Updated: May 10
Parents hope to instill a love of reading that lasts a lifetime with their children. Reading is an essential skill that promotes cognitive, social, and emotional development, and is a crucial tool for academic and professional success. As parents, we understand this, so we stock our shelves with beautifully illustrated picture books and read to our little ones, snuggled on our laps or tucked in their beds. However, somewhere along the way, they stop consuming books as they did when they were younger, and they lose the love. As a parent and teacher, I often wonder: does the love of reading ever return?
It made me curious, so I delved a little deeper into the relationship between teens and books. In this article, you'll learn about teenage reading habits, banned books, the impact of COVID, the rise of BookTok, as well as fun tips. Consider this information to help regain your teenager's love of reading.
What does the Research Say?
The number of adolescents who read every day significantly decreases as they transition from childhood to adolescence. Studies show a consistent decline in daily reading as children grow older, with a sharp drop by age nine that does not typically recover throughout adolescence (Scholastic, 2019). The Scholastic 2013 report indicated a decline in daily reading from 48% of 6- to 8-year-olds to 24% of 15- to 17-year-olds, while the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) revealed a decrease from 53% of 9-year-olds to 19% of 17-year-olds (2013). Additionally, NCES indicated a decrease in the proportion of tweens and teens who read for pleasure at least once a week since 1984, from 81% to 76% among 9-year-olds, 70% to 53% among 13-year-olds, and 64% to 40% among 17-year-olds (2013). Furthermore, the percentage of teenagers who say they never or hardly ever read has increased from 8% of 13-year-olds and 9% of 17-year-olds in 1984 to 22% and 27%, respectively, at present (NCES, 2013).
Parent involvement matters. Half of parents with children under 12 read with their children every day, and 60% of children aged 8 and under read every day (Common Sense Media, 2013). Additionally, Scholastic estimates that 34% of 6- to 17-year-olds read every day, and there is a strong correlation between parents who set aside daily reading time and children who frequently read (2013). Specifically, 57% of parents of frequent readers establish daily reading time, while only 16% of parents of infrequent readers do the same.
There is a gender gap. Research has found that girls tend to read for pleasure an average of 10 minutes more per day than boys, with this gender gap persisting across different age groups (Rideout, 2010; Rideout, 2014). Specifically, 18% of teenage boys read every day, compared to 30% of teenage girls (Scholastic, 2013). Furthermore, the achievement gap between boys and girls in reading proficiency has remained steady over the past two decades, with an 11-point difference in 2012 among eighth-graders (NCES, 2014), down from 12 points in 1992.
Finally, in 2019 twelfth graders were asked how often they read literary texts, such as stories or novels and poems, outside of school on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading assessment. Over half of 12th grade students report reading literary texts outside of school once or twice a year or less. Specifically, twenty-six percent reported that they never read stories or novels, and fifty-one percent reported that they never read poems outside of school.
Teenager Reading Habits
Teenagers are a diverse group with varying interests, and reading habits are no exception. What are some of the common reading habits among teenagers and how can you encourage and foster a love of reading?
Firstly, it is important to understand that teenagers are exposed to a vast range of media, such as YouTube, Netflix, and social media platforms. These forms of media are often more visually stimulating and require less mental effort than reading. Therefore, it is no surprise that many teenagers find reading a chore or something that they would rather avoid.
However, there are still many teenagers who enjoy reading and make it a regular part of their daily routine. Some teenagers enjoy reading novels, while others prefer short stories, comic books, or graphic novels. It is important to encourage teenagers to read whatever interests them, rather than forcing them to read books that they find unappealing.
Furthermore, teenagers are often influenced by their peers and social groups, and reading can be seen as uncool or nerdish. However, with the rise of book clubs and online communities dedicated to reading like BookTok, there is a growing trend of teenagers sharing their love of reading with like-minded individuals.
In addition to social factors, there are other barriers that prevent teenagers from reading regularly, such as a lack of time, access to books, or support from parents and teachers. Therefore, it is essential to create an environment that promotes reading and encourages teenagers to pick up a book.
One way to encourage teenagers to read is to make reading a fun and enjoyable activity. This can be achieved through setting up reading challenges, creating a cozy reading nook, or shopping. Parents and teachers can help by providing access to books, either through libraries (make sure their library card is up to date), bookstores, or online resources. Then, make bookstore shopping a fun event by grabbing a latte and treasure hunting for old books and good deals. Stop by the old bookshops while exploring little towns. You never know what you’re going to find!
