The driving force behind my screen-free childhood was my mom and her dislike of wasting time. She wasn't against fun, although her hobbies tended towards the practical: gardening, sewing, making pottery. "Vegging out" was not a concept she was familiar with. We went to the beach, we went hiking, we sat around the table after dinner eating homemade cookies and talking. But just sitting there and letting a box entertain you--what was the point? Reading was a little borderline from my mom's point of view--what exactly was I accomplishing with my time?--but as long as I maintained my other activities (school, chores, Camp Fire, piano), she recognized the importance of reading and valued the joy it gave me.
|Mom could knit, pet a cat, and wear fabulously 80s glasses, all at once.|
|Of course she did laundry on camping trips. |
I learned to read young, and by five was reading chapter books. I read for fun, I read for escape, I read to understand myself and the world. I was an occasional latch-key child in late elementary school, and my parents knew that I would empty the dishwasher, then sit with my books until they came home. I read in the car on long trips. If I woke up before the rest of the family on a Sunday morning, I read until everyone else got up. In sixth grade, overwhelmed by the middle school cafeteria and the new regime of the "popular" kids, I read at lunch. In high school, I read while I sunbathed. I read the children's encyclopedia my parents bought us, and I read the collection of dirty limericks I found in the basement. The summer I worked at a dry cleaner's I read most of the day, since dry cleaners are only busy before and after business people's workday. (The cleaning all happened between 3 am and when I showed up at 7:00).
|This series got me through many an awkward middle school lunch.|
Sometimes my reading addiction caused problems. My fourth grade teacher took to patting me down before math lessons to be sure I wasn't sneak reading a book under my desk, and throughout my childhood, my mother would frequently grow exasperated and tell me to go outside and play--"The book will still be there when you get back!"
It was her own fault, of course. We used to be a normal family. Then one week in about 1966, when my older sisters were 8 and 10, the TV broke down. My parents stuck it in the basement until they could take it in to get it fixed. (That's what people used to do when things broke down--fix them. Weird, I know.)
In the days before the TV was repaired, however, Mom realized something. She was no longer having to start all of her sentences with "Turn off the TV and..." Any modern parent who has struggled with screen time management will appreciate what a shift that must have been for her. So she decided--we don't need to fix the damn television. We'll be fine without it. By the time I was born in 1969, my sisters had stopped asking. I never knew any different. As a matter of fact, even after I moved out, I didn't own a TV until I got married at 31.
I don't know if it's possible for a mainstream American to raise their child without screens anymore. Two of my three sisters kept the TV out of their home when they had kids, but computers are so much more multifunctional; how can you work around the need for them? And then how do you keep your kids off of them? All the screen time limits and filters in the world won't replace what I had--that the most appealing fall-back option for my time was always to pick up a book.
Obviously, lack of screens isn't necessary to grow a reader, or this community would be tiny and we'd have even fewer bookstores than we do today. My nieces and nephews, whether they had computers or TVs in their homes, all were readers as kids and continue to be readers as adults.
All I know is that whenever my husband and I find a show to watch together on Netflix, my reading rate drops. Watching Sherlock or Jessica Jones is fun. Having a shared experience with my husband, who does NOT read fiction, makes me happy. When I'm tired at the end of the day, picking up the remote sounds less taxing than turning the pages, and watching sounds easier than reading. But it's a choice I have to be aware of. How do I want to spend the little free time I have? Watching, or reading? My ability to choose reading is helped enormously by all those years when the choice was made for me.
Next in the series: The TV shows that made a fan out of this bookworm--and how they stack up to books. (Get it? "Stack" up?!?)
Your turn! What was your reading/screens balance as a kid? How much does the lure of screens detract from your reading focus? What ingredients are needed to grow a reader? Do you feel sorry for me for never having seen a single episode of Mork & Mindy, Laverne & Shirley, or Starsky & Hutch? And what was with all those two-names TV shows, anyway?