My Family Care asks Matilda: In the high tech world we live in, why is storytelling and reading important for all ages? And how do we get more families away from the TV, computer and hand held devices?
We are all storytelling animals
Our lives are shaped by stories. Not only that, we are biologically engineered to learn from them. Jonathan Gottschall's book, 'The Storytelling Animal', lays out evidence for the fact that a story's job is to stimulate the brain into imagining potential situations through which humans can 'virtually' test out actions without the fear of risks that would come in real life.
Stories, he argues, are intensely moralistic. Across the world, and cultures, nursery rhymes show not only the consequences of bad behaviour but also the rewards of good behaviour.
The power of storytelling doesn't diminish when we reach adulthood. Many of the best public speakers, including teachers, know the potency of a good story. Stories, neurologically speaking, are designed to be absorbed by the brain because the right neurotransmitters are switched on when a person is emotionally engaged.
Our ability to storify everything makes us human
As parents, one of our roles is to pass on stories to our children; be it through reading books, sharing our personal experiences or creating our own make-believe situations.
Stories in the virtual world can perform the same function. One of the shows I watched as a kid, 'Leave it to Beaver' had a moral tale in each episode. It didn't occur to me I was learning good behaviour, because to me, I was just watching television. Technology is educational and there is much we can learn from it.
Yet technology also provides us with a conundrum
In a 'virtual friendship', 'liking' something on Facebook does not substitute for the satisfaction of hearing a friend's story straight from their lips. The virtual world can be a slippery slope, and we don't yet know where it leads, or where it ends.
We have been inundated with electronic devices in the past 20 years, and there is no end in sight to the powerful influence of technology. But what we can do is set rules so that technology doesn't chip away at the edifice of essential parenting.
- Only allow TV (or other electronic devices) on weekends or school holidays.
- Watch TV/movies with your children as much as possible. You can fill in the gaps, start a conversation, it can be an enriching parenting time instead of just a child's one-way conversation with the television.
- The more kids see you reading, the more likely they are to appreciate books.
- Read to them, go to the library, and discuss books with them. A lot. The more books at home, the better. My husband bought our son a huge box set of books, which stood on his shelf gathering dust for over year - until last week, when he suddenly started devouring them every night before bed.
- Expose kids to as many activities as possible, within reason, to offer them the opportunity to find something they love. I tried to fit my son into a sports box until I realised he's more artistic, preferring piano to football.
- Use electronic devices wisely, as a supplement to parenting, not a replacement. Skype with family and friends to keep your kids in touch with loved ones who live far away. Find educational websites. For example, Storyline Online is a video programme by the Screen Actors Guild Foundation with actors reading children's books aloud.
Matilda Lee, Journalist, Mother of two