Are devices keeping our teens from reading?

A year ago I was happily plodding along on the treadmill at the gym.  I was doing what I always do – reading – while trudging along at level 4.  That’s grandma pace – don’t judge.  I switched the book back and forth while holding onto the rail but then had to lean it against the touch screen so it was straight ahead of me.  Before I knew it, I was running!!  I jumped off and saw that the touch screen had crept up to 14.  That’s full-sweat, sprinting-up-a-mountain fast.  If you know me, you know I don’t run, but I was — because the book was so good!! I was so completely engrossed that I didn’t even notice  how my legs became independent of my awareness.*

Is that kind of absorption an anomaly?  Would I have done that if I were a teenager?  Actually, I’d be more likely to be on my phone.  Anywhere you see a teen with time to kill, you’ll see them staring intently at their handheld devices.  If they’re not sending or receiving a text, they’re looking at apps, playing games or checking a status.  And it’s not just teens; adults are guilty here, too. Here’s a concern: teens have much to learn yet, like how to read body language and voice inflections, how to think and respond to a conversation, how to engage a real live human.  These are important skills, people!

A whopping 78% of teens have cellphones.  The Washington Post reports that teens spend an incredible 7 1/2 hours a day consuming media.  That’s mind-boggling!!!  After school and sleep and family time, when do kids read?  Additionally, articles have been written about the lost art of patience or how few of us allow ourselves to be still and have nothing to do for a moment without panicking (I’m at a stoplight….I can’t just sit here!! Where’s my phone?)  Following that lead, some adults bemoan that teens will know nothing of being quiet, reflective or patient.  Maybe….but does that define all teens?

While teaching at ZLO (Zacchaeus Learning Opportunities in Whatcom County) this year, I had reason to not worry too much about the demise of our kids at the hands of devices.  What you have to know is that I’m very passionate about books.  When I read a book I love,  I must tell someone about it!  Who better than my eager students?  So, knowing I had some real readers in one class in particular, I gushed about a novel I devoured in two nights.  I handed the book over to a girl who grabbed it before the jealous others and went on with class.  Two days later – two. days. – the book was returned.  She loved it as much as I had and read it just as fast.  This was great news to the other girls who had it on hold at the library and couldn’t get it fast enough.  Sure enough, two others read it in two nights as well.

This didn’t strike me as unusual because I knew the quality of these girls.  (For the record, the boys in this group are just as zealous about books) However, I sometimes forget that more and more kids choose a game or app over a book.  I understand the allure, but personally, I get bored with those.  I want to go away.  I want to meet new people.  I want to see how others react to situations I know little about.  Basically, I want to learn in the most pleasing way I know – through reading.

Thankfully,  I’m not alone.  Reading isn’t just for older people!  Teen fiction has been exploding and if you push aside the vampire and teen lust titles, you’re going to find some fine reading….books so good you’ll be completely engrossed.  Sure, there are books that leave me with a ‘meh’ but I ditch it and grab another.  There’s always another good one waiting to be discovered.  And if you find a great book – tell a teen!  They might be willing to put down their phone and tear through it in a night or two.

* the book was The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.

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Want to light my fire? Mop my floor.

Yesterday I heard a radio caller ask for advice about how he could get his wife to give him more attention.  This poor guy sounded so sweet and explained how he had been doing all he could to get his wife a little more tuned in to him.  He had tried flowers and cards – no response.  He’d spent more time with the kids – no response.  He cleaned and did laundry – no response.  The talk show host said, a little snarkily if you ask me, “Gee, the last thing that’d light my fire is to do the laundry.”  I cringed.  Has she not heard of the 5 love languages?

Many people don’t know that we express our love and therefore receive love in five ways, as discovered by Gary Chapman.  Physical touch, acts of service, gift-giving, quality time and words of encouragement are the five.  I wanted that host to support this mans working through the list but wondered why, after 10 years of marriage he didn’t know how to communicate to her in a way that she’d warmly receive.

My husband and I have known for quite some time how we best communicate and receive love.  For him, it’s words of encouragement; for me, it’s acts of service.  This means that our natural inclination is to express our love in the way that we receive it but knowing our spouse’s (or kids or employers or friends…) love language means we need to express it in the way that they receive it.  So, for his birthdays, Fred gets poems and letters of our appreciation and admiration for the myriad ways in which he is an amazing man.  Our kids’ languages are crystal clear so we show our love to them by speaking in a way they will understand, through time and encouragement.

For me, it used to be gifts but in the last few decades, it’s most definitely acts of service.  It was driven home when one day I came home from work during a particularly busy week.  Fred had returned to the house while I was at work and cleaned the whole house.  (He was thankful it’s a small house!)  I walked around in awe as I took in everything he had done.  Wow.  That spoke volumes to me.  Even though that was many years ago, I still remember it clearly.  When my kids ask what I want on Mother’s Day or my birthday, of course I want to spend time with them, but my answer is always the same: “Labor.”  Help me with my to-do list.  I don’t even mind working along side of you!

This also explains why I like to do things for people.  I can feel my heart swell when I write side by side with my students, when I’m doing yard work with my family, when someone asks if I can make them a birthday cake.  When my hands are in motion with an act of service for someone else, they’re letting me communicate my love for them.  Maybe they’d like a card filled with words of encouragement or a gift of quality time, but if you let me do something for you, you’re letting me love you. And for that, I’m very grateful.