Taking away a child’s reading “privileges”

Taking away a child’s reading “privileges”

For a child, is reading a privilege…or something else?

After reading this

Publishers Weekly article by Josie Leavitt

I am making a Vulcanian effort to control my emotions as I write this post. Like Mr. Spock, I am using mental discipline to reassert the dominance of my logical processes over my irrational response.

That reaction is one of horror, disgust, even making a mad dash over the cliff towards anger (which is a plunge I very, very rarely take).

What’s causing that?

A parent punishing a “willful” child by taking away reading “privileges”…for a week.

Having raised a child, I understand the frustration that can lead you to try to find another way to influence behavior.

Some people introduce a negative into the child’s environment to try to change something. That could be yelling, for example, or threatening something (sometimes hyperbolic…”Do you want me to turn this car into the oncoming traffic?”).

Another option is to promise something good for good behavior.

A third way is to take something pleasant out of the child’s life.

I remember doing that.

My Significant Other and I agreed that we would never take away our child’s (literal) security blanket (named “Stripes”), and we never did.

One time, though, I took away a favorite videotape (Parachute Express).

Honestly, I don’t even remember if that was effective.

It had a big emotional effect, sure, but I don’t recall if it actually changed the behavior. It wasn’t for a long period of time, and the tape just went into the garage temporarily.

It did change the situational balance in the short term, though, I remember that.

Take away reading?


I would never do that.

Reading is a positive…not only a huge positive for the child in the long run, but a benefit for the adults even in the short run.

What child is misbehaving while reading a book?

Maybe they aren’t participating in the way you want in something (some families have “no reading at the dinner table” policies…of course, not many families eat that way any more, I think), but they aren’t actively doing something wrong.

I think one issue here for me is the question of how fragile is the desire to read? Could you break a child’s habit of reading by doing something like this, or, like the Jurassic Park dinosaurs, will reading find a way to survive?

Many adults would testify…you can be a serious reader, and then get to a situation where you aren’t. Starting up again is like having been a runner, taking a break for two years, and then trying to run a marathon straight off. Reading takes commitment, it takes effort…you need to withdraw to some extent from other things to do it, and there are a lot of temptations.

The parents in this case weren’t, I’m sure, trying to send a message that reading is bad. However,  for the child, that association seems apparent to me. “I’ve been bad, I’ve been reading, they are taking away my reading, and now, apparently, I’m good…so I shouldn’t read.”

A child (this is a nine-year old) is going to assume that a parent is trying to protect them…if they remove something from the environment, it must be because it is a negative, not because it is a positive.

Children should always be encouraged to read, not discouraged from it.

That’s true even if they are reading things you think are silly (geeks like me really understand that).

Nothing will empower your child more, or make them more empathetic, in my opinion, than reading.

Okay, I think I’m calmed down at this point…my breathing is back to a normal respiration rate. 😉

I do want to mention that this child was really into reading

The Hardy Boys (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

(the PW post is written by the child’s bookseller). I love that it is an older series like that that was helping this child build a bright future in and for the world as a reader.

What do you think? Would stopping a child from reading ever be an appropriate action?  Can a guardian make a child a reader? Can a guardian break a child from being a reader…and if so, how hard would that be to do? Feel free to tell me and my readers what you think by commenting on this post.

Join thousands of readers and try the free ILMK magazine at Flipboard!

* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

7 Responses to “Taking away a child’s reading “privileges””

  1. Lady Galaxy Says:

    I spent 30 years teaching children who had reading difficulties. I had to look for any sign of a spark of interest in reading and then try to nurture it into full flames. I would never throw a bucket of water on that flame.

    The only possible reason I could tink of to take away reading as a punishment would be if the crime was somehow reading related. For example, child is reading while walking and almost steps out into traffic or child is reading at the pool while supposed to be watching younger sibling who then falls into the pool. And even then, I would not totally take away reading. I would say, “You were irresponsible when you read while watching little Ignatz, so no more reading by the pool.” If the child knows that reading was taken away as a punishment, then I would hop that would make reading even more valuable to the child. There’s always the danger the child could discover addictive video games [are they still called that] or reruns of “The Unreal Housechildren of Yoknapatawpha County,” and never read another book.

