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“The flickering of the screen accompanies most of them before they go to school, when they return home, as they consume their evening meal and then – for 63%, far more than read a book each day – in bed at night. The study of five- to 16-year-olds shows that four out of five children now have a TV set in their bedroom.” Life through a lens, Guardian

I found this slightly depressing article in the Guardian just before I went to bed last night and it’s been resonating with me ever since.

I firmly believe in the potential for media to improve the lives of young people, but as a writer of papery things tied up in string I was sad to read the following in the article:

The rise may have come at the expense of reading books for pleasure, which, in a development that will alarm many parents, continues to decline as a regular pastime. While four out of five children read books in their own time, only a quarter do so daily and 53% at least once a week.

According to this study, conducted by ChildWise in the UK and yours for the small fee of about $2000 + taxes, reading from the pages of a book clearly doesn’t play an important a role in the lives of young people today. I see this trend will continuing, but it does not mean the end of reading or literacy in young people. As I’ve argued, along with others more schooled than myself, literacy comes in many forms and each generation reshapes literacy into a form that suits their lives.

Forty years ago, young people (particularly boys) devoured books like Tom Sawyer, Treasure Island and other classics. Today, many young people don’t have the patience for thick books with long passages of text, big words and slow action. So, now there are authors like Eric Wilson and Jon Scieszka, and many others writing books that are short contain simple language and packed with action from the first page. They don’t have the literary merit of the classics, but they get kids reading. It’s a start. But it has also marked a change in how children engage with text and what adults view is suitable reading material.

Now the change is more drastic because it’s more than just the content that is being altered, it’s the format. Text on page is giving way to text and images on screens, which will eventually give away to something else. Young people are wired and devouring digital content at a rate that often amazes and terrifies those of us who remember that changing the channel meant getting off the couch, walking to the TV and turning the dial. Now changing the channel *is* watching TV:

Boys asked by the company to choose between programmes on different channels frequently refused, saying they would “watch both”. “They flick from one to another and cannot conceive that they should have to make a decision. They are puzzled that you should put them in a situation of having to make one or anther choice.”

Children are engaging in media in ways we never thought possible and will continue to do so. Adults can’t stop them from doing this, but we do have a very important role to play.

We must educate young people from a very young age (as in the moment they’re plopped in front of Dora or Baby Einstein) to think critically about the media they engage in. They must be taught to understand bias, question representation – who’s being heard and who isn’t, develop the tools with which to read, view and create with what David Pearson calls a “critical edge”, understanding the power working on them and the power they hold as media consumers and makers.

More on that in the near future. In the meantime, check out the full article on the Guardian.

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