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The Troubling Stats About Kids And Reading

Frank Bruni at The New York Times wrote an outstanding op-ed last week about kids who read—and why our society needs them.

He quotes a recent report by Common Sense Media showing some sad trends:

It showed that 30 years ago, only 8% of 13-year-olds and 9% of 17-year-olds said that they “hardly ever” or never read for pleasure. Today, 22% of 13-year-olds and 27% of 17-year-olds say that. Fewer than 20% of 17-year-olds now read for pleasure “almost every day.” Back in 1984, 31% did. What a marked and depressing change.

That sucks. That really sucks.

Reading is literally like oxygen to your brain. No it isn’t—literally, at least—just making sure you’re paying attention after last week’s grammar post.

Reading is figuratively like oxygen to your brain. The benefits are numerous. Some examples from Bruni’s op-ed:

Several studies have suggested that people who read fiction, reveling in its analysis of character and motivation, are more adept at reading people, too: at sizing up the social whirl around them. They’re more empathetic. God knows we need that.

Late last year, neuroscientists at Emory University reported enhanced neural activity in people who’d been given a regular course of daily reading, which seemed to jog the brain: to raise its game, if you will.

I’ve also talked about how reading fiction can boost your creativity. But back to the intelligence factor.

Daniel Willingham, a psychology professor at the University of Virginia, framed [reading] as a potentially crucial corrective to the rapid metabolism and sensory overload of digital technology. He told me that it can demonstrate to kids that there’s payoff in “doing something taxing, in delayed gratification.”

Before talking with him, I arranged a conference call with David Levithanand Amanda Maciel. Both have written fiction in the young adult genre, whose current robustness is cause to rejoice, and they rightly noted that the intensity of the connection that a person feels to a favorite novel, with which he or she spends eight or 10 or 20 hours, is unlike any response to a movie.

That observation brought to mind a moment in The Fault in Our Stars when one of the protagonists says that sometimes, “You read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book.”

All of this seems like common sense to me.

Of course we’re going to be smarter when we exercise our brain by reading. Of course our brain is “doing more” when we’re reading The Fault in Our Stars instead of watching a Duck Dynasty marathon.

I want to make sure my boys are readers, that they don’t fall into that 22% of kids who “hardly ever” read for pleasure.

I’m about to start reading Narnia to my 3-year-old, and I can’t wait to see what he thinks as his imagination runs wild. All it takes is a little effort from parents to make sure our kids give a crap about reading. Teachers can only do so much.

What do you make of Bruni’s article?

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21 Comments Post a comment
  1. 1banjo #

    The moribund public school system has made reading such a bland and boring experience it is no wonder kids aren’t picking up the habit. Having killed the desire to read among many, it is now making learning math unbearable. Look, don’t get me started.

    Like

    May 21, 2014
  2. We are a family of book lovers and readers. I’ve even got my jet skiing-outdoorsy-give me fresh air or give me death husband on board! It amazes me (in a disgusted way) when my kids bring home friends who have never read Harry Potter or the Hunger Games or much of anything besides what is required in schools. I try to encourage them to open up to recreational reading, but it starts at home. If your parents don’t make reading an activity of enjoyment, than it’s highly unlikely kids will on their own.

    Like

    May 21, 2014
  3. I remember when my best friend signed out The Two Towers on a whim from the school library during the old Accelerated Reader program in middle school. He shared his findings with me, and the two of us literally devoured Tolkien that year. Or maybe it was figuratively..?

    It put me on the path to a lot of reading and inspired me to write stories of my own. Now, I love story in all its forms (books, movies, games, music) but all of them start and end with the written word. Books are just that much more ‘raw’. It pains me to hear how little my 17 year old step son wants to read, largely because how book reports and the like, typically on titles selected by the school, were pushed down his throat.

    …of course, a big part of it is me, too. After all, I bought a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird from the school after we read it in class. 😉

    Like

    May 21, 2014
    • I just imagined a cannibal party in which you both sat down at a table to eat Tolkien. Not the best image!

      Like

      May 21, 2014
    • I was the nerd that read all of the books (and plays) for the year when we picked up our book packs in the summer holidays! I couldn’t just leave books sitting there unread! I’ve kept many of them because I loved them – To Kill a Mockingbird, I Robot, The Outsiders. But plenty of others at school were always moaning about the school books, so I think a lot of it is attitude, not the books or the teachers.

      Lots of my favourite modern books are now taught in schools – Looking for Alibrandi and Tomorrow when the War Began (both Australian) are some of my absolute favourites that I still re-read, yet I know kids at school who call them boring!

      Like

      May 21, 2014
  4. The schools in NW OK are inundated with ELL (English Language Learner) students and, at least where I just hired on, they are using children’s books to do a lot of the word work. I love it! Add to that my interview, in which all three principal’s asked me if I felt comfortable integrating reading, writing, and music into whatever classroom I might get (there are several subject specific openings in three schools) and I have great hope for helping some of those children to read more often.

    As for at home…my poor daughter has no chance. She and I live with my parents, both of whom are also elementary teachers (my dad is now a college professor but still misses 2nd grade). Monkey already reads to us (well…all the words are tinkerbell, ponies, and kitty cat but she tries) and my post yesterday was about her ‘writing’ stories in her notebook like I do. I just pray she keeps that zeal!

    Thank you for this post. It is interesting and disturbing to see those numbers.

    Like

    May 21, 2014
  5. Reblogged this on Here there Be Dragons! and commented:
    Some interesting and disturbing numbers in here. We as parents and teachers need to make sure that reading is not just a chore for our young (and ourselves!). The health and mental benefits are worth so much…too much to lose.

    Like

    May 21, 2014
  6. My sister is supposed to read one book every six weeks for her school Accelerated Reader test. She won’t even do that. She starts one and quits a day later. I don’t think she’s ever finished a book. It’s so sad.

    Like

    May 21, 2014
  7. Cabin Fever Books Ltd. #

    Reblogged this on Cabin Fever Books Ltd. and commented:
    Well worth reading, and reading is well worth doing.

    Like

    May 21, 2014
  8. Not long ago I heard a teenage girl ask her friend if she had read a certain book and the reply was this: I don’t read books. My soul just drop to the floor.

    Like

    May 21, 2014
  9. In our area, teenagers are so busy prepping for college that they aren’t “reading for pleasure,” they’re reading to pass whatever exam they’re taking to get into college. It doesn’t mean that they’re not reading.

    But I do think that there is so much digital competition for kids’ time that something like reading has got to give. That’s why we don’t have a TV. A lot of reading happens in our house.

    And I just started a new “tradition” of waking my son up with poems. This morning he awoke to Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening and The Road Less Traveled. He loves it!

    Like

    May 21, 2014
  10. “I’m about to start reading Narnia to my 3-year-old, and I can’t wait to see what he thinks as his imagination runs wild. All it takes is a little effort from parents to make sure our kids give a crap about reading. Teachers can only do so much.”

    Well said. In edu-speak, one way to “scaffold” those who can’t read (or can’t read well enough), whether they be young children or otherwise, is to real aloud to them. This helps them to “access” printed text despite their insufficient abilty to “decode” printed text.

    Like

    May 21, 2014
  11. It saddens me to realize how few of the population actually read books. I work in the library of a college and the items that have the largest circulation are the graphic novels. This new generation is visually sophisticated, but when it comes to language, there is a lot to be desired.

    Like

    May 21, 2014
  12. One of my all time BEST parenting experiences was reading “The Laughing Sutra” by Mark Salzman to my boys at ages 4 and 10. Okay, I had to brush past some violence at the beginning (the Cultural Revolution), but once the story was underway, we were all hooked! I thought the four year old would fall asleep or ignore it, but he was entranced. Who knew a Chinese immortal would make such an exciting hero? The book is actually a rather sophisticated cross cultural comedy, but my sons just soaked it up. Salzman is a great story teller.

    Like

    May 21, 2014
  13. patrickstuart14 #

    Reblogged this on patrickstuart14's Blog.

    Like

    May 24, 2014
  14. Reblogged this on Readage.

    Like

    May 25, 2014
  15. This is so true… Most of the kids now a days are not into reading-as-a-habit.. Thanks for posting this. It’s a good reminder for parents that they play a big role on this… Reading should start at home and should be introduce to young ones as a habit. You might wanted to see this A Piece Of Heaven On Earth.

    Like

    May 25, 2014
  16. Reblogged this on themodernwoman714 and commented:
    Exercise your mind: read!

    Like

    June 1, 2014
  17. I believe that most of the reasoning behind young teens/children have no desire to read for their own pleasure is because of the new wave of technology. Many years ago you would find kids playing outdoors, reading or other activities as such. Now-a-days you see them playing on their smart phones, computers and other devices. No body wants to do anything active or “train the brain,” if you will. Even if they have come out with devices that you can actually read real books on, there are other apps that they will have access to that interest them more.

    And yes, I do believe a lot of parents don’t pay attention or care to much in the growth of their child’s mind. They themselves probably aren’t readers and and may find it as a chore to do so. Schools and teachers can only do so much and yeah I do remember being in school and the books that we read. I thought the task was daunting and I didn’t much care to read those books but more of the books I wanted to read, the books that I actually liked.

    If someone were to set reading goals for their children starting at a young age, I think it would help tremendously. Let the child pick the books he/she would like to read, set a specific amount of pages or an amount of time a day they would need to read in order to get something or be able to play outside. I’m not saying that bribing your children is a good idea but some times it works. I’ve seen it. It took a little while, but eventually the child wanted to read on his own and loved to do so without having it be a task. But those are just my thoughts.

    Like

    June 5, 2014
  18. I have a lot of friends who would read since way under the age of 18, me being one of them, and reading was the best way to wind down after a tough day or just for fun and recreation. I still do it, and I notice other kids, who seem under 18, at the libraries and especially Barnes and Nobles who are actually reading. Not just comic books or for pictures.
    However, nowadays, kids have so much more stress at schools that reading would seem like a chore since that’s probably what they do all day there with force and not seen as recreation.
    But reading fictional novels, no matter what your age, you always have to be able to connect, and that’s something kids can’t do today, because they don’t fell the need to. And no adult can really complain about kids in this generation, seeing as how most of you raised them. but in the end, some kids love it, some don’t.

    Like

    July 1, 2014
  19. Loz #

    One sad fact I think is there is possibly too many “Gatekeepers” who bully readers into a meat grinder to sedate their egos. E.G. “You cannot read Twilight, it does not meet our high literary standards!” “Douglas Adams, scifi is too ghetto. Here, read this ancient Greek text about sheep herding.” “A pulpy, anime inspired writer, Never! Here, read this doorstopper about a girl living alone on a island than write a eight hundred cliff notes essay about it by tomorrow.”

    P.S. Sorry about the grammar, thirty something years I still have not gotten the hang of English.

    Like

    March 31, 2016

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