The internet is turning our kids into terrible writers

Aug 1, 2014 at 4:30 p.m. ET
Image: Peathegee Inc/ Blend Images/Getty Images

Worldwide literacy rates have been rising steadily for the last several decades. Today, more than half the countries with available data have youth literacy rates of 95 percent or higher due to increased access to technology and online content.

by Amanda L. Barbara

However, despite the wealth of information available online, children’s writing abilities are actually declining. Educators have expressed concern that digital technology is blurring the lines about what kind of language is acceptable for formal writing. It’s also hindering students’ ability to think critically and write long-form text — skills that are essential for gaining admittance to college and succeeding in higher education environments.

The problem with high-volume, low-quality content

The problem with online content isn’t necessarily digital technology itself. Most researchers agree it’s too soon to gauge the real impact touchscreen devices like iPads and smartphones have on children’s development, but we should definitely be concerned about the content they’re consuming.

Children today are constantly bombarded with low-quality blog content and social media feeds that are riddled with disjointed, informal language and all-around bad writing.

Many parents will say that “any reading is good reading,” but what you read does influence how you write. Researchers at some of the leading English and language arts organizations say that children who read extensively tend to become better writers, but I believe it’s more accurate to say that children who read high-quality writing tend to become better writers.

It's about reading quality books

So will reading more books improve the overall quality of kids’ writing? Again, it depends on what types of books they’re reading.

There’s been a recent surge in books geared toward children and teens that are designed to be easy reads with mass appeal that are, quite frankly, low-quality. A great example of this is the Twilight saga. It’s a fun read, but it doesn’t use the challenging and sophisticated language that is so critical for developing kids’ writing skills.

When we take a step back and look at the bigger picture, we are able to see the broader consequences of this epidemic. Constant exposure to poor content will affect kids’ reading and writing skills, which can impact things like standardized test scores and even college admission.

With such important milestones on the line, it’s important for parents to know how to handle the flood of digital content being read by their children and make sure their kids have access to high-quality books that will grow their language and comprehension skills.

Depending on your child’s age and reading level, some middle grade and young adult books that I would recommend are the Magic Tree House series, Charlotte’s Web, the Harry Potter series, Holes, The Outsiders, The Giver, The Diary of a Young Girl and The Hunger Games series.

Of course, no matter what your children are reading, it’s important to make sure that the content is appropriate for their age and maturity level and to talk about the books together.

How to grow great readers and writers

Here are a few ways to supplement your kids’ "reading diet" and help nurture good reading and writing skills.

  • Monitor digital media exposure. This also includes monitoring for quality. Talk to your kids about what they’re reading online, and limit screen time to no more than two hours per day.
  • Set healthy reading routines. Make reading part of your kids’ bedtime routine to engrain the habit and help them unwind at the end of the day.
  • Incentivize their reading. Reward your kids by letting them pick out new books when they complete a reading challenge.
  • Get them talking and writing. Talk to your kids about the books they’re reading, and ask them about their favorite characters to get them thinking critically about the narrative. You can even encourage them to write their own stories or fan fiction starring their favorite characters.

Don’t let digital content get in the way of good books — your child’s reading and writing skills are too important to leave to chance.

Amanda L. Barbara is vice president of Pubslush. Pubslush is a global crowdfunding publishing platform for the literary world. This platform is bridging the gap between writers, readers, publishers and industry leaders. Follow Amanda on Twitter.

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