How can reading ever compete with video gaming?

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With summer vacation well underway in many parts of the world, parents — especially those with limited means to send their children to camps or other summer programs — may be anxious about how to make sure boredom doesn’t inspire the kids to come up with less than ideal forms of entertainment.

These may include video games, which, as educational as they can be, also risk addictive behavior — especially in children with attention deficit disorder, as Dr. Ellen Littman wrote for ADDitude Magazine:

Owners of hypersensitive brains reduce stimulation by avoiding group activities, tuning out of conversations, and isolating themselves. They shun busy department stores, loud concerts, big parties, and prefer to stay where they can control the level of stimulation. These brains find comfort in the self-contained world of video games. With an internal structure that offers complete control over the kind and amount of stimulation, they select games with rewards that are strongly reinforcing to their brains. These rewards offer pleasure within a cocoon, shielding them from the unpredictable minefield of personal interaction. As a result, video games have incredible addictive potential for the inattentive ADHD brain.

“Computer games are emotionally safe,” wrote Dr. Larry Silver, also for ADDitude Magazine. “When a child strikes out in a baseball game, he’s doing it in front of a crowd of peers. But when he makes a mistake while playing a video game, no one else has to know.

“Video-game errors aren’t circled in red ink by teachers, either. In fact, making mistakes helps the player improve. By trial and error, he learns the specific action needed to advance the next time. There is satisfaction in steadily improving and, ultimately, winning, with no chance of failing or being teased.”

When to set boundaries around gaming

It might be tempting to give in, especially after a tough year at school or when you know the alternative will lead to battles. However, research shows that reading skills can be lost over the summer months — especially for children with learning disabilities or who are still learning to communicate in a second language.

Moreover, despite gaming’s benefits, reading nonetheless has been shown to improve performance in memory and comprehension. Therefore, continuing to develop these skills over the summer months is critical to success. But how can reading compete with video games in delivering the gratification children’s brains can demand?

In short: children should learn not just to read, so that it is something to practice; but to love reading, as a 2015 NPR Q&A pointed out, so that it is something they gravitate towards doing. Part of this is setting boundaries around digital device usage; however, part of it is also creative.

How to encourage your child to read instead

After identifying the root cause of reading reluctance, according to the website, try strategies such as:

  • Offer reading material that reflects children’s lives, interests, personalities, and looks. “Children need to “see” themselves in what they read. If they cannot relate to the situations and characters in a text they will have more difficulty staying engaged with the text and thus will struggle with comprehension.”
  • Offer “high interest” reading materials, such as graphic novels, with “edgy” topics or a lot of action — without worrying whether it will “dumb down” reading. “They may be slightly below a reader’s independent reading level, but they provide valuable experiences with reading. Plus, they can serve as a stepping stone towards more traditional and sophisticated texts,” notes the article.
  • In a similar vein, offer practical reading material for those who don’t engage with fiction. Manuals, non-fiction picture books, Internet sites and technology-based interactive texts can all teach good skills in addition to reading.

In addition, find ways to integrate video games into reading time. Some games, like Metro 2033 and S.T.A.L.K.E.R., are based on books and movies; buy the books, read them with your child, then buy the movies and compare and contrast the storytelling in each.

British playwright Lucy Prebble in 2012 wrote: “Like writing, gaming is essentially private and individual (although it really doesn’t have to be). It is creative, in comparison to the passivity of watching a film or reading a book.” Children responding to this inherent creativity, then, can be encouraged to interact with reading material, by writing or acting out their own works such as fan fiction for their favorite games.

Above all, model a love for reading, making time away from your own screens to crack books and magazines. Talk about what you’re reading and what it means to you personally, or for your world.

Have you successfully balanced reading with video gaming? Tell us how!