Saturday, June 9, 2018

Inappropriate Reading

That's my adorable little brother, Shane on the stool

As a child, I was a certified bookworm. I remember my parents and other adults constantly telling me to "get my nose out of that book," or to "put down that book and go outside and play."  You can see me in action in this picture.  I'm absolutely engrossed in my Nancy Drew book, circa 1975 at my grandparent's house. Just lost in it.

Can you imagine telling a child to stop reading today?

For the past 3-4 years I've put a great deal of effort into trying to get my now 16 year old's nose out of her iPad/iPhone, and I'm wondering if it isn't pretty much the same.  My parents told me to go outside and play because that's how they were raised.  I want my kids to read actual books cause that's how I was.  My oldest child was also a certified bookworm.  She's 30 and still a huge reader, but of course all of her reading is done on e-devices now.  She grew up with her nose in a book, and I was pleased, to put it mildly.  My middle child was also a reader, although not as epically as her older sister.  Neither of them grew up on iPads or iPhones, so because this is not how I was raised, OR how I raised my two older girls, Zoe my 16 year old is paying the price.  This is her several years ago on the iPad.  See the similarities?  I'm certain that after taking this cute picture I told her to get off the screen. 

I know that kids today are doing all kinds of other things on their phones besides reading books.  My Nancy Drew book didn't have an option to switch over to tumblr or Reddit.  But I was reading all kinds of inappropriate stuff.  One year my mom sent my dad to buy books for me for Christmas.  This was 1977, so keep in mind I was only 11 years old. Because he couldn’t find the books on my Christmas list, he ended up buying me me a trilogy of books by Kathleen Woodiwiss. I still have these extremely well-worn paperback books in my library today, pages missing, covers falling off, multiple dog eared corners.... ahh, the signs of a much-read, well-loved book....

They say that smartphones and e-devices will be the downfall of modern youth - much like rock and roll in the 60's and 70's or video games in the 80's.  I was spared most of the demonizing of rock and roll by my parents.  While my father was generationally contemptuous of bands like Led Zepplin and AC/DC, he grew up loving Elvis Presley and rockabilly bluegrass music.  He famously brought home the 1972 live double album, "Hot August Night" from Neil Diamond's Los Angeles outdoor Greek Theater concert, which became a staple of my and my younger sibling's musical childhoods.  I grew up smack in the middle of the video game predictions-of-horror-period, though.  As a teenager, considering all the doomsday opinions I had heard from adults, read about in magazines and watched on tv, I was positive that all the kids who played video games were going to be either vegetables or serial killers by age 25. This turned out not to be true: My brothers are relatively normal.* Also, Dad, I did not become a drug addict after listening to Ozzy's "Diary of a Madman" album my sophomore year of high school.

But back to those books my dad bought me, when I was 11 years old.  First in the trilogy, The Flame and the Flower, is " epic historical romance with a strong heroine and actual sex scenes...spawning the modern romance genre, becoming the first romance novel to [follow] the principals into the bedroom."**  You can bet this was not what my parents wanted me to be reading, even though they gave it to me for Christmas.  Much like when I gave Zoe an iPhone, I hadn't intended for her to watch Shameless at age 15. Kids today bypass smartphone parental controls with the same kinds of dexterity, zeal and ingenuity that I displayed figuring out how to sneak out of the house nearly every night during my freshman year of high school, ending up at places like the rest stop on interstate I-35 North right around the Garden Ridge Pottery exit.  The way I look at it is that while my 16 year old may not physically travel as far, she's still exploring the dangerous world, just in a way that is way different than I did. 

Even more significantly, instead of being irrevocably scarred by my inappropriate Christmas gift of literature, the 2nd book in the trilogy, "The Wolf and the Dove," inspired me with an enduring love of European history, and a strong desire to read more about it.  The smallest details about the Norman Conquest of England in 1066 are seared into my brain for all eternity. Eventually, (some 500 historical years later) I developed such a strong obsession with with Elizabeth the First that over the next 20 years I  devoured everything ever written about her. What a badass queen she was.  #rolemodel

I guess my point is that being glued to the screen might not be as evil as we predict.  It's just a different way for kids to explore the world.  And their world is far bigger as a result of the e-device resources.  It wouldn't have taken me 20 years to fully study Elizabeth the Great if I'd had an iPad. 

*for the most part...