pull the curtains and turn out the lights than throw open a window and safely guide our kids to appropriately engage with everything that’s out there. How do we teach a child to recognize and ask for help with content that they are experientially and emotionally unprepared to handle? We adults, aware of this inevitability, do it by initiating trusting conversation with our kids. We have to share objectionable materials and information with the youngsters and discuss why, how and to whom to turn to for caring assistance in making sense of this natural part of present day growing up.