Why Dad Should Be a Reading Role Model
When I was little, I saw my dad reading books all the time. I have a very lasting image of him sitting in his comfy chair and reading for fun after work. I was very recently struck by the realization that my kids have not seen me reading for my own personal enjoyment very much - and that’s something I plan to fix. If I want them to internalize a love for books, I think being a role model is a huge part of that.
The good news is that I don’t think I’ve done any lasting damage by dropping the ball as a role model for the last six years. That’s because books are still a big part of our children’s lives. Our kids are 6 and 3 at the moment - and we still read them several books every single night before bed. So they still see me interacting with books and having fun reading aloud. They are without question being exposed to the magic of reading, but I think that’s just one part of the equation.
If the goal is to raise lifelong readers, kids eventually have to make the leap from read alouds with Mom and Dad into independent reading for enjoyment. I like to think that if they’ve developed a love for books and stories over many years of exposure like our kids, then they are about 80% ready to make that leap. But that last 20% doesn’t just happen by itself. I honestly think they need to see that books have a place outside of the bed - and off of mom and dad’s lap.
Why Reading Role Models Are Important
If my kids never see me reading a novel by myself, how am I supposed to expect them to make the connection that it’s something that people do? They’re 6 and 3 - if they don’t see us doing something they aren’t going to see it, period. As far as they’re concerned, reading might legitimately only be an activity that parents do with their children.
They might love reading with us, but it’s certainly not a stretch to think they won’t choose to pick up a chapter book on a Saturday afternoon if they never see me do it. And if that goes on for too long - reading would be in serious danger of turning into something you only do when your teacher requires it. That, of course, is the worst case scenario, and unfortunately one that far too many kids have fallen into. That’s definitely not what reading should be.
And if I don’t want reading to become a chore, I honestly think I need to do better. Both parents are obviously very important role models - but I think there’s a strong argument to be made that Dad has a unique importance for this issue, particularly for their sons. It’s well documented how children begin imitating their parents from an early age. And it’s also well known how big of an influence dads have on their sons.
Boys often grow up to say they want to be exactly like their dad, or the exact opposite. I like to imagine that I’m at least a serviceable-enough dad that my son won’t be one of the latter. And that means I better be paying very close attention to the behaviors my little guy will very likely be imitating.
As a teacher I’ve seen the positive and negative influences of dads time and time again. No amount of reading homework assigned by mostly female teachers is going to break a father and son’s shared bond over not reading books. If parents aren’t modeling a love for reading - it’s an uphill battle to say the least.
How Technology Changed the Reading Landscape
I think it’s worth pointing out that technology has very much exacerbated this issue of being a reading role model. When I told my wife about this article - and my memories of my dad reading in his comfy chair all the time - she asked if I thought it would have been the same if today’s technology existed back then. A very fair question. Of course it’s impossible to say, but the technology is without a doubt here now. Things have definitely changed - and I think that’s exactly the reason we need to be even more conscious about our decisions.
How has technology changed the task of raising readers? Kids are not seeing adults read as much. Newspapers and magazines are going away - parents are reading the news on their phones and their tablets. The interesting thing is, we may be reading the news still - but kids used to see their parents with a newspaper and they knew that they were reading. But today, from the child’s point of view, you’re just staring at your phone again. You could be playing Candy Crush for all they know.
The same can be said of E-Readers as well. Or even tablets. They’re a very popular way to read novels these days. But when your kid walks into the room, they don’t know you’re reading. All they see is another screen. It’s a completely different memory imprint than seeing Dad holding a book - and it will lead to very different mimicking behavior than what we want.
How Can I Be a Better Reading Role Model?
So how am I going to do better? Here’s a list of some of the things I personally plan on being conscious of in the future - so my kids always see with their own eyeballs how much I enjoy reading, how it’s a viable option for free time, and how it’s something you can do your entire life.
Subscribe to the local newspaper and read it at the table or on the front porch.
Continue to subscribe to magazines on favorite topics.
Continue reading aloud to our kids until they leave the house
Read physical copies of novels while the kids are awake - don’t always wait until they’re asleep or always use the Kindle app.
Tell the kids more about what I’m reading and why I like it.
Deliberately choose books as an option while traveling - these long chunks of boring time our society is constantly filling up with screens and Netflix are the perfect opportunities for positive modeling.
Study more chess books. I want my kids to see me with my nose stuck in a book trying to learn for fun - not just watching chess videos or doing tactics on the computer.
Some of these things will require a much more conscious effort on my part than others. I am not immune to the wide array of entertainment choices we have in this day and age. Like my kids, there are a lot of things I like to do with my free time. I like board games, movies, video games, playing outside, and much, much more. For me, the key is finding a healthy balance of entertainment.
But I think modeling reading is important and well worth it. This particular free time activity deserves conscious consideration, because the balance is getting more and more out of whack these days - with much more time being taken up by passive media consumption. This article takes for granted that we all know how reading is an important part of a child’s life and development.
But gone are the days where kids will see other kids and adults reading for fun all around them. Nowadays it honestly feels like even well-meaning, book-loving dads like me need to be even more intentional about it than we ever thought.
What do you think? Can you relate to the feeling that kids aren’t seeing people read as much as they used to? Do you ever find yourself consciously choosing to be a reading role model? Let us know in the comments!