Reading for pleasure can help students deal better with pressure

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 16 March, 2016, 3:54pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 16 March, 2016, 3:54pm

My work in strategic literacy has brought me to work in Hong Kong and China since 1998.

I was dismayed to read about the recent cluster of student suicides in Hong Kong; I remember reading such articles many years ago.

Suicide among children happens the world over and is cause for alarm on the part of parents, teachers and the community at large. Hopefully these recent premature deaths should provoke some soul searching for all adults. It is also critically important to speak openly and candidly with children about the pressures they feel to succeed, to be the best. The burden children feel inside the overriding message – that only the best will do, in grades, test scores, sports, in everything – is crippling.

My recent work with Bring Me A Book, Hong Kong, the leading advocate for family literacy in Hong Kong, addressed parental concerns that their children were not reading for pleasure and did not seem to understand what they read. It is no surprise that their lack of genuine comprehension made enjoyment in reading off limits.

Children and families need downtime, with activities that are pleasurable and not linked to achievement. Reading for pleasure is enjoyable and relaxing, offering readers the opportunity to step out of the everyday of what needs to be accomplished and become absorbed in a story that takes you on a journey. Take a leap of faith (well supported by science) that downtime will lead to a healthier perspective.

Children need high literacy skills to succeed in and out of school.

To be a strong and proficient reader means reading for meaning, to understand what you read and to be able to make connections between what you read, other ideas and experiences. Simply reading words is not reading; comprehension is the key to becoming a solid reader and when children understand what they read, they enjoy reading.

The challenge for parents is to want the best for your child, but not for your child to be the best.

Reading for pleasure could be one of the most rewarding activities to put into downtime and just might be an antidote to the exorbitant expectation to succeed that children suffer from. Reading fiction builds empathy and compassion for self and others.

We must help our children and ourselves find ways to be engaged with an activity that is enjoyable, just for the sheer pleasure it offers, without the burden to excel, to be the best.

Diane Frankenstein, San Francisco, US