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Paying Attention in Primetime

By Drego Little

Today’s parents face unprecedented competition for influence in their children’s lives -never has there been a more concerted effort at marketing to children. Families concerned as much about what their children are learning out of school as in, have difficult choices to make. If parents want their children to be thinking, literate citizens they will have to take a stand and be involved – as much after school as during.

A home is as valid a place of learning as a school.Sounds serious? For many households it is. A home is as valid a place of learning as a school. Ensuring children get a diet rich in mental vegetables can mean making unpopular decisions. Unfortunately, many parents would rather win the popularity contest than engage in battle. Leaving a child’s shaping, molding, learning and nurturing to chance, or to the unlimited viewing of 600 cable channels, is not a decision – it’s neglect.

Because I know many people don’t like to be lectured to, let me share an example from my own experience. Before I do it’s important to note that I was not a parent who had the first five years of my son’s life planned out. I learned on the job. Not a fashionable or popular statement among progressive parents, but it’s the truth in more families than we often admit. Suffice it to say that “parent involvement” is not a dirty word.

When my son was eight “we” had a problem. It took him an hour or more to get ready for bed. Although his bedtime was 9:00pm, I asked him to start getting ready around 8:00, so I could begin my ritual evening television line-up. I’d go to his room at 8:30 to put him in the shower and find him sitting there with half his clothes still on. Threatening him didn’t work; taking the treats out of his lunch didn’t work. Nor did raising my voice; that only guaranteed he went to bed upset. What was up with him? Didn’t he know that 8:00-9:00 was TV’s Primetime – and Frasier was waiting for me?

Every night there was some kind of confrontation. I ended up snarling at him for spacing off and playing when he was supposed to be getting ready for bed. I needed a solution for his get-ready-for bedtime routine, because I didn’t want to dread putting my boy to bed every night and I didn’t want to disrupt my nightly get-ready-for-primetime routine either.

And Then Along Came Potter

My son and I were in Seattle’s Elliott Bay Bookstore when saw a book display. Although we had seen this display at a few other stores my son had been hearing other kids talking about the book at school and he was intrigued, and he asked for the book. Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone was an expensive hardback, but since he was interested in reading it, and reading it now, I decided not to wait for the paperback.

Our agreement was this: he had to be in bed and ready to read by 8:30pm. If he was, he got an extra half hour of story time in addition to our daily 20-minute read-aloud time. The first two nights he was in bed by 8:30. By the third night he was ready by 8:20.

This is what parents are for - to recognize which habits lead to lifelong growth and learning.And I demonstrated the importance of our agreement by dumping my commitment to Frasier reruns in favor of primetime parent involvement. This was one of the best family decisions I’ve ever made. It was proof to me that kids respond to what adults make available to them (reading Dad) and how they do it (putting Dad’s TV schedule 2nd place). This is what parents are for - to recognize which habits lead to lifelong growth and learning. Reading became our nightly routine for two more years until he started middle school - and then decided he preferred to read novels by himself.

What’s more significant than having chosen reading with my son over a sitcom is that he witnessed the choice I made, and the reasons I made it. Your kids are going to grow up whether you want them to or not. Better to tend them with your own heart and hands than to wait and see what the wind, or remote control brings.

Drego Little is a graduate student in the Language, Literacy, and Culture program at the University of Washington in Seattle.

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