    A week is a long time for a punishment simply for being “willful.” Quite honestly, as hard as willfulness is to deal with, it is not necessarily a bad trait. Willful children tend to be more immune to peer pressure than more compliant children. To me, it would have made more of an effect to use reading as the reward. The carrot usually works better than the stick. Offer points or stars or stickers each time the child is compliant and then let the child save up the points to earn a new book. Or if the parent is stupid enough to take away reading, at least let the child earn reading time back when being compliant. Tell the child, “You have lost reading privileges for a week; however, you can earn back reading time during the week. Every time you do as you are asked without arguing or pouting, you will earn back 15 minutes of reading time.” Or something specific. Then gradually increase the reading time with each act of compliance until the child has earned back unlimited reading time.

    What also infuriates me is when reading is used as the punishment, forcing the child to read a book and write a report for example. Or handing a child a book and making the child copy passages from the book by hand.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Lady!


      I think there are a lot of pressures around kids not to read. I don’t know if that’s still true, but there could certainly be peer pressure not to read. I think that may tend to be true when reading is associated with assignments from grown-ups (rather than something the child chooses to do). If reading is encouraged in the home, kids may even see reading as a form of independence, rather than “compliance with authority”.

      I think I would tend to say, “You weren’t paying attention when you were watching Ignatz. I really want you to focus on that…don’t do anything else . If you aren’t responsible enough for that, you can’t do it…and we’ll think about what else you may not be responsible enough to do going forward. I think you can do it, but you’ll need to try hard to succeed.”

      I also agree on reading as punishment! That would be like trying to make a child social by saying, “You have to talk to Grandma for ten minutes…and all you are allowed to say is, ‘Yes, Ma’am.'”

  2. Karin Says:

    Lady Galaxy, great post.

    A friend of mine loves to read. She told me, as a child, her mother hated when she would read a book instead of paying attention to her. Luckily as an adult she still loves to read. I just don’t understand some parents, how can anyone possibly discourage reading?

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Karin!

      My guess is that not every role model in your friend’s life acted that way…teacher, coach, uncle/aunt, old sibling…friends. However, I would guess it is possible for someone to maintain a love of reading without role models, but it’s going to be more difficult.

      I think it’s going to tend to come out of frustration (and adults can be legitimately frustrated when dealing with children). For me, though, taking away reading would be like taking away the child’s pet…I don’t see how it’s going to have a positive result.

  3. tuxgirl Says:

    I have taken a specific book away, and we do have a few rules about when we can read (no reading when you are supposed to be doing your chores, no reading during a family meal (which we do have as a family sitting at the dinner table 🙂 ). I’m sure that once we have homework, there will have to be a “no non-schoolwork reading until after homework is done” rule. All of these are rules my parents had too.

    Personally, I wouldn’t remove reading entirely. And the only times I have removed specific books entirely has been due to behavior that I see directly tied to the books. (My daughter misbehaves to an extreme amount when she is allowed to read Calvin and Hobbes. We gave the book back to her months after the first few instances, and misbehavior started up again almost immediately! Other comic books are fine (she likes some of the step-into-reading superhero comics), bug I think the behavior portrayed in Calvin and Hobbes, and the attitudes regarding school seem to be very bad for her). My daughter has also lost the ability to have certain books in her bedroom (but they move to the playroom) if she doesn’t clean them up, or if she is mean to her brother in relation to them (hitting, yanking out of his hands, etc).

    I can imagine how a parent could hit their wits end and take away reading for a bit, though. When my daughter gets a kindle (hopefully soon), I can see myself taking that away due to behavior and rules, but. We do have dtb children’s books that she would be able to read…

    I do control content of books available, and plan to continue to do that until she is able to demonstrate good judgement in that area. We are religious, and certain book content is not acceptable, even to my husband and I.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, tuxgirl!

      I understand choosing which books a child reads. That seems very different from removing recreational reading all together. I can also see saying, “You need to participate in the family conversation at the table,” without specifically saying “No reading,” but that might just be me. 🙂

    • Lady Galaxy Says:

      Excuse me for butting in, but I have a comment to make about the idea of not reading for fun until homework is done.

      When children get home from school, they have been in a school environment for anywhere from 4 to 8 hours depending on the district and grade level. That means sitting and listening and testing and reading things they may not have wanted to read. The last thing they need to do is go right back into school mode once they get home. Please consider giving them time to wind down before tackling the homework. Maybe they need to run around and play and then sit down with a favorite book for awhile.

      And for the record, I’m a retired teacher who disapproves of the idea of home work.

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