In January of 2016, the last standing Barnes & Noble in all of Queens, New York was targeted — literally. The new year brought with it the closing of the neighborhood’s beloved bookstore and replaced it with … a Target.
And as all of Forest Hills said a tearful and regretful goodbye, we also waved an unconscious farewell to childhood literacy.
As a child, reading was my sincerest form of adventure. It showed me how to be patient and how to appreciate the journey rather than anticipating an end. Books taught me about true love, about the purest forms of magic, about bravery, friendship, loss and pride. Children need these kinds of adventures.
Books don’t discriminate. You don’t have to be any kind of religion, race, gender or any other socially identifying factor to enjoy them. You don’t have to be outgoing, well-dressed, rich or popular. Books open their pages to teach the most eager of minds about science, about history, math, literature and fairy tales.
They give children opportunities to explore their imaginations, to expand their language skills, to enhance concentration and to develop cognitive and logical thinking skills.
Today we delight in toddlers who know how to swipe open their parents’ phones and we calm children by putting them in front of TVs. While we revel in their technological knack, we fail to see the bigger picture — we are encouraging a development that is completely reliant on the presence of electronics.
And like any millennial, I bring my bold opinion to explain to you why I think that’s wrong.
A 2013 study at Ohio State University found that children who watched or were exposed to TV had a poorer understanding of their parents’ mental states, altering the interactions between child and parent. Children who had parents read to them at a young age, however, were found to have “an advanced vocabulary, word recognition in spoken words, ability to connect written letters to spoken sounds [and] reading comprehension.”
Another study found that toddlers and preschoolers who read with their mothers typically had better connections to them. The mothers “were more likely to ask their child questions, respond to their child’s statements and questions, and explain concepts in greater detail.” TV can stand in the way of a healthy parent-child attachment relationship, which can severely stunt the development of the child.
TV is designed to be passive — entertaining and educating on the surface level. Books, on the other hand, are more proactive, prompting the reader to concentrate on what’s being said and to think through concepts they encounter.
A 2013 study at Tohoku University in Japan found that increased exposure to TV correlated with thickening of regions in the brain that determine arousal and aggression levels. The frontal lobe also thickened — a symptom that correlates with lower ability to reason. However, a study done in the same year at Emory University was done on how reading a novel affects the brain. The test subjects were found to have had increased connectivity in parts of the brain that are related to language.
Children who grow up thriving between the pages of books, whose minds have been enriched by thousands of eloquent words flowing, twisting and crackling with electricity, are those who are more open-minded and see the world through the eyes of a loving and trusting protagonist.
They are those who are calmer, more mature and better able to connect and empathize and they are those who question everything.
Of course, you don’t have to trust me. But please, if anything at all, don’t constantly play into the culture that silences their 3-year-old on the subway by giving them your iPhone. Instead, hand over a fantastic seven-page book about the sounds that different animals make. Amuse your child, interact with them and revel in their fascination as they proudly “moo” all over the city.
Hannah Gulko is a sophomore majoring in human development.