Academic Says Reading to Kids May Be Unfair to Less Fortunate

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An Australian Broadcasting Corporation Radio National program has brought into question the idea that parents reading to their children at bedtime could be creating a disadvantage for less-fortunate children.

British academic Adam Swift first became interested in the topic while doing research on social mobility.  He said that the evidence pointed to what happened within families, and that it appeared the issue had little to do with being able to afford private schooling and tutors and more to do with functional family interactions.

In an interview with ABC presenter Joe Gelonesi, Swift said that the benefits of reading to your child at bedtime far outweigh the benefits of that child receiving a private school education.

“Evidence shows that the difference between those who get bedtime stories and those who don’t — the difference in their life chances — is bigger than the difference between those who get elite private schooling and those that don’t,” Mr Swift said.

Swift went on to question whether or not reading bedtime stories should be banned.  However, in the end, the act of reading at bedtime to promote family bonding outweighed the downsides.

While he did admit that both attending private school and reading stories at bedtime had an influence in the opportunities present in a child’s life, only placing restrictions on the former would not interfere with family life, while putting an end to reading bedtime stories would interfere with healthy family relationships.

“You have to allow parents to engage in bedtime stories activities, in fact we encourage them because those are the kinds of interactions between parents and children that do indeed foster and produce these (desired) familial relationship goods.”

Swift added that while parents should not stop reading to their children just because the act could be placing an unfair advantage over other people, he said that the thought should cross a parents’ mind from time to time.

He went on to add that nothing in his studies suggests what a typical family should look like.

“Politicians love to talk about family values, but meanwhile the family is in flux and so we wanted to go back to philosophical basics to work out what are families for and what’s so great about them and then we can start to figure out whether it matters whether you have two parents or three or one, or whether they’re heterosexual etcetera,” said Swift.

The idea of creating a level playing field by encouraging all parents to read to their children was not discussed.