Put the Book Down, Kid!

reading and food.jpg

As a believer of doing everything within your power to raise a good reader, you may be surprised to hear me say that there are times when it is wrong for a child to read.

That’s right; there are times when it is wrong for a child to read. There is an etiquette to reading just like there is an etiquette to everything in life: a time to read and a time not to read.

Children should learn that good manners don't end when you read a book.

Fortunately, unlike table manners, there are only two rules they need to know regarding when it is not acceptable to read.  

I'll list them for you here with brief explanations of why each rule is utterly essential for the budding civilized human being to follow.

1. Books should never come to the dinner table or any other table where food is present. When you eat, you eat; when you read, you read. Out of respect for books, children (nor adults) should ever eat while reading.

You don't want to soil the books with food, which is inevitable, but also because it is just plain rude to read a book at the dinner table.

Children should never be allowed to indulge themselves this way.

2. Another ill-mannered situation I see about as often as I find a child who likes to read is an undiscerning parent who allows their child to bring his books to social gatherings.  The child then conveniently plops himself in a central position to the other guests as if to holler, "Look, I have something better to do than to talk to all of you!"

Somehow the accomplishment of raising a good reader–which a parent deserves to feel proud of– justifies antisocial behavior.

I witnessed such an event the other night. In this particular case, the mother,–being a friend of mine–did know better, but she let the "no-book-at-parties" rule slide that night for a specific reason being unaware of my “never indulge a child” rule.

Nevertheless, I told her it nudged my memory to write about this problem because while she knew better, most parents didn't. At least this has been my observation.

Many a party have I been to when I've tried to engage a child in conversation only to receive the distinct impression that returning the greeting was an unfortunate inconvenience that neither he nor his book had time for.

Said conversations go something like this:

"Hi, sweety, how are you?"

“Fine." (Head goes back in book.)

"What are you reading?"

"A book."

Gee, really?

While it's fabulous, marvelous and awesome that he is reading, his manners leave a lot to be desired.

This sort of behavior is a red flag that the parents are failing to teach this child right from wrong in matters of lasting significance. After all, rudeness is offensive and may have consequences that are unpleasant and sometimes even fatal.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that manners are important for the preservation of life. Many a man has been shot and killed for having wounded someone’s honor.

I am always saying “Glad to’ve met you” to somebody I’m not at all glad I met. If you want to stay alive, you have to say that stuff, though.
— J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

Books, under no conditions whatsoever, are never more important than a living, breathing human being, and the reading of them should never give license to uncivil behavior.

It's not that a child can't ever take a book with him to someplace away from home. He can. He can bring a book on an airplane, on a long drive, to a doctor's office or to any other place where he might have to sit quietly for a long time, but never to a party!

Politeness [is] a sign of dignity, not subservience.
— Theodore Roosevelt

Not only is it rude, but children need to develop their social skills. We all appreciate a scholarly mind, but the man or woman who is a scholar and displays excellent social skills, we enjoy even more.

Engaging in social activities can be uncomfortable and awkward for young children, especially if they're shy. Hiding their face in a book while receiving praise from undiscerning adults about the object in their hands is one way to avoid the awkwardness.

But it's not the right way because it lacks consideration for others.

A better way would be to face the shyness and conquer it by developing a few social skills.

If your child is destined to live a scholarly life, and he may well be, he probably isn't going to become a social butterfly, but he should at least learn how to engage in general conversation when the occasion demands it of him.

Set some boundaries around reading and help your child develop the social skills he'll need to get along in the world, the first of which is a consideration for others which means that you don't plop yourself in the center of a party and begin to read a book.

As Daniel Goleman demonstrates in his ground-breaking book, Emotional Intelligence, good social skills–which are predicated upon good manners–are the basis for just about everything in life that will make a person happy: a successful marriage, good relationships with one's children, long-term friendships, and a successful career.

And Goleman's research proves that there are even times when a child should not read a book.