“They Took My Reading Away”

Josie Leavitt - June 10, 2015

Working in a small village means I run into customers all the time when I’m doing my own errands. Yesterday I was at the drugstore picking up some much needed allergy relief, and two of my favorite young customers were also shopping. Manny is nine years old and is a fixture at the bookstore with BBbookhis younger sister, Daisy. Manny is a voracious reader of all things Hardy Boys. He started reading the series months ago and is now on book 50. He comes in weekly and orders two more books. We now have the entire series in stock, just for him. I’m already plotting for what to suggest for him to read when he finishes the series.
Manny became a reader on these Hardy Boys books. He went from being vaguely interested in books to nearly obsessed with these mysteries and the things he was learning from the Hardy Boys. Manny looks for clues around his dad’s apartment and his mom’s house. He solves his own mysteries. And more importantly, this boy is a joyful reader and just generally delightful, if a little mischievous.
Yesterday he and his sister were alone in the drugstore. Manny came up to me and asked, “I have eight dollars. What should I buy?” I looked at him without missing a beat and said, “You should get the next Hardy Boys!” And then he said something that just broke my heart. “They took my reading away.” I asked what happened. It seems, and I give him massive credit for being totally honest about his own behavior, that he was being willful and directly disobeying both parents at bedtime the past week (the last week of school is a challenge for many kids), and his mom had had enough. Apparently, the first round of discipline (taking away some screen time) wasn’t really working, so his mom took away reading. For a week.
I tried to not show my absolute horror at the punishment. To take away reading seems to be a bit like taking away breathing or sleep. Reading has always felt sacred to me. But clearly the punishment is working because he’s behaving better, but he’s bereft without his reading time. He actually looks a little adrift, like something big has changed. I have strong feelings about taking away reading. But I am not a parent and therefore don’t feel like I can be too judgmental about this. However, I am very curious how our readers feel about this.
Is taking away reading too harsh a punishment for a nine-year-old?

9 thoughts on ““They Took My Reading Away”

  1. Melissa

    Taking away reading from anyone, especially from a kid who just became a reader, is a terrible idea. I try not to judge other people’s parenting, but this is one of the worst ideas I’ve ever heard. I understand the impulse, but no. Just…no.

  2. LB

    My sister does this with her kids (4 and 6 years old). They normally get two short books or one long book each night. If they are misbehaving, particularly at bedtime, they get three warnings. After the third warning, they lose a book.
    I have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, as the author says, reading is sacred to me. Why would you ever take it away from someone?! But, on the other hand, it is strangely heartening to see just how effective the threat of taking away a book is with them. They cherish their nighttime books so much that they try to negotiate for one more book and the fear of losing a book is usually enough to get them to settle down. It also helps that I know that losing that one book isn’t going to make a major impact on their access to books and reading. That’s not going to be the only book they get to see/read that day.
    So I guess my opinion would depend in part on whether he’s losing all access to books/reading time or if he’s just losing reading privileges before bed.

  3. Tracy

    Ah – not so bad. 90% of the time I got in trouble as a kid was *because* I was reading instead of doing what I was supposed to do. I “had my reading taken away” at least a few times a year throughout childhood and I still became a librarian. Plus my mother is a retired librarian so she was definitely pro-reading whenever possible. The punishment needs to fit the child and having my reading taken away was the only thing that would cause me to take notice. So for one week? It might just do the trick and never need to be used again…

  4. JenA

    Taking away screen time worked for our son, but for our daughter, it didn’t faze her at all. Taking away her toys didn’t work either. We tried lots of other things for behavior issues, but since those things didn’t matter to her, they didn’t really change the behavior. Punishment has to matter and as a last resort we took away bedtime reading time for a couple of days. As a voracious reader myself, it wasn’t something that I wanted to do, but desperate time require desperate measures. We only had to take away reading time twice because it was really something that mattered to her.

  5. Deb Schuler

    My parents employed this punishment when I was a child, and I’ve suffered no ill effects. (I’m still a voracious reader, and a publishing professional, at 52.) With an intelligent and strong-willed child, you need to design punishments that are impactful to make the point that misbehavior has consequences. I would much rather this than corporal punishment, and it seems that Manny got the point. Perhaps a shorter duration would suffice, though.

  6. Helaine Chersonsky

    Foolish parents; the punishment is way out of line; you don’t take away reading from a budding reader; might slow his academic achievement; hopefully, they repent at some point. Parents are notoriously overreactive and this sounds like just such a case. Aargh!

  7. Carol B. Chittenden

    Well, a WEEK is harsh. Clearly this was a very frustrated parent, and I can sympathize with that. With a little more thought, the mom will probably realize she’s made her point, and can negotiate with Manny. She could offer him a day of reading reprieve for every evening he turns the light out on time. Look around to see how many kids have dark circles under their eyes, and are cranky or inattentive due to lack of sleep. Manny’s lucky to have parents who care, and I’m guessing they’re also smart enough to adjust the penalty productively. And good for Manny to provide them with such a powerful lever!

  8. Karen

    My mother took reading away from me all the time when I was a young, willful, mouthy kid. It was the only thing that worked because it’s what mattered to me the most. Taking away reading is no worse, in my mind, than taking away anything else. One week isn’t going to kill Manny’s love of the Hardy Boys. (Also, Manny self-reported. For all we know, Mom took away one day, Manny kept misbehaving, and the days increased. That would’ve been my story, more often than not, but I wouldn’t have admitted it to the book lady!) A final note: Why not buy the next book anyway and read it as soon as the punishment was lifted?

  9. Debbie Vilardi

    I’ve done this with my son too. He’s a voracious reader. He went through four Percy Jackson books in one weekend. Reading is his thing. The punishment has to fit the child and the crime. If the crime is not closing a book to come to dinner, the book should be the thing removed. He loses his DS the same way. How long he loses these privileges for is really up to him. Now, he asks if he can finish the chapter instead of just willfully ignoring me when I call him. Usually, I’ll agree.


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