Studies show that reading for pleasure among teens has dropped drastically in the last few years. These days, if you ask a teen why they don’t read for pleasure, they might simply say they just don’t like reading and would rather do something else. If you were to ask an adult why this is, they might blame it on technology. And oftentimes, that response might be both condescending and critical of today’s youth. But there's plenty of blame to go around when it comes to the decline in reading in today's youth.
The decrease in reading for pleasure may have a lot to do with the way teachers approach reading in middle and elementary school. The common practice of having students read aloud in the early grades is a large aspect of this. Those students who are not adept readers are embarrassed to read out loud, and subsequently decide they don’t like reading in any form. At some elementary and middle schools, teachers separate students into groups according to their reading skill level, embarrassing those in the lower groups and making them feel dumb. These reading groups turn kids off from reading due to embarrassment and humiliation in the same way reading aloud does.
Another factor is the traditionally boring and generally dreaded “required readin" included in the curriculum. Usually, these required reading books are filled with obscure metaphors and meanings that are hard to understand. They take too much effort for young readers to comprehend and disinclines them from seeking out other books to read for pleasure. What fun is it to read a book that requires in-depth analysis to understand it? Mrs. Lenihan, Notre Dame’s English Department Chairperson, describes required reading as the challenge between, “how to make it feel authentic, and how to build readers instead of just reading specific texts.”
Add to this the ever-impending doom of dreary summer reading books and their grueling assignments, always looming over students as their summer moves along, and you have a recipe for reading disaster.
Additionally, parents are reading to their kids less and less. Since 1999, the amount of time that parents have read to their children has declined by 15 minutes
(around 66%). The amount of time youths spend reading also decreases as they get older, which has a correlation to the extra homework that older teens have to do.
Occasionally however, there are books that gain immense popularity like Harry Potter and The Hunger Games, the former sending forth a new generation of readers and avid fans. Following the skyrocketing sales of the Harry Potter books, the New York Times added a Children’s Best-Seller list
in order to clear the space that the first three books had been taking up on the regular Best-Seller list. Currently, the series still takes the top spot on the Children’s Best-Sellers, swiftly approaching 450 straight weeks on the list (over eight and a half years!). You would think with success like this, young readers were on their way to becoming lifelong readers. However, current statistics say otherwise. At activity period lunch recently, 15 students were surveyed about reading for pleasure. Only 2 (13%) said they had read a book for pleasure in the last 6 months. These results are surprising in a college prep school like Notre Dame.
Still, those students who do read say the main reason is because they simply find it enjoyable. An avid reader, senior Matt Macaulay says he averages over a dozen books a year, and is not often found without a book in his backpack.
So what’s the answer? Perhaps, instead of blaming technology or criticizing kids for how they don’t read enough, we should focus on those who do read and encourage them to continue doing so. And maybe it’s time to think about how we approach reading as a society, from teaching it in younger grades to requiring it during summer break. But clearly, the way we currently encourage and assign reading isn’t turning out many life long readers. We need to find a way to make reading enjoyable. Just ask a a few students during activity lunch.