Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Are you a 'disengaged dad' when it comes to reading with your children? A ReadItDaddy Editorial

Remember, one day your kid might be the one spooning soup into YOUR withered old maw...!

I'm on the warpath, and dads are my target. "Disengaged dads" are once again under the spotlight as, 2 years on from our own campaign to try and get more parents reading to their kids, new figures emerge that show that 50% more mums will still regularly read stories and books to their children than dads.

The Daily Telegraph's sensationalist headline aside, it is seemingly still the case that dads (particularly those with absolutely no interest in reading for leisure themselves) will gladly step aside and let mum pick up all the reading duties.

The Telegraph's article cites various reasons for 'disengaged dad syndrome', quoting a report from Booktrust that shows most younger dads are the worst offenders, opting for gadgets and TV as a way of engaging with their kids (if they do so at all). Obviously, children will follow mum and dad's lead on spare time activities so it's easy to see how the behaviour is set.

To echo the rather blunt message conveyed by Harry De Quetteville, Dads who don't read to their kids are idiots, missing out on a huge part of their children's development and upbringing for...what exactly? The comments in both Telegraph articles trot out the usual excuses of 'being too tired' or 'working too hard' or 'being away from home' but those excuses are beginning to wear a bit thin in today's modern world of communication and mobility.

Of course, as the latter article suggests, not enjoying something doesn't automatically make you an idiot. But how many parents can honestly tell you that they have enjoyed every single moment of parenting, basking in a golden glow of perfect parenting as they gleefully shift from changing filthy nappies in a grubby changing area at their local eaterie, or wearing baby sick as a badge of honour, or a zillion other 'chores' that come with the territory. Compared to some of those, surely settling down for a mere ten minutes or so before bed time to read a children's story can't really be that bad?

It is fair to say that there are mums out there who also don't like reading to their children, and in some family units neither parent will read to their children at all, expecting schools to take up the slack and educate their children because school is 'where all the book stuff happens' - That's an incredibly sad thought too because schools can't be expected to be the single source of a child's education. As much should happen outside of school as inside it.

As a dad who reads every day, several times a day to my daughter (obviously), and still finds time to fit that (and running a book blog at that) into an ever dwindling pool of spare time, it's easy to sit on my high horse and lecture disengaged dads about the benefits, how reading to your children improves their literacy, how it can inspire their creativity, how books can open up worlds of possibilities as children's natural curiosity is piqued but you could quite easily push all that aside and underline the thing that really matters about this level of interaction with your children. You will form a bond with them, get to know them and they will get to know you through a shared experience that lasts in the memory longer than some stupid app or game, a dumb TV show or other shallow distraction. You see, no matter what else happens in a child's life, they will remember stories and even the most book-loathing adult will probably be able to recall several stories from childhood that have firmly stuck with them through thick and thin.

So what can busy dads do? There's no easy fix, and even dads who are absent at the start and end of the day (when some of the best reading opportunities arise), there are still weekends and holidays to maximise the time bonding over books.

I would say - to defend dads - that I see an awful lot of dads who DO get the message, and know that library time - or book events - or browsing their local bookstores - is a valuable way to spend important time with their children (though again if you look at any pics of recent book events, dads are still far too few and far between compared to the number of mums you'll see in evidence).

There's no magic bullet solution to this and the debate will rage on and on. Sometimes it feels like we write the same things on the blog again and again with seemingly no move forward on this one. Will it ever change though, and perhaps when it comes to child literacy does it really matter WHO is doing the reading with children as long as someone is?

No comments: