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Reading For Pleasure Declines Sharply Among Kids

A report from Common Sense Media showed kids are spurning paper books in favor of electronic devices.
Posted at 7:55 PM, May 12, 2014

With the advent of smart phones, e-readers and micro-blogging sites like Twitter, you’d be right to assume kids are reading less than in previous decades. But a study released Monday shows just how far book reading has fallen.

Conducted by Common Sense Media, the report shows 45 percent of 17-year-olds read for pleasure only once or twice a year. And 27 percent say they never read for fun, more than twice as high as that figure was 30 years ago.

Now, Common Sense Media only focused on traditional books, not taking into account reading social media posts or text articles online.

With that in mind, the study also found girls were more like to read daily than boys, 30 percent to 18 percent. Only 19 percent of respondents reported they read every day by the time they turn 17, down from 53 percent of 9-year-olds.

Time’s Charlotte Altar blamed the age decline on a mix of new technology and more school work, writing “Yes, the teenagers have more Instagrams to post, but they also have more homework to do.”

The study also highlighted some sizable racial disparities in the data. While 75 percent of white children were read to every day, 66 percent of black children and 50 percent of Hispanic children received the same treatment.

So why the declines? Common Sense says mobile devices might be to blame. A previous report by the group showed 17 percent use a phone or tablet every day. (Via Youtube / Mike Wilson Tunes)

Common Sense Media’s CEO, Jim Steyer, even tells NPR that his ten-year-old son was doing "less and less reading, and more and more attracted to some of the digital media platforms that he has access to.”

And the line between reading and just having fun on a tablet can be thin. As the report says, "'Reading' used to mean sitting down with a book and turning pages as a story unfolded. Today it may mean sitting down with a screen and touching words to have them read aloud." (Via YouTube / Goodreader)

With the technological trend, the almighty paperback is in trouble. In 2012, a study from Scholastic showed only 58 percent of kids were loyal to paper books over ebooks, down from 66 percent in 2010.

But some see tablets as a potential learning tool for kids. In January, a researcher told The Guardian that when they observed kids using tablets to write and draw, "It was a form of mastery for those individuals that hadn't previously been accessible to them without a lot of help from other people. ... There was something about the activities that captivated all the children intensely and motivated them to carry on."

When NPR asked two schoolchildren what they did instead of reading, their answers were no surprise: Netflix, Hulu and lots of time on their phones.