Is it open season on teens and reading this week or what? There was all the Caitlin Flanagan fun a few days ago and now we have School Library Journal telling us that mothers read too much to their children and that is why boys stop reading. Or alternately they feel compelled to stop because of some need to separate fully from girls and all things they think girls like and thus can no longer read after elementary school just like they can no longer be friends with girls.
I'm not making this up, and here's the proof:
Boys loved being read to when they were tots. Now, as teens, they still like somebody reading to them. But somewhere between third and fifth grade, there was a disconnect between boys and books. Aha! Isn’t that when gender consciousness bursts into full flower? When the lines are drawn between the sexes? Sure, before then, in the schoolyard, boys played with boys and girls with girls. But back at home, in the neighborhood, things were different: young boys and girls still played together. In fact, some were best friends. But by the time boys hit third grade, those who played with girls became the butt of other guys’ jokes. So instead, they did boy things—and reading wasn’t one of them.
Someone's going to have to tell me just what that magic button is that gets pushed in the third grade because I bet a lot of parents would like to dodge that "girls bad" bullet.
Here's the other fun part:
Moms frequently read to their young sons at bedtime. Elementary school teachers and media specialists, who are primarily women, read to their classes. And in movies and on TV, it’s women or girls who are typically rushing off to their book clubs. Men don’t read—instead, they do. For instance, men don’t read books about hunting, they hunt. They don’t devour novels about race-car driving; they go to drag races—and often take along their sons. For many boys, reading becomes a chore that prevents them from pursuing manly things, like playing sports, fishing, rock climbing, and, later, chasing girls. Testosterone keeps guys running and gunning, and if they don’t see members of their own tribe reading—trust me—they won’t deem it important.
Leaving aside the cliches about what men and women like that are thrown out in this paragraph, (Okay I can't leave them alone - men hunt and race cars while women read books? Did Sarah Palin leaning over that bloody moose carcass and the ten zillion pictures of Barack Obama with a book in his hand show us anything about modern gender roles at all??) This argument - and lord knows we have all heard it before - does not work for me because if it was true there would be thousands (and thousands) of more female writers in this country then male. Men would not grow up reading and thus they would not pursue writing careers. And yet, we know that is not true. This makes me wonder then where all the male writers come from in America. (Europe? Canada? Are they secreted across the borders at the age of 18?)
Also, why - FOR THE LOVE OF GOD WHY - do people feel so comfortable making huge sweeping statements like this? In my house my father read as much as my mother (if not more according to my brother) and my brother is still a voracious reader. All the guys at the comic shop I frequent are just that, guys. I worked with guys at the bookstore in Fairbanks, I went to grad school with many many guys (all of whom had to read tons of books just to stay in there) and most of my teachers in college were - wait for it - guys.
Men read. Can we just acknowledge this once and for all? Men read.
Having written all that, yes I do know that girls seem to read more than boys in the teenage years. There are studies and I did read them and part of that was why Guys Lit Wire was created in the first place - to find a way to get teenage boys reading more. However, I have a critical difference of opinion with this article. I do not think that boys (or girls) read or don't read because of what other people do (or don't do) in their homes. My parents, as I mentioned above, were huge readers but they each came from parents who never read anything when they were growing up beyond the local newspaper (and even that was not a given). So why did they become huge readers? Who knows - but they did. And they aren't the only kids who grew up in houses without reading parents who still managed to crack open a book.
Should we encourage more teenage boys to read? Yes - in any way, shape or form (and that includes comics) just as we should encourage teenage girls. But blaming it on the parents this way? Saying one reads too much to their kids and one reads too little? How does that help exactly? Why not just suggest taking the kids to the bookstore for a treat? (My parents did that.) Or taking them to the library and letting them get whatever they want (and hanging out perusing the books yourself and waiting for them and making it a family thing)? (My parents did that too.) Or letting them grab an Archie comic at the check out stand? (Yep - my folks again.)
You don't have to be a reader to raise one, you just have to be an interested parent who encourages your kid to read. And you know what else? I graduated from high school with a close friend I made in the first grade - and one from the second - and several from the seventh and the eighth and all of them, a dozen or more, were boys. Some of them were readers and some weren't but all of us managed to still enjoy going out for pizza, watching movies and hitting the beach to surf in spite of the fact that we weren't the same gender.
Will wonders never cease?