Kids Aren’t Reading (Because They’re Reading All The Time)

Another day, another spate of articles bemoaning the state of today’s youth. This most recent is a bunching of studies that found that kids aren’t reading as much.

NPR put it this way: “Nearly half of 17-year-olds say they read for pleasure no more than one or two times a year — if that.That’s way down from a decade ago.”

GASP! The horror! Let’s trot out the motifs of the way this generation is RUINED FOREVER!

…but wait. It said “read for pleasure.” Hold the phone there. Perhaps there is another, different explanation beyond “the internet/video games/drugs/television did it.”

Terrifyingly, I’m now old enough to be considered part of the “adult” quotient, but I was in high school not too terribly long ago, and I can tell you something: there was a lot of required reading. And I like to read! I read all the time! But, during the school year, my reading fell to being mostly required reading.

And let me tell you, reading the Crucible for the fourth time in the same year (“to really understand the text” *gag*) gets really old and I would not consider that enjoyable!

So that’s me, a kid who loves reading and literally never leaves the house without a book. When I was 17, I wouldn’t necessarily have said reading was “pleasurable” either: I was maxed out, and, yeah, preferred to play video games or watch TV. How must it be for the kids who are ONLY exposed to school reading? They never get the opportunity to develop a fondness for reading because they’ve been conditioned to view it as work full of meaningless “symbolism.” (yes, I’m still scarred from “The Scarlet Letter.” Sometimes a tree is just a freakin’ tree, teach!)

In an increasingly technological society, I find it hard to believe that kids are not reading in general. We’re all reading and writing MORE than ever, with so much communication switching away from in-person or on the phone to texting, email, status updates, and online forums. It’s becoming MORE important, but that kind of reading and writing wouldn’t show up in these studies.

Essentially, I think the problem here is not with teens and reading for pleasure, but with the studies. I DO think there are probably plenty of things to distract kids from reading, but those things could be bolstered not by writing ominous-sounding articles about “kids today” but instead folding more “fun” books into required reading. As much as I loved “A Handmaid’s Tale,” would it kill school districts to allow some trendy stuff–maybe middle schoolers would really benefit from doing an analysis of “The Hunger Games” instead of a nonfiction book for a change.

What do you think? Should we be worried about teen reading levels?


Filed under Reading, Science

4 responses to “Kids Aren’t Reading (Because They’re Reading All The Time)

  1. Well, I taught high school English for five years and at one point I did a general reading assessment on my kids. On average they scored five to eight years below their age group’s normative reading level in both fluency and comprehension, so there was definitely a problem. An informal survey in class revealed perhaps one in thirty read a single book per year and about half read magazines fairly regularly. I definitely believe this lack of recreational reading was a big factor and I put an immense amount of energy into trying to motivate them to read more, even moving part of my personal library to class so I can lend them my own books. The strategy was not successful. And sure, there’s lots of required reading, but over here at least kids don’t take that seriously at all.

    On the other hand, the majority of those kids also came from a poor socio-economic background, I know their primary education was not up to standard, and none of them spoke English as a first language (they also didn’t read recreationally in their home language, but that’s probably because there’s not that much literature available in that language). I think these factors have much greater impact when it comes to how much children, and adults for that matter, read. If you’re poorly educated reading isn’t fun because it’s difficult. If you’re working double-shifts to put food on the table you won’t have the energy to read. Besides, books and internet cost money, which you don’t have. And rural areas often don’t have bookshops or libraries.

    So, we should be worried about teen reading levels, but perhaps we shouldn’t blame it on the reasons usually cited.

  2. I think we should be worried about the skill level as well as the amount of reading that students do. With the number of blogs, emails, and tweets kids read, there isn’t as much space left for books as there used to be. And after all the homework and assigned reading, why would you want to do more?

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