Can reading can help solve teen problems?

Published 2:03 pm Wednesday, October 29, 2008

By Staff
America's Promise to children symbolized by a red wagon encompasses five elements needed for children to succeed. The first is caring adults. The second is a safe place. Number three is health care and number four an education. The last is an opportunity to help others.
This year begins my 30th year as a pediatrician, and as an advocate for children I am intrigued by this concept of what children need because it is such a neat way of looking at my career and my hopes for the children of Alabama.
Before I went to medical school I was a teacher. My field was the teaching of reading. Lower Alabama Pediatrics, the office where I practice, has had a reading project for 13 years called STARS (Steps to Achieve Reading Success) which is part of a national program, Reach Out and Read started in Boston.
Our program was the first in Alabama and now has expanded to more than 60 other sites around the state.
I have frequently introduced STARS to others by saying it is my high school dropout prevention program, as well as teen pregnancy prevention, and drug abuse prevention program.
Research has shown that the health of a community correlates with the educational level of that community. The child who starts to school loving books and eager to learn has no reason to drop out of school, get pregnant as a teen or use drugs.
The caring adult who reads to his child is less likely to abuse that child or to neglect him.
Reach Out and Read has several components: the first is sharing a book with a child daily starting at six months of age and continuing until that child starts to kindergarten. Books shared are age and culturally appropriate and most important the caring adults in the child's life takes time every day to read to the child.
Too many young children are parked in front of a TV as a baby sitter. The voice from the television is not interactive and not the voice of the most important person in that child's life - the caring adult.
At every well-child visit the pediatrician gives the child a new book with his name inside.
It's OK and expected that a baby will explore his first book by chewing on it! By 18 months a toddler will turn the pages in his book and ask the caring adult to read-by then he already knows the first concept of reading-that the words are the same every time you read.(try skipping a page or two and your toddler will loudly protest.)
Rob Rhiner (Meathead from All in the Family) coined the phrase “The first years last forever.” Very early in life a child's language development, his sense of security in trying new things and his ability to learn are established primarily by the caring adults who interact with him daily.
On June 13 I read Randy Winton's book “In My Shoes.” To me the stories exemplifies the caring adult-in this case a father of four boys who obviously cherishes his children. It's easy to picture them lying in the driveway looking up at the stars - I also picture that dad reading to his boys.
Marsha Raulerson is a local pediatrician and president of VOICES for Alabama's Children.

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