“He Is Lying on the Couch Lost in His Phone”

Larisa Artemova, a teacher, speaks about how children should relax during school breaks
Irina Sycheva | 01 August 2020
“He Is Lying on the Couch Lost in His Phone”

Why is it sometimes healthy to laze about and why is studying all summer not necessary at all?

Parents feel uneasy if their child does not do anything during school breaks. “You are wasting your time”, “you need to read through your required reading list”, “you cannot be glued to the phone so much” – this is what teenagers, who are tired of school, hear. Larisa Artemova, a teacher at Filippovskaya and “Naukograd” schools, told Pravmir why it is important for children to relax in the summer, how parents should overcome guilt, and how audiobooks help.

Why is it so important for parents that their child should be always occupied with something, even during school breaks?

Larisa Artemova

I was surprised by this as well, I even got a little upset, realizing that childhood quickly ends, as well as school breaks.

I think, parents are worried for several reasons. The first one is that there are a lot of really interesting opportunities that did not exist before, and the adults believe that all the time that children do not do anything, they miss out on these opportunities. And since there are infinitely many of them, they can worry all the time. And parents fell into this trap.

It is clear that just good, caring mothers (and fathers) worry about this. However, we may be, indeed, wrong in this situation.

Firstly, you cannot grasp everything, and secondly, there are still those opportunities that the person needs to be by themselves. For nobody usually lies on the couch for no reason. There must be something going on in their head, in their soul.

Children are thinking about something, reflecting on something, dreaming about something. This is very often associated with specific people, who are not there. It can be friends and memories of where they were and what they talked about; it may be about their crushes. And when you distract them at that moment, they may get stressed. Yet we think that they are just missing out on opportunities.

And the second, less broad reason is those required reading lists for the summer, which children get from us (literature teachers) at school. Some children find it physically difficult to read. This may be due to a variety of reasons. This may be due to the way they have developed this skill, how their nervous system basically works, due to their eyesight, or some adolescent physiological processes.

In this case, they can start with audiobooks – the text is still perceived, it is still there. But this physical aspect is overcome, and then a person, having listened to a certain number of audiobooks, can start reading. This is true, indeed.

Some of my students, after listening to audiobooks, started reading more intensely and working well with ordinary books.

We just have some stereotypes and we want to see our child with a book in their hands, this is a pastoral image.

But it is not worth wrecking neither yours, nor your child’s nerves for this.

Won’t the child want to take the easy way out and listen to books instead of reading them?

First of all, it is not an easy path. Secondly, it usually leads to children starting to read. For a child gets used to high-quality extensive texts, development occurs when they listen to serious adult texts performed by good artists. They respond emotionally, and the imagination comes in action. They start asking questions and having internal dialogues with themselves.

After that, it is not so important whether they read or listen to books, they are not so afraid to overcome the technical aspect, because the skill is being developed anyways.

Read aloud and ration the books

Should one make their child read all the books on the list?

This depends on the teacher’s standpoint. As a rule, we assign the most voluminous works, which would have been hard to read during the school year, that is why it is better to do that in the summer.

Someone may be more strict and demand that everything on the list should be read during summer, but I think it is not a very reasonable demand on the part of the teacher.

Should parents intervene in the process and control it?

Parents have two extremes. I used to have them too. On the one hand, we often make children do something and guide them, and on the other hand, having decided that children should be independent, we leave them alone with a problem, which they cannot solve. 

Perhaps, the best strategy would be to offer help. That is, ask questions: about what they agreed upon with the teacher, whether they should read everything on the list in full, about what book they will start from, what they are afraid to start reading. And offer your help: for what items on the list you should pick audiobooks for them, perhaps, whether you should read aloud a little to give them a start, to draw them into the book. And so on.

And this leads to independence, because a person begins to understand what and how it is done, and then they do it themselves. And if they do not know where to start, they simply do not start.

What should one do if their child strongly objects to reading in the summer?

Most definitely, do not force them. They will certainly study it at school.

It is not about that – you just need to imagine the consequences and discuss them with the child. What happens if you do not read it? Talk with them how prepared they are to deal with those consequences.

Talk to them about what may happen if there might be something interesting on the list, offer to read aloud. You can simply help them divide the book into parts with markers and read it in portions so that it would seem possible to read. For when they look at a thick book, they think that they cannot get through it.

I think the strangest thing is when parents get surprised, “Why do they not want to read?”. For a variety of reasons, they may not want to read. For example, they have a very strict teacher, and it seems, like they are doing it under pressure, or they need to go through a huge curriculum in terms of volume. If it is necessary and they may be doing something reluctantly, then you need to think not why they do not want to do that, but how to make the start of this process more pleasant. This should be decided individually.

You are glued to your computer, but don’t let me do the same”

Why do parents often interpret the fact their child does not want to read, spends a lot of time on the phone as their own downfall, as their pedagogical failure?

