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  • 1.  Yes! They Need to Talk About It.

    Posted 07-25-2019 04:56 PM

    The ultimate goal of literacy education is developing children's love of books and reading. That's because such love will manifest in patterns of lifelong learning via daily joyful reading of self-selected books and other media.

    But it's not just having the books and media that will make a child a lifelong reader and learner. It's the thoughtful sharing of those books in conversation with more accomplished readers that adds depth and spurs new explorations in a child's reading life. 

    Girl, hiding under her turtleneck and looking deep in thought

    Reading is a wonderfully solitary pleasure. We all read alone, and that's good. However, these days, children are at risk of encountering materials they are not prepared to handle. That unwanted input can come out of nowhere.

    The knee-jerk impulse to use digital parental controls is a natural impulse, but sadly, utterly inadequate to do what needs to be done. Parental controls have always been a crutch rather than a cure, not because those barriers to unwanted material don't keep children safe in the moment. The problem is that without an adult or older sibling to guide children in handling objectionable materials, kids will still not know what to do when they inevitably encounter them while alone.

    The first job of parenting and teaching is to prepare children for handing themselves when older family members and other well-meaning adults can't be there to hold their hands and help them process something troubling or confusing.

    Boy leaning on skateboard talking with a very focused adult.

    When parents begin to anticipate the need to put filters and such on book selections and digital devices then that is the best time to begin planning to sit down with their children and have frank discussions about what to do when such encounters happen…and they will. With no preparation, those little and sometimes big talks about what feels dangerous can be experienced as upset rather than growth opportunity.

    Adults understand the pitfalls that await children, but adults are often more uncomfortable than the kids are about discussing touchy and taboo topics. However, critical subjects like racism, bigotry, human predators, violence and the vulnerabilities of personal intimacy, deleted via clamping on parental controls can leave children completely unprotected when alone out in the world.

    Absent sufficient time spent in preparing children on where to turn in these circumstances, naturally curious kids can be caught off-guard. Concerned parents should seek guidance from educators, librarians and other community resources for teaching positive steps to take to move toward safe and healthy reading and viewing decisions.

    Young girl looking off into the distance while mother looks on, concerned

    It's easier to pull the curtains and turn out the lights than throw open a window and safely guide our kids to appropriately engage with everything that's out there. How do we teach a child to recognize and ask for help with content that they are experientially and emotionally unprepared to handle? We adults, aware of this inevitability, do it by initiating trusting conversation with our kids. We have to share objectionable materials and information with the youngsters and discuss why, how and to whom to turn to for caring assistance in making sense of this natural part of present day growing up.

    Mark Condon
    Vice President
    Unite for Literacy
    Louisville KY

  • 2.  RE: Yes! They Need to Talk About It.

    Posted 07-26-2019 08:40 AM
    I agree with your message. I always think to myself that we can't follow our kids to college and we need to teach them how to handle things while they are with us.  Open communication about the things they might come across is so important. I think sheltering our children too much can hurt them in the end.

    Susan Ricci
    Director/Lead Teacher
    Vale UMC Preschool
    Oakton VA

  • 3.  RE: Yes! They Need to Talk About It.

    Posted 07-27-2019 05:43 AM
    Thank you, Mark. I agree with your thoughts in your message. I believe it is important to provide the environment where families feel valued, respected and in a safe space to be open to express their thoughts about supporting their children in dealing with all that is in print today and developing their thoughts and conclusions about whatever is being discussed together. This connects to me to a high quality Family Engagement Program. I found what I described is possible during Parent Cafes, a structured conversation with others by individuals who have completed training in how to facilitate conversations using this model and becoming aware of and developing a plan to implement the Head Start Parent, Family Engagement Framework. Finally, I think it is also about finding ways to be in settings with members of the business community and challenge them to honor and respect their employees with children and provide the financial resources and support to their families in learning how to strengthen their ability to build strong relationships with their children. For example, a Brown Bag lunch series that focuses on the parent or family members role in helping children process what they are reading and writing.

    Robert Gundling, Ed.D.
    Better Futures LLC
    Senior Consultant
    Washington, DC

  • 4.  RE: Yes! They Need to Talk About It.

    Posted 07-28-2019 10:16 AM
    This is all so true Mark. And it connects directly to the issue of parents often feeling unequipped to answer children's uncomfortable questions, not just those that relate to what they've read, but also scenarios that they observe put in public or even in their own homes. Supporting a culture of supporting parents is really important.  I like to call it support for the support system that isn't getting support itself...

    Joanie Calem
    Columbus OH