Q: Our soon-to-be 12 year old (born on Christmas Eve) loves to read and dearly wants a Kindle. He does NOT have a cell phone, iPad etc.; he does have a MacBook Pro at home with limited and tightly controlled use. Since we are so strict with other electronics, we were hoping to get him something that was "techie" but safe. Please advise us!
– Tech-Skeptic Mom in Boise, ID
A: Dear Mom,
E-readers can be wonderful for tweens and kids of all ages (though pre-readers and early readers require colorful images and so devices with full-color screens—or physical books—are preferable for them over the more available black-and-white screens). I bought a first-generation e-reader myself, admittedly with more than a little trepidation: I love books, not only for what can be found inside them, but for the feeling and even smell of them. But I was very quickly won over by how much reading on one of these devices is like reading a book. And it lets readers do many things books can’t: bookmark and annotate without marring pages, change the font size for easier reading, and, most importantly, store hundreds of books, magazines, and newspapers on a device that it lighter than a typical paperback. Especially when I travel, I carry my e-reader—this may be ideal for your son, as well.
It sounds like your concern is that giving him this device will be adding another form of screen media to your child’s life. But whereas videos in any form (on a TV, computer, or tablet screen) invite the viewer into the video maker’s pre-created world, which is less demanding, imaginative, and personal than engaging with books, e-books are still books—even though they’re presented on screen. Just as with ink and paper books, e-readers let the author’s words be transformed through the reader’s individual imaginations, life experiences, and aspirations into a shared vision.
If you do get your son an e-reader, my only cautionary advice would be to set parameters around how frequently he can buy books: The process is almost too easy, as all he needs to do is switch the e-reader on, wirelessly choose among thousands of titles, and have them instantly downloaded to his device. Also, why not consider getting an e-reader for yourself, sharing books with your son, and discussing them over dinner together? Whatever media interest your son, they are best used in a focused way, with additional time allowed for outdoor physical activity, family, homework, and sleep.
Enjoy your media and use them wisely,