Encouring Teens & Tweens to Read

Common Sense Media’s recent review of national surveys and databases revealed some striking and disappointing news about this generation’s reading habits. Since 1984, the proportion of kids who never or hardly ever read for pleasure tripled. Back then, 31% of 17-year-olds read for pleasure “almost every day.” Now that number is down to 17%. Even more alarming, 45% of teens read for pleasure only once or twice per year. Not surprisingly, their achievement on measures of reading skills haven’t improved for two decades.

In my observations of teens and tweens during psychoeducational testing, little reading for pleasure translates into more limited vocabulary development and poorer writing skills. They are also missing out on an effective outlet for reducing stress. Although parents can model the joys of reading, buy books that interest their kids, and follow Common Sense Media’s other helpful recommendations, a big issue preventing teens from reading for pleasure is lack of time. Teens’ often hectic schedules and piles of homework leave them with little down time. The last thing they want to do after reading assignments in their textbooks is pick up a novel, mystery, or fantasy book.

Limiting screen time can help balance the kinds of media kids consume. But it is also important to insure teens are not overcommitted with after school activities. And though this is a much harder problem to address, parents need to monitor how much time students are spending on homework during the week, on weekends, and even during school “vacations.” Parents should do whatever they can to encourage teens to discover a habit that could become a lifelong joy.

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