In April 2013, Nielsen conducted a survey in the US of the reading habits of teens aged between 12 and 17. Nielsen conducted another similar survey in September 2013 of teens in the UK, which also looked at their involvement in other activities. The results of both surveys are very interesting if somewhat worrying. Both studies came to the conclusion that teens are reading less compared to previous years, but also that they are doing far less of all the other activities they used to do too. What’s taken their place? Social networking sites, texting, You Tube and gaming apps – all of which they have easy access to as more and more teenagers own a mobile phone, a tablet or a laptop.
The answer to the question - How often do you read
for fun? – was an eye-opener.
The percentage of US teens who read occasionally was
32 %. The percentage who read very often was 29%, with 39% who either do not
read or seldom read. In the UK the figure for teens who read occasionally
readers fell from 45% to 38% over the last year. Those who read often fell from
23% to 17%. Teens who seldom or never read comprised 27%, a rise of 13% relative
to the previous year.
It’s a worrying development, particularly as it’s
not just reading that is suffering. Teenagers have dropped or downscaled their
involvement in many other activities, including hobbies, art, sports, and
outdoor pursuits. What’s taken their place? Well, according to the study,
teenagers are spending more time on social media, texting, You Tube and playing
on game apps.
In the US 68% of teens read print books, but only 10%
read ebooks. By April 2013, Print book readers had gone down to 45%, while the percentage
reading ebooks had risen to 25%.
In the UK in 2012, 21% of teens said they read
books digitally, which went up this year to 33%.
The US study clearly demonstrates that many teens
still borrow their books from the library. They also still take guidance from
parents and teachers and librarians, as 56% will read a book suggested by a
parent, and 52% from a librarian or teacher. I don’t have the relevant figures
for UK teens, but it would have been interesting to compare them.
It might also be interesting to see a graph
comparing the reading habits of teens in the UK and the US. On the other hand,
do the figures really need to be compared? It’s quite clear that reading
amongst teens is declining.
Is the recent decline in reading a development or a trend? I’m not sure. I
haven’t seen the figures from say five or even ten years ago. It’s very
concerning if it constitutes a long term trend, particularly if the time that
teenagers spend on the internet is at the expense of all other activities.
But what the UK study did show was that teenagers’
interest in books had not significantly declined. The time they might have
spent reading a book was gradually being replaced by ‘activities’ that were
internet based. How would we have coped with that much free entertainment at
our finger tips, I wonder?
In the UK there are lots of initiatives to
encourage teens to read more, and some of them are very encouraging. At the Kid
Lit Quiz, which I attended last week, there was a hall full of engaged
enthusiastic pre-teens, mainly aged between 11 and 12, who clearly read an
enormous amount. It was inspiring to see. I think we might need a lot more of
these initiatives over the years to come. And failing that, might US-style “interventions”
be in order...?