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The American Academy of Pediatrics just came out with a policy statement that tells parents to read books to their children. They also say it's important to talk, sing, and cuddle with kids. Is this madness or necessity?

"Reading aloud with young children can enhance parent-child relationships and prepare young minds to learn early language and literacy skills," the American Academy of Pediatrics says in its new policy statement on literacy promotion.

What's going on here? We expect pediatricians to tell parents about vaccination schedules, to treat less and more serious illnesses, and to play an advisory role that should help parents make decisions that keep their children safe and healthy. Pediatricians certainly talk about car seats, bicycle helmets, a healthy and balanced diet, and regular exercise. But reading? Reading to young children is, surely, something that parents just do? Isn't the sentence above, part of a six-page policy statement, unnecessarily stating the obvious?

American Parents Not Reading To Their Children

Apparently not. "Every year, more than one in three American children start Kindergarten without the language skills they need to learn to read," the AAP continues. Being able to read well by the third grade is, the pediatricians' organization says, the most important predictor for future success. Yet 80 percent of the poorest children don't hit this milestone. The AAP also noted that only 60 percent of children from families with incomes 400 percent above the poverty line were being read to on a daily basis. 

Sub-literacy is becoming a huge problem for low-income families, in other words. These kids are likely to encounter fewer words and will have trouble dealing with books and other written resources in school. But growing up in a linguistically poor environment isn't a problem only among poorer people — even those who are better off just aren't reading to their kids regularly. "Solitary electronic media exposure" seems to be replacing the more emotionally and intellectually nurturing practice of reading books together. 

Are we all dumbing down? Is sub-literacy the next obesity epidemic; the next national health problem? When we look at the lack of shared reading as a health issue, we can suddenly understand why pediatricians are so eager to get involved.

The AAP is certainly committed to improving children's reading habits, so parents shouldn't be shocked if they are bombarded with a series of seemingly non-doctorly questions at their child's next Well Child checkup. 

A Book Chapter A Day Keeps The Doctor Away?

The AAP's literacy promotion policy statement gives an idea of what parents might expect. Pediatricians might tell parents that reading to their kids will promote bonding and help their kids' brain development. They might even give advice on which books are age-appropriate and offer reading materials to parents in low-income brackets if they are deemed to be at risk of raising their children in a book-deficient home. 

Additionally, the pediatricians' organization advises its members how they can help parents get their children ready for school. They mention such activities as talking, singing, rhyming, and cuddling together "throughout the day". Indeed, the AAP takes this already shocking advice one step further and also says that parents should be informed that children thrive when they have routines that include regular meal times, bed times, and play times. 

I'm not sure if the AAP is going crazy, or if the world has gone mad. My first thought is that pediatricians are becoming awfully condescending. I certainly wouldn't be happy if my pediatrician would tell me to read Dr Seuss to my third-grader, who is currently happily working her way through the Odyssey. Were she also to say that I should talk to my kids and cuddle them, I'd be tempted to look for a new doctor. My pediatrician is a partner in my children's healthcare, after all. That partnership can't function if she thinks I am stupid. 

If what the AAP is saying is true, they might certainly play a role in fixing that and making sure that kids read books and have actual relationships with their parents. Perhaps they'll save the intellectual future of America while they're at it. 

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