Teens reading for fun is on the decline, says report

Teens who 'never' or 'hardly ever' read for fun has gone from 8 percent to 22 percent in 10 years, according to a Common Sense Media report. What can parents do to help reverse the drop?

Paul Efird/The Knoxville News Sentinel/AP
A rain shower sends Maynard Elementary School kindergarten student Maya Roby to shelter during a literacy program in Knoxville, Tenn. on Friday, May 9.

Teens and younger children are reading a lot less for fun, according to a Common Sense Media report released Monday.

While the decline over the past decade is steep for teen readers, some data in the report shows that reading remains a big part of many children’s lives, and indicates how parents might help encourage more reading.

According to the report’s key findings, “the proportion who say they ‘never’ or ‘hardly ever’ read for fun has gone from 8 percent of 13-year-olds and 9 percent of 17-year-olds in 1984 to 22 percent and 27 percent respectively today.”

The most dramatic drop is shown in teen reading habits, with the rate of teens saying they read "often" dropping from 64 percent in 1984 to just 19 percent in 2012. Among those ages 6-17, the proportion of "daily" readers is still estimated around 34 percent.

The report data shows that pleasure reading levels for younger children, ages 2-8, remain largely the same. But the amount of time spent in reading each session has declined, from closer to an hour or more (which was the case as recently as the 1990s), to closer to a half-hour per session.

When it comes to reading comprehension, the report states that scores for younger children have risen, and have remained the same for teens. However, the report points to a gap in reading proficiency between white children and black and Hispanic students, which has persisted over the past two decades. 

The report was compiled from multiple research studies collecting data from the past three decades.

National Center for Education Statistics data cited in the report shows that, "Only 18 percent of black and 20 percent of Hispanic fourth graders are rated as ‘proficient’ in reading, compared with 46 percent of whites.”

When it comes to technology and reading, the report does little to counsel parents looking for data about the effect of ereaders and tablets on reading. It does point out that many parents still limit electronic reading, mainly dues to concerns about increased screen time.

The most hopeful data shared in the report shows clear evidence of parents serving as examples and important guides for their kids when it comes to reading. Data shows that kids and teens who do read frequently, compared to infrequent readers, have more books in the home, more books purchased for them, parents who read more often (44 percent reading 5-7 times per week, versus 22 percent), and parents who set aside time for them to read (57 percent versus 16 percent).

Common Sense Media offers its own "10 tips to raising a reader."

As the end of school approaches, and school vacation reading lists loom ahead, parents might take this opportunity to step in and make their own summer reading list and plan a family trip to the library or bookstore.

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