Boys love anything with a screen! What’s on the screen engages them, rewards them and keeps them coming back for more.
Screens = pleasure.
What boys don’t love, especially 9- to 14-year-old boys, is reading and carrying books around with them.
Reading books = pain.
The logical conclusion: encourage boys to read on digital devices (ebook readers, iPads, smartphones). Unfortunately, many parents and educators find it difficult to embrace this idea because they believe:
- Boys already spend too much time staring at screens
- “Real” reading only happens with a print book
Why Boys Lose Out
Boys do spend too much time staring at screens, but it’s not the screen that’s concerning: it’s what’s on the screen. Limiting screen time by not letting boys read on digital devices is shortsighted. That’s because reading on a device still develops the researched benefits of the 30-minute-a-day reading habit (strong reading and verbal cognitive skills, cognitive stamina, vocabulary, background knowledge, empathy, imagination, intellectual curiosity, reduced stress, and improved writing/spelling/language and even math skills).
By opening up this possibility for boys, they can do something enjoyable, and gain reading’s benefits. A worthy goal, indeed!
Additionally, an adults’ reading preference shouldn’t determine what’s considered “real” reading or how boys are expected to read. Except it does. Research and surveys find that girls prefer to read print books like many adults, and in turn, more girls enjoy reading and do it every day (gaining its benefits). When boys are allowed to read how they prefer, they, too, become more frequent readers.
As a middle school literacy teacher, I saw this firsthand. I not only encouraged boys to read from the device of their choice, but my principal supported me and purchased 25 Kindles for my class. This changed the trajectory for many of my non-reading boys, and what happened in my classroom wasn’t an anomaly.
Our research shows using ebooks increases boys’ reading progress and makes them keener, more confident readers. –National Literacy Trust
Why Digital Reading Devices Benefit Boys
Benefit 1: Reading is viewed in a more positive light
Because boys are already comfortable and familiar with devices, they are less resistant to reading on one. Also, the stigma of reading and being stereotyped “a girl or a nerd” vanishes.
A recent OECD report showed that when boys read on a computer for a reading assessment, they scored four points higher than on the paper-based version. Also, the gender reading gap narrows when digital reading is involved (girls outperform boys by 38 points on a paper-based test- equivalent to one year of school- compared to only 26 points on the computer test).
In my book, Boys and Books: What You Need to Know and Do So Your 9- to 14-Year-Old Son Will Read, I explain in further detail why boys view reading as pain and how to make it more pleasurable using digital devices.
Benefit 2: Everything is in one place and easy to carry
Many boys I taught wanted to read certain books but complained how heavy they were to carry around or hold in their hands. So they didn’t. They also had varying interests and didn’t like taking multiple books out of the library or taking them home. So they didn’t.
Boys who had all their books on a digital device didn’t mind carrying it back-and-forth between home and school, or home and anywhere. Many shared with me that when they had a spare moment with nothing to do, they read a book from their device.
Benefit 3: Privacy
This benefit is key for boys, especially boys struggling with reading. When what they read stays private, middle school boys read more books. Because being stereotyped as a “girl” or a “nerd” or being embarrassed by what they read equals pain, using a digital device eases their fears.
Benefit 4: Changeability of the font, lighting, and size of the words
When I read on my Kindle, I make the page look just like it does in a book. My husband has about four words per page when he reads on his. Never would I imagine doing that, but most of the boys I taught were like my husband and made the print really large.
When given the chance on a digital device, boys know how to set-up their reading to work for them, not against them.
Benefit 5: Includes a dictionary and audio book functions
The dictionary is one click away, and so boys are more willing to look up words and increase their vocabulary. Plus, many books include the text-to-speech feature, and listening to books while reading them is a great way to read more challenging books of their choice.
Digital reading devices are the key to opening the world of reading to non-reading 9- to 14-year-old boys. If we want boys to become the best versions of themselves and thrive in the future, it’s time to let go of screen and print book biases, and instead, lean in and encourage boys to read on the digital reading device of their choice.
Here’s to boys reading!
Feature image courtesy of Flickr, emilio labrador.