When does being a bookworm cross the line?

Q. My fourth-grade daughter reads all the time: between classes, after school.... she'd read at the dinner table if we let her. She has friends who she sees on weekends and does well in school, but is it possible that she's reading too much?

A. Every parent would like their child to be well rounded: doing well in school along with positive and appropriate hobbies, activities, friends, and athletic experiences. Some children spend too much time on the computer, playing video games, or watching TV. So here you are with a child who has her nose constantly in a book. Most parents would die for such a child. Yet you realize that she may be avoiding other experiences because of her seeming obsession with reading.

What Is She Reading?

Does she read books that supplement her school work, such as science or history books? Or does she read Nancy Drew mysteries, the Harry Potter books, or books more appropriate for young teens rather than school-aged kids? First of all, you want to make sure that what she's reading is appropriate for her age.

There's no doubt that being an avid reader helps your daughter be successful in school. Does she seem to comprehend what she's reading? You might consider reading a book that she's reading and discuss it with her. You can also ask a librarian if there might be a book club or discussion group for kids her age. With this approach she can make friends with peers who have the same interest in books, learning, and literature. Introduce her to good literature so that most of what she's occupying her mind with isn't pulp fiction, romance novels, or comic books.

Could Reading Be an "Out"?

You probably wonder if your daughter needs to escape into fantasy and is, therefore, reading to avoid real-life experiences. Additionally, your daughter may view reading as a nurturing experience. This means that when she's sad, lonely, or angry, rather than facing or talking about these emotions, she retreats to the comfort of a book. If you realize this is the case beyond what you sense is normal, you (and possibly your daughter) may need professional help to remedy the situation. You want to make sure your daughter's reading habit is based in good mental health.

Set Reading Limits

It is perfectly appropriate that you set limits as to where and when she reads. It's not okay to read at the dinner table, in church, or at family, holiday, or social gatherings. She can't read late into the night; you definitely need to establish a "lights out" policy. Since she's a voracious reader, she might want to try her hand at writing. This inclination you would want to encourage.

You're likely not going to talk her out of reading as much as she does, but rather you can guide her to make her reading the best experience it can be, of course, with limits.

Jan Faull, MEd, is a veteran parent educator and the author of four parenting books, including Darn Good Advice -- Baby and Darn Good Advice -- Parenting. She writes a biweekly parenting advice column for this site and a weekly parenting advice column in the Seattle Times. Jan Faull is the mother of three grown children and lives in the Seattle area.

Originally published on HealthyKids.com, February 2006.

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