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Even though the education sphere emphasizes STEM these days, people have not stopped reading fiction. In fact, the publishing industry is a multi-billion-dollar business, with sales continuing to increase yearly, even if only by 5-10%. This is good news! We reap many benefits of reading fiction. Here are some.
Benefits of reading fiction
Helps us learn empathy, acts as a virtual reality machine
Reading allows us to step into someone else’s shoes, someone else’s story. We feel what they feel, we see what they see. We experience the world as a different person. Books offer the opportunity to gain perspective and try alternate realities without having to change our own lives. What is it like to be an African American girl living in the inner city in the south? A Jewish boy hiding during the Holocaust? A homeless girl in Texas at the height of the Great Depression? Books open a door that no other medium can. Movies and television can’t tell us the inner thoughts and emotions of characters. Only books can and we become better, more empathic, people for it.
Reduces stress and protects memory
Research shows that reading fiction reduces stress better than any other stress-reducing activity. This surprised me. Better than a cup of chamomile tea? Yes. Better than listening to relaxing music? Yes again. They’re not sure why reading fiction is more beneficial than these other methods, but on measures of heart rate and muscle tension, it was more effective. Those who read a lot of fiction also experience less memory loss as they age. Perhaps books help exercise the brain in ways that keep it young. Plus, check out the next two benefits of reading fiction.
Many of us read before bedtime as part of our daily sleep ritual. Reading fiction brings the mind to a state of relaxed disengagement from reality. It helps us wind down and forget about the day. This is just the state of mind that helps the brain go to sleep.
Increases vocabulary and creativity
This benefit of reading fiction tends to be the first one that parents think of. The more books our kids read, the better they do on standardized tests and the better their writing is. In an age when writing excellence seems to be declining, developing vocabulary is important. But, fiction does far more than that. It also encourages creativity and imagination, essential skills for life. Reading forces the brain to create its own images instead of passively look at images someone else created. Being able to see something in your own mind’s eye improves memory and learning. It strengthens the brain’s ability to come up with novel solutions.
But, does all fiction offer these benefits, or just some fiction?
Not all fiction is the same
When we think of fiction, we tend to think of Tom Clancy, Veronica Roth, Stephen King, or J.K. Rowling. In other words, we think of books. We are all familiar with book reviews and trusted recommendations from family-friendly organizations to help us choose appropriate books. Sometimes we use the library to preview selections or even instead of purchasing new reading material. With books, we have ways to filter out the junk.
But what about fiction found online in places like Wattpad or Tumblr? How do we help our children, especially teenagers, make wise choices with regards to these types of sites? How do we protect them from accidental exposure to smut? And, what about accountability for what they are filling their minds with?
How to protect ourselves
Did you know that the most popular genre fiction is romance/erotica at $1.4 billion in sales each year? That doesn’t include the online porn industry, which earns $3 billion a year. One way to protect them is installing filtering software such as Covenant Eyes.
We may think that our kids are safe because we sit with them when they are online or we take other measures. But, kids get exposed unintentionally and curiosity does the rest. Did you know that the average age for first exposure to pornographic material is 11? 11! My oldest daughter searched the internet for a famous painting when she was about that age and what came up with the images of the painting? You guessed it! She wasn’t looking for it. Some clever perverts associated their images with the keywords she typed in. Even though I stood nearby, she was still exposed. Immediately after that incident, we installed Covenant Eyes. Then, when my youngest son, age 11, became curious about girls, it blocked his search efforts. The reports we received opened the door to some good discussions with him.
Covenant Eyes has settings for different age groups, with the Young Teen being the best setting for the whole family, in my opinion. It allows access to Facebook and YouTube, but will still block objectionable content. This setting also blocks nudity and excessive violence, but will allow access to non-problematic games. Covenant Eyes includes features such setting the hours of the day that each user can have internet access, blocking specified websites (such as Tumblr), and sends you a report of each person’s internet activity at the end of the week. It can also be installed on Android phones.
You can check out Covenant Eyes and see if it’s right for your family HERE.
Purging our shelves
Sometimes we have so many books, magazines, and movies that we lose track of what is in our own homes. An older child may bring home something a friend gave him, not knowing that it contains objectionable content. (Of course, he also might know very well that he shouldn’t be bringing it into the house). Friends share sites, books, and other media with each other without our knowledge. While we don’t want to accuse our children, we also want to hold them and ourselves accountable. Having an “Accountability Meeting” as a family allows everyone to be transparent and receive guidance, even ourselves. Sometimes we are the ones reading questionable romance novels or watching steaming television shows. If we are not careful about addressing creeping bad habits, we will get ourselves into a lot of trouble, as I discuss HERE. Pureflix can help with television and movie choices. Check them out for a month for free HERE.
Let’s encourage our kids to read fiction in a God-honoring way. Let’s make it easier for them to make wise choices.