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The hidden benefits of reading aloud - even for older kids

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By Connie Matthiessen

Are you disturbed by how ubiquitous electronics are and their impact on reading?

Screens are addictive. You push a button and magic happens – what could be better than that? So it's easy for kids to get hooked on screens.

Parents need to set limits, because kids aren't going to limit themselves. In too many households, one parent is watching the game, the other parent is online shopping, and the kid is in front of a screen, and before you know it, the kid hasn't done any reading in years and the family's intellectual worth is going down the drain. Boys play more video games than girls but girls spend hours Facebooking, instant messaging, and texting – probably more than boys do. The average teen spends 90 minutes a day text messaging, and that's the average, which means lots of kids are doing even more.

The distracted generation

We're entering an age unparalleled since the age of Guttenberg; the world is changing faster than we can keep up with. Today, school districts that used to watch kids suffering as they hauled home 20 to 30 pounds of textbooks are turning to electronic tablets. A student can read a social studies textbook on the iPad. and tap on a hyperlink to, say, watch a PBS special on the Great Depression.

That's the good news. The bad news is that there is evidence that we don't remember information as well when we read it on a screen. Yet people are on screens all the time. We're raising the most distracted generation in the history of the world. The more distractions you add to the agenda, the less well you think. Technology may save space, weight, and time, but there is no science showing that it will save children's minds, especially if they spend all their time on screen and never open a book. So parents have to play a big role. It's up to parents to limit screen time, and to keep reading to kids and continue to plant and encourage their interest in books and reading.

Connie Matthiessen is a San Francisco writer and editor whose work has appeared in the Washington Post, the San Francisco Chronicle, Mother Jones, Health, San Francisco, WebMD, and other publications. She has three children (who provide a close-up perspective on great and not-so-great schools) and two chubby cats.

Trelease's Read Aloud Handbook