Q: My 11-year-old daughter spends most of her time reading. As the pandemic continues, her time reading continues to increase. Are there any negatives to her spending so much time reading? I worry she is not social enough, something that is extra-challenging these days.
You are not alone with your worry that your child is not being “social enough” during these physically distanced times. Many a parent, especially those of a toddler, has the same worry.
There are many parts to children’s development: cognitive, physical, emotional and social, to name the biggies. Each of these areas encompasses specific skills that require practice, and each takes time to develop. How interesting it is that parents often put social development at the bottom of the list, and they put cognitive (intellectual) development at the top. But those of us in the field of development and education know how essential social development is. The world in which we all live is social … until COVID came along, that is. Social skills are a necessary part of existing in the world, unless the plan is to be a hermit in a cave. All this is to say, you are not wrong to wonder if your daughter is being “social enough.”
That your daughter is reading so much is something that many parents would call a “good problem.” They wish their kids would get into reading as something other than a “have to.” But here again, I think you are right to wonder if there can be too much reading. My answer is: it depends.
Some children are enthusiastic readers. They read any writing on which their eyes fall—cereal boxes, bus benches, newspaper headlines and especially things not meant for their eyes. These children enjoy reading for pleasure and love to talk about things they have read.
There are also children who actually use reading as a crutch. It is an activity on which they fall back. It is always there; it is easy; it takes them no effort; and it usually brings satisfaction. On top of that, it is something to do. Sometimes we find that these avid readers actually like to hide by reading. For them, it is an escape. Not only can they hide from people, but it always appears that they are busy. Reading may allow them to avoid something else, something that may be undesirable to them. Interestingly, it is not uncommon for kids who are “slow-to-warm” to prefer reading over being with friends or even family. For them reading trumps socializing.
The answer to Is there a negative to so much reading, therefore, is yes and no. It really depends on your child. Is her behavior an avoidance of some kind? Is she not being social at all, practicing her social skills and ability to interact with others? If yes, then it might be a good idea to explore what else might be going on, what is being avoided. I believe the question you need to ask is What is she not doing when she is reading? If you feel that your daughter’s life has become lopsided, likely it is time to make an adjustment.
It is difficult to encourage children who are not particularly social to be social. It is not necessarily comfortable for them. And it sure isn’t fun to do things you don’t like to do. As the parent, you can make social experiences available in the context of your family, nuclear and extended (as long as it is safe and within the prescribed protocols). Within your nuclear family, you can have game nights, team play, dramatic plays, etc … and participation isn’t a choice. It’s what we all do on Thursday nights. And within your extended family, the same interactions are skill building. There are families who are interacting with others who are “in their pod.” In the case of your daughter, I am pretty sure that your best bet is to socialize within a familiar group. That will take the pressure off, and she will be more willing to participate. And it is socializing.
If your daughter is a well-rounded girl who seems to be developing in all areas, likely there isn’t a problem. Instead let’s just count your lucky stars that you have a reader on your hands. I know many parents who would be happy to change places with you.
BBB is a child development and behavior specialist in Pacific Palisades. She can be reached through betsybrownbraun.com.
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