How to Raise a “Digital Native” to be a Reader

How to Raise a “Digital Native” to be a Reader

Posted on January 27 by Michael Reist
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Our kids are called “digital natives” because screens are their natural environment. Most of them will end up working at a screen. What place will reading have in their lives? Why is reading still relevant? 

1. Reading does what visual content can’t do. While reading, the imagination becomes the screen. The reader creates the images, and more importantly, the reader creates the meaning. This is a rich, deep experience that only reading can deliver.

2. School rewards the reader. While popular culture has become a visual culture, school remains a print culture. School demands proficiency in two languages: numbers and words. Kids who are comfortable with reading longer and more complex texts will do better in school.

3. Stories teach empathy. Research has shown that kids who read fiction have better social skills and find it easier to imagine how other people think and feel.

4. Reading time is bonding time. When cuddling in bed reading, we can talk about whatever is on our minds. We can slow down and relax. It is a profound bonding experience that requires very little output.

5. Kids who are read to read better on their own. Reading has a different cadence and rhythm than conversational speech. When you read out loud to your child, you model the flow of written language. Kids pick up that flow and imitate it in their own reading.

6. Model reading by reading yourself. Research shows that kids read more when they grow up seeing their parents read. This is especially true for boys who are more likely to read in adolescence if they see Dad reading.

7. Don’t be a reading snob. Respect your kids’ choices of reading material. Graphic novels are a valid form of reading. They provide a blend of visual and logical-linear cognitive functioning. Reading for information (think dinosaurs) is just as valid as reading fiction.

8. Make reading part of your family’s “normal.” Be intentional about the place screens and books will have in your family’s life. If you don’t, corporations will decide for you. Screens have far more marketing dollars behind them than books do.

9. Use your public library. Most public libraries allow card holders to have as many as 50 items out at any given time, and you can keep them for up to 21 days! You pay for your libraries through your taxes. Are you getting your money’s worth?

10. Reading and the brain. The human brain has evolved to be very good at processing the kind of visual content that screens deliver. Screen time is easy. Reading, on the other hand, is a very recent development in human evolution. The brain must rally several functions to co-ordinate for reading. This involves the building of complex neuropathways especially dedicated to the act of reading. These pathways only develop with use. We learn to read by reading. We become better readers the more we read.


Parents have a powerful influence on what kind of information environment their kids grow up in. The decision for “digital natives” to make print literacy part of their skill set is a bigger decision than it’s ever been before, and they need our support to do it.  

Michael Reist

Posted by Kendra on December 6, 2014

Michael Reist

Michael Reist is an internationally recognized advocate for men and boys. As a mentor to hundreds of men and boys over the past two decades, he is aware of the deep questions and issues facing men today. He is the author of several books, including Raising Boys in a New Kind of World and Raising Emotionally Healthy Boys. Michael lives in Caledon East, Ontario.