Friday, 8 June 2012

I Blame the Parents

I'm a great believer in "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." The book, to my mind, isn't broken – it's a very efficient way of delivering written content in a compact, often beautiful form. Humans can interact with and manipulate it very easily – it's simple to find your place (almost anything flat can be a bookmark), you can see how far you are through a book with a single glance and it needs no batteries or power source. True, if you have a lot of books they take up space in your house and some books can be heavy if you want to commute with them (blame Stieg Larsson and Stephen King here!) Yet, for a linear reading experience, I don't think anything beats it.

For all this, it seems like the book is in crisis. 1 in 3 children in the UK do not own a book of their own - in fact they are more likely to own a mobile phone. Left, right and centre, people are trying to reinvent the book for a generation who apparently value technology far higher than words. The Society of Authors is lobbying government to safeguard school library provision, which is a worthy goal. But I'm going to come right out and point my finger at parents.

I guess, to a certain extent, this line of argument requires me to stand on the moral high ground – which isn't a position I'm all that comfortable with. But, here goes and you'll have to stop me if I get too Daily Mail. I think many parents are fundamentally failing their kids by giving them too much of what they want. Games consoles, smartphones, TVs in their rooms – kids are fed a diet of entertainment with little or no oversight. We have become a culture of taking the easiest path through everything, and in parenting terms that seems to mean indulging your kids so they'll like you more. The need for approval is a very human weakness, and we live in a consumer society that operates by making us all feel constantly insecure and then offering us a product to make it better. Sometimes, the things we are made to feel insecure about weren't even a problem in the first place! The term "dead tree books" is a classic example. So what if they're made from dead trees – we can grow some more, and at far less impact to the environment than manufacturing an e-reader. Why not dead cow burgers or slaughtered pig sausages? Can't see those catching on any time soon.

My daughter was whinging last week about the fact that her friends all have a Nintendo 3DS and she doesn't. Sorry, but it's just not going to happen. I know that as soon as she has a games console that she can take and play anywhere, the book is going to lose out. I'm not against video games by any means, but I prefer a system where all gaming is done in plain sight and to agreed time limits. That might sound draconian, but how are kids going to learn willpower if we don't teach it to them? Heaven knows we have little enough of our own.

Am I being too regressive, clinging to the book while all around me people are abandoning them for a bright new digital future? I don't even have Sky TV for heaven's sake! But I think it's easy for kids to learn technology skills and hard for them to manage far more basic stuff like reading, writing and thinking independently. I believe children really respond to the time that adults take to personally help them, and see right through our guilty attempts to win their favour through gifts and bribery. Yes, we all have bad days and yes, technology is an excellent babysitter. But if it becomes the norm then we fail the very people we're supposed to be helping.



  1. Hi Nick,
    Rant away! I blogged on this very matter a few weeks ago.

    Although as I sit here my kids are watching The Muppets on our projector screen in the next room, I can be comforted by the knowledge that we did go to the book shop this morning to get new books.

    I think it all comes down to balance.

    1. Yes, I meant to mention that was where I found the Telegraph link -

  2. Perhaps we need to find ways to use all this new technology to help tell our stories.

  3. Having no kids of my own I agree with you completely. And I don't really watch TV. Or a games console. I dropped my smartphone down the toilet a few weeks ago.*

    DOWN WITH TECHNOLOGY (or at least the use of it as a lazy cure-all-thing-a-me-jig).

    *Admittedly this was an accident.

  4. Hi Nick
    Things may not be as bad as you fear - it's not '1 in 3 children in the UK do not own a book of their own', it's 1 in 3 children from the 109 schools who voluntarily responded to the National Literacy Trust's online survey. This is the laziest sort of analysis - the sample is chosen by the respondents rather than the survey administrator (and the 'UK' is quite a claim based on only 3 schools each from Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland!).

  5. Rant on Nick! I'm with you on all of your points about balance and bringing up kids.

    But Catriona's quite right, statistics can be used to support any POV and we have to be careful before reacting.

  6. Couldn't agree more. There were no games consoles or internet when my kids were young, so there wasn't nearly as much temptation. But they never had TVs in their rooms, there was one family TV and that was it. It must be hard for today's parents to deny their kids all the technology that's now available, but it's no different from denying them the latest absurdly expensive trainers, etc.

  7. Sebastian Gnomeface10 June 2012 at 19:22

    This reminds me of my book, "The very real tale of Sebastian Gnomeface and his over abundance of Gadgets"

    'twas a bestseller!

  8. Hi Nick, non-Sky owner here too and mother of teenage and almost teenage girls for whom Facebook (and being allowed to be on FB when she's 13) and rubbish dross on TV are big things in their lives. However, they both have tonnes of books and do read most evenings of the week. They would watch tv all morning in the holidays if I let them but they do also spend hours on the trampoline, their other sporting pursuits and with the camera, taking pictures of themselves and their friends looking 'beautiful' - just like my friends and I did when we were that age, except we had to wait a week to get the photos back.
    It's a scary world we live in and I'm clinging on to the paperback world and lamenting the fact my children's school are going for i-pads (bought by parents) instead of an update of the ICT suite, but I think as others have said, it's all about balance and when you really examine it, it isn't quite as scary as it looks. I'd like to think my children will still read paperbacks when they're older but they probably won't, they'll probably only have access to electronic - but then, as long as they're reading, that's the main thing, isn't it?
    Nice ranting, great post!

  9. Me again! Nick, you're one of my chosen Inspirational Bloggers, much deserved of the award for, well, writing blogs which make me think and smile and encourage me to put pen to paper. Congratulations! I'm afraid that I need to ask some work of you though. The rules, if you choose to accept them, follow. It took me a bit of time to put together my post but it was fun. I hope you'll take up the challenge and look forward to reading your post 
    1. Display the award logo somewhere on the blog.
    2. Link back to the blog of the person who nominated you.
    3. State seven things about yourself.
    4. Nominate 15 other bloggers for the award and provide links to their blogs.
    5. Notify those bloggers that they have been nominated and of the award’s requirements.