According to a 2018 survey by the American Psychological Association, a third of U.S. teenagers have not read a book for pleasure in at least a year.
This number may come as a shock to some, but sophomore Julien Fagel (’21) was not even phased by this startling statistic.“I’m surprised it isn’t higher,” Fagel (’21) said.
Another statistic found in the same survey states that teen use of other traditional media — such as magazines and television — has also decreased, while time spent texting, scrolling through social media, and using other forms of digital media continues to increase. Testimony from Viewpoint students confirms these statistics, as when asked why teens no longer free read, students mentioned the growing prominence of social media.
“In the previous times, free time was for reading, but nowadays free time is for social media,” Sophia Karimpour (’21) said.
Ms. Sarah Davis, Viewpoint’s Director of Libraries, also agrees, adding that, “there is such an increase in distraction because we have access to social media and are constantly carrying our phones around. I find myself that if I have 15 minutes of free time, in the past, I would have carried a book, but now I have my phone.”
When looking at daily consumption of media, the survey showed that fewer than 20 percent of U.S. teens read a book, magazine or newspaper for pleasure, while more than 80 percent used social media every day.
“The impact on your time and the social pressures of social media really contribute to the decline in reading,” Ms. Davis said. “Your phone is constantly dinging and even where your phone is off, the idea that you could be missing out is such a different experience from having just a telephone or a phone wired to a wall.”
Something that these statistics fail to mention is the increase in workload and stress from school that has increased from the time our parents were our age until now. Fagel (’21) says that there is “a greater pressure on getting into good [colleges]” and that “extracurriculars now require more commitment.”
So what can we do to encourage more young people to read for pleasure? There is not clear answer in an age where social media and streaming services, such as YouTube and Netflix, continue to be the places where teenagers spend most of their free time.
“In an ideal world, [free reading] would be part of our school’s mission and curriculum,” Davis said.“Some schools have done it where they have silent sustained reading, where they take time out of the school day so that students and teachers are encouraged to read during the day.”
According to Karimpour (’21) the way to solve this problem is through, “parents restricting the time their kids spend using technology.” She believes students who want to free read but struggle to find time on weekdays should “try during weekends or over school breaks.”
Ms. Davis also mentions that required reading may be the cause of the decline of pleasure reading for teenagers.
She says, “that if [he required reading is] not engaging, it can turn kids off from that love of picking up a book.” She adds that, “sometimes you just want to read — if students could just be encouraged to read and not annotate it would help them just get back into the practice of reading.”
Why should people care if free reading is declining? Are books just going to become a thing of the past like physical newspapers and magazines? Ms. Davis, Julien Fagel, and Sophia Karimpour all raise similar concerns.
“Reading is an important part of gaining cultural knowledge.If you don’t read you may not know a lot of logical things,” Fagel said. “Reading provides a sense of cultural knowledge that you can’t get anywhere else and when less teens read, [they are] less culturally aware not necessarily of the present, but definitely the past.”