Thursday, 5 December 2013

Do Teens Read? Savita Kalhan

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...?


Carole Anne Carr said...

Very good news indeed, motivates me to keep writing! :0)

Sue Purkiss said...

Hm - interesting stuff. I suppose when you think about it that time spent on Facebook, Twitter and all the other social media platforms, has to come from somewhere.

I was in a class of Year Fives, yesterday, and asked if any of them used ebooks - and was quite surprised when about half of them said they did. And this was a state school in a not very well-t-do area. I wonder if the SOA could do some research into this trend? It would be very interesting to know more about it.

Savita Kalhan said...

It would be interesting to know more, Sue. I really would be interested in seeing a comparison of similar studies conducted every five years, with a larger sample group.

Savita Kalhan said...

Here's a link to a site which clarifys all the different studies that came out this year, and incorporates the links to the Bowker Report and the Neilsen report -

maryom said...

My 16 yr old used to read quite a lot - mainly adult romcoms - till this Autumn. Now she's at college studying for 3 A levels and a BTEC, and can't find the time for reading for fun. Social networking fits in round essay writing - it's bit like talking to someone in the next room and doesn't interfere with work - but reading demands focussed free time which she doesn't have :(

Andrew said...

I always thought that a reason for some decline in teen reading is that a new interest is discovered. The opposite sex. And that as reading during congress is something more associated with the more care-worn..... then presumably something has to give.

Savita Kalhan said...

Mary, my 15 year old quotes lack of reading for pleasure time in this his GCSE year too. I know he reads a lot during the holidays - more than making up for not reading during term time, bt he says most of his year don't read at all...

Stroppy Author said...

I think this is about 'reading books for pleasure' rather than reading. They read a lot. Reading blogs, film reviews on rottentomatoes, facebook updates, cheats and tips for X-box games is all reading. And one of the things that has gone is watching TV. Live TV is not something they bother with much - anything can be found on catch-up. Small bint's bint boy told me he doesn't read. Then yesterday he sent me a link to quite an academic article about gender representation in movies. So is the worry about literacy, about how they are spending their time, about whether they are not reading fiction, or whether they are not reading the books we are writing? Is it about them or about us?