Another way to promote reading is to introduce teenagers to books that they can relate to, such as books with diverse characters, themes, and perspectives. This not only makes reading more accessible but also helps teenagers to develop empathy and an understanding of different cultures and experiences. Expand on that with enjoying new recipes, music, film, or art related to these topics.
Effects of Banned Books
Banned books, or books that have been censored or restricted from being read or taught, can have both positive and negative effects on readers, particularly young readers. While the reasons for banning a book may vary, such as explicit language, sexual content, or controversial themes, the act of banning a book can often bring more attention to it and spark important conversations about censorship, freedom of speech, and the power of literature.
On the one hand, banning books can limit access to important and diverse perspectives and prevent readers from engaging with controversial or challenging ideas. This can lead to a lack of critical thinking skills and an inability to grapple with complex issues. Furthermore, banning books can send a message that certain topics or viewpoints are not acceptable, which can be detrimental to a healthy and open society.
On the other hand, banned books can also have a powerful impact on readers, particularly young readers. Reading a banned book can spark curiosity, encourage independent thought, and promote a desire for knowledge and understanding. Furthermore, banned books can provide a platform for marginalized voices and perspectives, allowing readers to explore different cultures, experiences, and viewpoints.
In addition, the act of banning a book can also create an opportunity for important conversations about censorship and freedom of speech. Banned books can serve as a catalyst for discussions about what it means to have the freedom to read and the importance of protecting this freedom.
It is important to note that while the effects of banned books may vary, the act of banning books itself is a form of censorship and can be harmful to intellectual freedom and individual autonomy. Instead of banning books, we could encourage readers to engage with literature critically and thoughtfully, and to explore a wide range of perspectives and ideas.
The COVID Impact
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on all aspects of our lives, including the reading habits of teenagers. While there is no conclusive data on whether the pandemic has improved or worsened teenage reading habits, there are several factors that suggest it may have had a positive effect.
One factor is that the pandemic has led to increased screen time and a greater reliance on technology for entertainment and communication. This has caused many teenagers to experience "screen fatigue" and look for alternative forms of entertainment, such as reading. Furthermore, the pandemic led to school closures and remote learning, providing more time for teenagers to read outside of the classroom.
In addition, the pandemic has led to a greater focus on mental health and self-care, and reading can be an effective way to reduce stress and improve well-being. Many teenagers have turned to reading as a way to cope with the stress and anxiety caused by the pandemic.
Furthermore, the pandemic has also led to a renewed interest in the classics and literary fiction, with many people turning to books that explore themes of isolation, grief, and resilience. This trend has also been observed among teenagers, who are exploring classic literature and works of fiction that explore themes relevant to the pandemic.
However, it is also important to note that the pandemic has had a negative impact on reading habits, particularly for teenagers who may have experienced disruptions to their education and access to books. Many teenagers may also have struggled to find the motivation to read during a time of increased stress and uncertainty.
What is “BookTok?”
"BookTok" refers to the book-related content on TikTok (short for “Book TikTok,”), a popular social media platform. TikTok is a video-sharing app that allows users to create short videos set to music or sound bites, and it has become a popular platform for sharing book recommendations, reviews, and literary content. It has over 29.1 billion views and Barnes & Noble even has a dedicated BookTok section.
BookTok has emerged as a vibrant online community of book lovers, where users share their favorite reads, discuss book-related topics, and even create book-themed content, such as bookshelf tours, reading vlogs, and book-inspired fashion. The platform has also given rise to several popular book clubs and reading challenges, which have helped to foster a sense of community and engagement among readers.
The rise of BookTok has been seen as a positive development for the publishing industry, as it has helped to introduce new readers to books and create buzz around new releases. It has also provided a platform for diverse voices and perspectives, with users sharing books that represent a wide range of cultures, experiences, and identities.
Here are some recommendations to encourage teenage reading:
1. Encourage reading for pleasure: Encourage teenagers to read books that they enjoy, rather than books they are forced to read for school. Let them choose their own books and give them the freedom to explore different genres and authors.
