Read Any Good Books Lately? No, Teens Say, We’re Too Busy Texting and Online

TUESDAY, Aug. 21, 2018 — One of every three American teens has not read a book just for the fun of it in a year, a new study finds.

That’s because they’re busy texting, checking social media and playing video games four to six hours a day.

The insight into their media habits comes from an analysis of data from more than 1 million teens who were surveyed between 1976 and 2016. In recent years, less than 20 percent said they read books, magazines or newspapers for pleasure, while more than 80 percent used social media every day.

“In the mid-2010s, the average American 12th-grader reported spending approximately two hours a day texting, just over two hours a day on the internet — which included gaming — and just under two hours a day on social media,” said study lead author Jean Twenge. She’s a professor of psychology at San Diego State University.

“That’s a total of about six hours per day on just three digital media activities during their leisure time,” she noted.

Tenth-graders spent five hours a day on the three digital activities and eighth-graders spent four hours a day.

The study, published Aug. 20 in the journal Psychology of Popular Media Culture, also found:

  • Online time: Leisure-time internet use doubled to two hours a day for 12th-graders between 2006 and 2016; rose 75 percent among 10th-graders; and 68 percent among eighth-graders.
  • Print media: In the early 1990s, 33 percent of 10th-graders said they read a newspaper nearly every day. By 2016, just 2 percent did. In the late 1970s, 60 percent of 12th-graders said they read a book or magazine almost every day, compared to 16 percent by 2016.
  • Books: By 2016, 12th-graders read two fewer books each year than in 1976, and a third said they hadn’t read any at all for pleasure in the past year. That includes e-books, as well.

The steep decline in teen reading surprised the researchers.

“It’s so convenient to read books and magazines on electronic devices like tablets. There’s no more going to the mailbox or the bookstore — you just download the magazine issue or book and start reading. Yet reading has still declined precipitously,” Twenge said in a journal news release.

The findings suggest teens may have challenges when they go to college.

“Think about how difficult it must be to read even five pages of an 800-page college textbook when you’ve been used to spending most of your time switching between one digital activity and another in a matter of seconds. It really highlights the challenges students and faculty both face in the current era,” Twenge said.

There’s no lack of intelligence among young people, she said, but they lack experience focusing for longer periods of time and reading long-form text.

“Being able to read long-form text is crucial for understanding complex issues and developing critical thinking skills,” Twenge said. “Democracies need informed voters and involved citizens who can think through issues, and that might be more difficult for people of all ages now that online information is the norm.”

More information offers child literacy resources.

Posted: August 2018

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