Monday, May 12, 2014

Teen reading habits declining

When I was a teen, I generally read 5 or more books a week.  I can remember having a different book virtually every day -- and we're talking your average 350-400 page adult book.  Shorter (200-300 page YA books) I often could finish in under a day, sometimes two in a day.

I know I wasn't the norm, even then.  A lot of kids watched TV or played video games, which I didn't really do, instead of reading.  And the generations since, reading has become even less common.

Until the Harry Potter phenomenon.  That book series inspired a lot of kids to read who wouldn't have normally, I think.  But now, it appears that the number of teens reading is dropping again.

Personally, I think that as technology has introduced more and more distractions, kids are just reading less and less.  It's a progression that I think was interrupted by the Harry Potter phenomenon, but even J.K. Rowling couldn't reverse the trend entirely.  The more other things there are to do, the less teens want to read.  I think that's been a theme for a long time, longer than just the last couple decades.

As a friend of mine pointed out, there are other ways of telling a story than just books.  TV and movies have been around for a long time, but that's what they are, really -- a more passive way of receiving a story someone else envisioned.  Video games are more recent, but that's what they are too -- just in a more interactive style.

There's also something else I've noticed, and that is that having everything -- ebooks, social media and Internet, and games -- on the same device is incredibly distracting.  I found it to be distracting even for me when I read primarily on my Nook Tablet (one of the reasons why switching to the Nook Simple Touch has been such a good thing for me).  I have also seen firsthand how distracting it is for the 12-year-old girl I nanny for, who reads incessantly -- but when she reads ebooks on her iPad, I see her flipping back and forth frequently between the book, her music playlist, and various games.  I think she spends more time on other things than on reading when she reads on that device, as opposed to reading from a physical book.

My friend said he doesn't think it matters whether kids are getting stories via books or other forms of media, but I disagree.  First of all, reading is a life skill: Reading is a basic skill that you need to have not only for work, but also in virtually every other area of your life.  Equally as importantly, though, are the all studies that have shown the benefits reading offers for your brain and mental health, such as improving your memory, relieving stress, preventing Alzheimer's, and improving your quality of sleep.  In contrast, TV and video games disrupt sleep patterns, inhibit emotions, and shorten attention spans.

That being said, I don't think we can do much about the fact that people spend less time reading these days.  People -- kids included -- are becoming busier, and there are more distractions than ever to fill the precious little leisure time we have left.  I think all we can do is to continue to emphasize reading, both in education and in our children's homes, and hope that they we will continue to raise generations who value literature and reading in their own lives.

No comments: