How to trick readers into tricking children

The Atlantic recently published an article titled, “How to trick your kids into reading all summer long.” While The Atlantic is one of the most consistently on-point news outlets, this article is simply heinous if for no other reason than the title.

Actually, the title proves to nothing but mere clickbait — the article never actually provides a tried-and-true trick that makes instantly makes youngsters read. Clickbait alone is one thing, but the title was as slimy as the floor of a public kiddie pool.

Those expecting a trick will be let down when Daniel Willingham instead encourages parents to turn their homes into a reading conducive atmosphere. This idea is a good one and certainly an excellent way to get kids reading.

However, Willingham makes the mistake of discounting summer reading initiatives put in place by schools and libraries. The article dismisses the initiatives based on the implied consequences of reward systems and grades.

For an article that focuses on implied consequences to bear a title with such scummy verbal rhetoric is as clean-cut a case of situational irony as those found in elementary grammar textbooks.

As NPR highlighted in its hilarious April Fool’s day prank, online readers love to appear educated by sharing and promoting articles on social media sites. So imagine the countless people who shared this article on social media as well as all of those in whose newsfeed the title appeared. Whether all of those people read the article is not relevant. A (presumably) vast number of people read a title that contained “How to trick children.” Let’s talk about implied consequences.

In addition to the absurd editorial mistake that is the title, the article is unfair to summer reading initiatives.

Last summer, the city of Phoenix public libraries hosted a summer reading program attended by 53,000 kids. The program doled out prizes that included D-Backs tickets, shirts and the opportunity to keep books from the library. Willingham cited the fact that reading for a reward discourages reading after the goal has been met, but that theory doesn’t hold up when the reward is access to even more reading material.

Summer reading programs may not be the sole method for getting kids to read, and Willingham’s idea to subtly make reading appealing is nothing short of genius. However, people do judge books by their covers and articles by their titles. A publication as respectable (and as read) as The Atlantic should be above clickbait in the first place, especially clickbait that encourages tricking children.

Reach the columnist at jpbohann@asu.edu or follow him on Twitter @JordanBohannon

Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

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