When parents socialize with others, they rarely talk about their children’s problems. It is more pleasant to talk about their achievements. Many begin to compare the positive aspects and do not think what problems other children have. And it starts to feel like you are a bad parent and all others are good.

In fact, everyone has both achievements and problems. It is just that parents talk or write about some things and keep quiet about others.

Comparison is a big temptation and usually a big mistake. For everyone has their own path. A person, who has progressed rather slowly in terms of education, can suddenly start some incredible projects and successfully implement them.

What parents really need to worry about is whether there is a real relationship and understanding, whether the parent is implementing their ambitions through their child, whether they are embedding some very serious future problems by their pressure.

How can parents overcome their guilt and leave their child alone?

It is not about leaving them alone. Just try to understand what they feel at this moment, why they are lying on the couch, what they are doing on their phone, what they are looking at, why they feel so good doing that.

You can broadcast your feelings, but do it calmly and in those moment, when everything is fine. Tell them that, when they spend a lot of time on the phone, it seems that it harms their health, posture, and eyesight. Or share your fear that later they may regret the lost time. Yet, the most important thing is to hear the answer, to hear what the child will say.

They are likely to say something if your relationship with them is not completely damaged. Perhaps, they built a gothic cathedral in Minecraft, or they are texting all the friends they miss, because they are not around right now, or the child has outplayed everyone in some game. They are making up for what they lack in reality.

We usually do not know what they are doing there. As well as children do not know what their parents are doing, and they think, “You are using a computer, but not letting me do the same”.

When children know what their parents do, how they earn money, what they do at work, it is much easier to reach an understanding.

Parents are often annoyed that the child is lying on the couch and is not helping around the house. What to do in this situation?

The child does not have to guess themselves. Parents often believe that the child should understand that they need to wash the dishes or take out the trash.

It is just enough to say – take it there, wash the dishes, take out the trash. Children do this without a fuss, only if it is not an order, but a request – a normal request in order to make the domestic life easier. Sometimes children may forget, you can remind them. But in no case should you get mad at them if they have not thought of doing something. They will grow up and will be responsible for their own household.

How exactly should a school student rest? Is it ok to let them lie on the couch for three months?

I think you should let a person lie down for quite a long time if they need to. They will get up themselves.

It is very important to have some company of friends, if possible. This summer is rather difficult, because many summer camps are not working, some projects have been canceled. Yet, it is important to have one or two friends around.

Ideally, they need to commune with animals and nature. Lying on the porch couch outside the city or sitting on a swing is much better than lying somewhere in an apartment. It is better to move to a place where any activity will take place outdoors, if possible.

Children know how to keep themselves busy, keep their options open

Can one consider reading a leisure or not?

It depends on how the skill has been developed. Parents often cannot influence this.

The reading skill develops depending on a variety of reasons. There could be some kind of neuropsychological problem, for example. Anything can suppress this skill. As long as it is technically a problem, reading will not be a leisure or bring pleasure to a child, it will be taxing.

As long as it is taxing, they need either a strong internal or additional external motivation. You can buy an ice cream as a reward for the pages read if it is difficult, but while helping in developing the skill, you need to constantly tell them that it will not always be like that. On separate occasions, help them get pleasure from the text by reading aloud, with audio performance, by viewing illustrations. This is a rather risky path, but it can sometimes work. And the child will see that the parent understands that it is difficult for them.

In this respect, audiobooks stimulate development, even when the skill is not yet mature.

And this certainly should not affect the mother’s self-esteem.

How fast and well your child reads has nothing to do with what kind of mother you are.

Can this be that parents themselves do not know how to relax, so they do not let children relax as well?

Of course, this happens quite often. Parents often think that the day has been wasted, nothing has been done. Naturally, when you are an adult and know the value of time, this may happen. A person blames themselves all the time for dawdling their days away.

Should one set an example for children in how to relax properly?

Sometimes children do the opposite. Do not expect that if you spring to your feet right now and go to play badminton, the children will come running and start playing too.

It is also essential to respect the boundaries (many people find it very hard to do), do not try to make them happy by force. For as soon as you start doing this, you should imagine yourself in this person’s shoes. What do they feel? Someone may be afraid of water and someone else starts making them swim, or leading them to admire the panoramic beauty, when the person has the fear of heights.

Can children occupy themselves for three months in a row or can they not do without the adults’ help?

I do not know many children, who have no idea what to do with their day. You need to trust children, they know how to pass their free time. They do not spend it meaninglessly. They think, they communicate, they have something to write, paint, or look at. They read something, we simply do not always know about it.

The question, “What are your plans for the day?” helped me. You can suggest doing something of your own, but this free time is called so, because each of us has the right to choose what to do.

Translated by Julia Frolova

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