Do Teens Really Read?

It’s 10:30 p.m. Exhausted from the school day and practice, the boy hobbles up the stairs to the bedroom. Two objects grab his attention on the nightstand — one, his book for school, the other, his phone. The student knows his test is coming up but rejects the hard work to absorb the book’s necessary information. Bound to this little box, the student wastes his night scrolling through an endless sea of blue light.

Reading has long been a pastime for many people and has offered people a way to relax. There has been a downward trend in the number of students and young people reading daily. For many people, phones have taken the place of reading because they require less energy to use and comprehend the information on the screen. 

Almost all sorts of reading have taken a dip with the introduction of social media. According to a study by the American Psychological Association in 2018, less than 20 percent of U.S. teens report reading a book, magazine, or newspaper daily for pleasure, while more than 80 percent say they use social media every day.

For English teacher Mr. Edward Dodge, reading makes up a big part of the day. “I read constantly. I read the newspaper, read at school, physical books, audiobooks when I run and drive, and almost always have a book on my Kindle.”

Mr. Dodge has noticed social media affects his reading and his students. “It was more common to see kids carrying books around when I was in high school or, at the very least, turning to school work when they had extra time rather than unblocked games and Wordle,” said Mr. Dodge. “I don’t have games on my phone, I deleted Facebook, and I don’t even have email pop up on my lock screen so that I can avoid being distracted.”

While reading books has declined, students still spend a lot of time reading. According to research by the National Literacy Trust conducted in 2020, the most popular reading that children and young people do in their free time is text/direct messages (92.4%), followed by in-game communications (87.4%). Still, one in two (51.0%) read fiction on paper in their free time, whereas nearly three in ten (28.1%) read fiction on screen. 

Reading has expanded much more than just paper books. Now more than ever it is easier to get books and use them.  Sophomore Jonah Tebbetts said, “I feel like kids read differently. People used to read many books, but now, they read a lot of social media posts and articles online. I don’t think reading social media and reading modern books are that different. Most modern books are geared towards a wider audience, so they use a simpler vocabulary that is more like social media.”

Reading, in general, has many positive qualities that are useful in school and life. “Reading, in general, increases your vocabulary,” said Mr. Dodge.“Reading 20 minutes a day versus reading one minute, the number of words difference increases exponentially. Someone who reads regularly will have a much broader vocabulary and have more information available to him. Reading fiction helps us see the world through other people’s perspectives. There is an old saying that all politics are local. That is very true. It applies itself to thinking about everything. We are provincial. We see things from where we live. It helps us to put ourselves in other people’s shoes. Studying the liberal arts in general trains the mind to see patterns.” 

While using social media or being online exposes people to reading, there are some adverse effects to  using these methods. “The problem with reading on the phone or a computer is that it is easy to miss words. We train ourselves to skim on those devices. When you read an article online, you aren’t usually reading for substance but information. That kind of reading translates itself into how we read a physical book,” said Mr. Dodge. There is something about a book if that is your primary means of reading. A book allows us to saturate our lives with a sort of stillness. Reading an actual book can make you stop and think.”

Many people have trouble finding time to read as they become more involved in school, but reading has become more prevalent for senior Baker Lofton. “I think it is very important to read books. Books are important for stimulating the brain. There is a lot of scientific evidence that reading makes people more empathetic,” said Lofton. “Freshman year, I would always read. I usually read as much as I could during study hall. Over the years, I have learned to read better and have started reading more outside books that aren’t school assigned. My overall reading has increased a lot  since freshman year.”

Some books can sometimes be long and difficult to understand. Because of this, many people turn to social media instead. Mr. Dodge said, “People read fewer books because we are geared toward passivity, and reading is active and requires energy. Think about the last time you tried to read a book late at night and almost immediately shut down and spent the next hour watching videos on TikTok. We are very easily distracted because it is hard to be challenged. The human being can not stand still. He either has progress or regress.”

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