2. Make buying books together a fun activity: Go to bookstores. Grab a latte and head to a bookstore to explore and treasure hunt. When on vacation, explore the book shops in new towns. Don't forget antique and thrift stores!
3. Create a reading-friendly environment: Make sure that teenagers have access to a variety of books and reading materials, such as magazines and newspapers, at home and in school. Be sure their library card is up to date.
4. Model good reading habits: Show teenagers that reading is an enjoyable and rewarding activity by reading yourself. Share your own reading experiences and recommendations and discuss books with them.
5. Use technology: Use technology to enhance the reading experience. Encourage teenagers to use e-readers, audiobooks, or book-related apps to make reading more engaging and interactive. Join BookTok and see what other teens are recommending.
6. Connect reading to other activities: Connect reading to other activities that teenagers enjoy, such as watching movies, playing video games, or cooking. Encourage them to read books that have been adapted into movies or video games, and to compare and contrast the differences between the two. You can even make a new recipe; everyone likes to eat!
7. Make reading social: Encourage teenagers to read with friends and family members. Join a book club. Look for Little Free Libraries to shop and donate to. You can even start your own!
By implementing these recommendations, teenagers can develop a lifelong love of reading, and enjoy the many benefits that reading can offer, including improved literacy skills, enhanced creativity, and increased empathy and understanding of others.
Subscribe to The Brighter Side of Education podcast https://link.chtbl.com/MFv5yobo and be notified when these new releases about teens and reading are released this May:
1. Teens Rediscover the Joy of Reading with High School Teacher Beth Donofrio: Beth gives insight into what teenagers are reading and how she believes adults can successfully promote reading with teens.
2. Help for Middle and High School Readers with Adolescent-literacy Expert Matt Bardin: Matt uses conscious reading skills and a love-based learning experience to increase middle and high school student's reading. To learn more go to zinclearninglabs.com.
Read the book " Teens Choosing to Read" by Gay Ivey and Peter Johnston, which is scheduled to be released on November 24, 2023. Ivey and Johnston bring good news with their four-year-long study of adolescent readers who went from being reluctant to enthusiastic readers. The book gives adolescents a voice about their reading choices and habits that led to an increase in reading enjoyment and the development of deep engagement with literature. The authors also included research to inform arguments about appropriate book selection for teenagers and the consequences of banning books.
2023 Kids & Family Reading Report Summer Infographic (Scholastic, 2023):
Common Sense Media. (2013). Zero to Eight: Children’s Media Use in America 2013. San Francisco: Common Sense Media.
National Center for Education Statistics. (2013). The Nation’s Report Card: Trends in Academic Progress 2012 (NCES 2013–456). National Center for Education Statistics, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education, Washington, D.C. Retrieved from http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/.
National Center for Education Statistics. (2014). A First Look: 2013 Mathematics and Reading. National Assessment of Educational Progress at Grades 4 and 8. (NCES 2014–451). National Center for Education Statistics, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education, Washington, D.C. Retrieved from http://nationsreportcard.gov/reading_math_2013/#/.
National Center for Education Statistics. (2019). The Nation's Report Card: 2019 NAEP Reading Assessment, Highlighted results at grade 12 for the nation. Retrieved from https://www.nationsreportcard.gov/highlights/reading/2019/g12/
Rideout, V. (2014). Children, Teens, and Reading. Common Sense Media Research Brief Report. VJR Consulting, Inc. Editing: Pai, S. Common Sense Media. Retrieved from https://www.commonsensemedia.org/sites/default/files/research/report/csm-childrenteensandreading-2014_0_1.pdf.
Rideout, V. (2014). Learning at home: Families’ educational media use in America. New York: The Joan Ganz Cooney Center.
Rideout, V.J., Foehr, U.G., & Roberts, D.F. (2010). Generation M2: Media in the lives of 8- to 18-year-olds. Menlo Park, CA: Kaiser Family Foundation.
Scholastic. (2013). Kids and Family Reading Report: 4th Edition. Retrieved from http://mediaroom.scholastic.com/kfrr.
Scholastic. (2019). Kids and Family Reading Report: 7th Edition. Retrieved from https://www.scholastic.com/content/dam/scholastic/site/KFRR/KFRR_7th%20Edtidion.pdf
Scholastic. (2023). 2023 Kids & Family Reading Report Infographic. Retrieved from http://mediaroom.scholastic.com/kfrr