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Parenting 'I decided that this would be the summer we would give them a love of reading'

Our parenting columnist Margaret Lynch says the more they tried to steer the kids away from devices and towards books, the more they resented reading.

“WHY WON’T THEY read?” I wonder, as my children stare into the rectangular device that connects them to everyone they have ever met plus holds all of the information available within the universe and also provides Dopamine on tap. It’s a total mystery.

We are in a constant battle to get them reading. We started strong and read to them every night from the time they were tiny babies. I had hoped they would be big readers, and we visited the library regularly.

I couldn’t wait to share Enid Blyton and Roald Dahl with them, but it just never really happened. That love of reading never took root. As they got bigger it became more of a struggle, and the last thing we wanted to do was make reading a tedious experience, or something they had to endure.

Making reading fun

Reading provides incredible benefits to kids, and adults. It is such a healthy habit. Giving your kids a love of reading is a gift that will help them at every stage in their lives. On the other hand, forcing them to do something they don’t enjoy will almost certainly lead them to hate it.

The more we tried to replace screens with books, the more it seemed to cement books as a punishment and create an overall negative experience.

A more relaxed approach has been hit and miss. Word count competitions with their class have had a mixed bag of results. We definitely went through the ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid’ phases and we have read everything David Walliams. If anything is recommended on Tik Tok or it has been suggested it might be too mature for them, they are all over it.

Anyway, like every other part of parenting that I just refuse to kick back and roll with, I decided that this would be the summer that we would give them a love of reading. I carefully explained to both that while all devices had to be turned off and downstairs by 9 pm, they could read as late as they wanted each night. I could really see this being a hit in our household. It had all the trademarks of a tween master plan. A lack of bedtime, no supervision and full control over how they spend their evening. It also ticked my boxes as bedtimes over summer are nothing short of a nightmare.

New boundaries

The 13-year-old was immediately suspicious. She could just set her own bedtime? Read as late as she wanted? And there would be no repercussions? It sounded like a trap. The 12-year-old missed the point entirely and asked if she could give us a book at 9 pm and use her iPad as late as she wants. Then she tried to negotiate for every single minute past 9 pm. 45 minutes later and we were almost ready to begin Night One.

Surprising then that I was still met with shock and outrage when it came to time to take their devices. They bargained and pleaded and begged for anything other than reading.

I felt a bit sorry for the books. I was explaining that this was for their benefit and that they would thank me one day.

I was calling for the younger one to get back into bed, and making sure all devices were accounted for. Yes, even the one with the cracked screen from the back of the wardrobe. And in the middle of all the checking and calling and bargaining and explaining, I tripped and fell down the last few stairs, sending devices flying in all directions.

As I lay on the ground, cradling my ankle, the younger one called ‘Is my iPad ok?’. It had landed on the other side of the hall, just beyond my ankle which now had a heartbeat of its own and was swelling at an alarming rate. ‘It’s cracked!’ my daughter exclaimed. I began to reassure her that I was fine but realised she had stepped over me to pick up her iPad, and it was not my ankle which had caused the concern.

New habits

Night Two began much more smoothly. Everyone knew what was going to happen, and no one fell down the stairs or hurt anyone’s feelings by loving an iPad more than their parent. No, honestly, I’m fine. I checked in on them around 11 pm. Both were reading quietly and looking close to sleep. I went to bed feeling very smug about my successful new plan.

Our youngest daughter’s bedroom is directly above ours, and we were woken at around 3 am by what sounded like a plane landing in her room. I hauled myself up the stairs to check, sprained ankle and all. She was sitting cross-legged on the floor, with her old rollerblades on and a fresh Penneys face mask. Her brighter-than-the-sun ring light was shining under the bed and there was no visible carpet space.

She had gone to the bathroom, where she had begun an 18-step skincare routine. Then she decided to organise her wardrobe, where she found the aforementioned rollerblades and also her school tie (which had vanished for the entire final term).

From there then it was a natural hop skip and a jump to clear under her bed. In her mind, the entire category of boring jobs that she hated doing had now been given approval for night duty. Had we left her to it, she might have started learning her maths.

Anyway, never one to be put off by logic and reasoning, we started Night Three with the very best of intentions. We went over the rules once again, only reading, and definitely no rollerblading. We were careful on the stairs and we managed our expectations. We were then woken just after midnight by the unmistakable rustlings of a 13-year-old looking for a snack. She had gotten hungry and wanted to keep her energy levels up so that she could stay up all night again. I really started to doubt my own communication skills at this point.

In fact, I was doubting everything. I was wondering if it was worth it. The following day was rough. We were exhausted and I struggled to keep my eyes open at my desk. I really wasn’t sure if I could, or even should keep going. But then the 13-year-old texted me and said how much she had enjoyed a book she had finished over the previous nights. I was elated. Everything came back into perspective. I should not have worried. Of course, they were just going to need a settling-in period, they couldn’t resist sleep forever.

The fourth night then was flawless. Impeccable. There were absolutely no issues. So obviously, I was immediately suspicious. I checked the parental controls and saw they had both been on their devices until the early hours.

It was a mutiny, a betrayal. The older one swore blind that Apple was setting her up, that she would never lie.

The younger one caved instantly and gave all the details of their plan. How they would sneak the devices back to the sitting room in the early hours. The older one hadn’t even read the book!

Naturally, the new regime was scrapped. But we still had some positives from the experience. Although not entirely offset by the shattered ankle, some mild sleep deprivation and a cracked iPad screen, we did get under the bed cleared. And we found a school tie.

Even more so, I am always impressed by the next generation’s ability to abandon rules, throw caution to the wind, and always get what they want. Even if they aren’t reading for pleasure, I think they are going to be ok. In the meantime, I am looking forward to a much-needed uninterrupted night’s sleep.

Margaret is a busy mum, working and living in Kildare.