Thursday, July 30, 2020

Parental influence - Are we 'hard wiring' our children's reading tastes from an early age? Today's #ReadItTorial

Today's #Readitorial is more of a brain fart really. I'd been thinking a lot about an exercise I undertake from time to time, where I try desperately to 'read outside my comfort zone' - picking books that normally I wouldn't touch with a 50 ft barge pole. For one reason or another I'd picked up something cheap for my kindle on a whim, and despite finding it well written and the subject matter really engaging, I just couldn't finish it (though I'm determined that I'm going to give it another go).

Other books were distracting me. As book lovers will tell you, you'll always have half a dozen or more books vying for your attention and sometimes even stuff you've read before is preferable to something that's way outside your preferred genres or writing styles.

So it seems travelogues aren't for me. Some might enjoy the thrill of vicariously living a wonderful travelling life through someone else's eyes but like watching sport, I can't be doing with any of that 'distance enjoyment' - I'd much rather go to those countries (or in some cases play those sports) myself.

ANYWAY back on track. The #Booky100Keepers articles made me think about the conscious and unconscious influence both my wife and I might have had on our daughter throughout her reading journey. It's glaringly obvious from the articles that we've introduced her to books we loved as kids, and it's also glaringly obvious that - from book of the week choices - those books have steered C's reading tastes in certain directions.

Sometimes I worry that things might have been entirely different if we hadn't done this. To be fair, C always got to choose her own books from the library when we first started out on the blog but as the blog evolved over the last ten years, I'd slip in comic recommendations or steer C towards books that usually had fantasy or sci-fi as central themes, and she would gobble them up greedily on her reading pile whereas I'd often find that stuff authors / illustrators were writing more with her in mind were often left neglected.

There's a weird perception in kidlit that marketers, publishers and child well-being experts know exactly what a child of a particular age, gender and reading ability *should* like and be reading, which is usually in complete contrast to what a child will tell you they enjoy reading if you, y'know, actually ask them - and again this feels like an area where adults try to steer kids in specific directions to suit some bizarre narrowly defined pigeonholing system that makes absolutely no sense, either from a development or even from an economic perspective.

I believe that parents do exert the most influence on their kids development (you'd hope) with school / teachers probably coming up a very close second.

The thing that also occurs to me is that parents (well, adults) are who children's books are heavily marketed at, and that goes some way to explain the whole 'moral gatekeeper' thing that publishers love to do (which drives me absolutely crazy if I'm honest), ensuring their books are wholesome and follow themes that you'd hope would lead to kids developing a strong sense of good and evil, right and wrong and all the other stuff you'd want a child to learn in their personal development.

When I asked C about this directly, she acknowledged that now she's heading towards her teens, the biggest frustration for her is that all the publishing marketing still works on the basis of pushing books at the parents rather than at her directly. I don't quite agree with this but for her age group, the wilderness years between 8-12 I think she might actually have something, it's only when books move towards the umbrella of YA that they begin to be marketed directly at their target audience, and the biggest influencers on that market are social media platforms. Publishers know this which is why bookstagrammers / booktubers / booktiktokers are leading the charge in pumping new life into the YA market.

Back to the parental influence thing and again wisdom from C. Her point of view now is that mum and dad's tastes might not cut it any more, so when she goes into a bookshop she may still retain some vestiges of specific book tastes from us, but almost goes out of her way to 'rebel' and pick stuff that has developed from her own tastes and influences (a lot of influence creeps in from friends and social media more at 12, so again this feels like the beginnings of the whole YA influencer sphere I mentioned above).

One thing above all else though, even if you do feel like you're influencing your kid's reading taste, if you're a parent who is actively engaged in reading to your kid, encouraging them to love books, and perhaps even encouraging them to break out of their comfort zone now and again (which I wish I'd done more of, if I'm honest), then you're doing a brilliant job and it will pay dividends for your kid throughout their school and later life. Keep up the excellent work!

1 comment :

  1. Hi there, I have written a children's book which I have thoroughly enjoyed, it's aim at 7+ but honestly I can not say who would enjoy this book and who would find it too silly? All my immediate adult family loved the humour, and yes their biased but with the likes of JJR Tolkien aim at this age boggles my mind. I think my book is in the wilderness!


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