Independent Reading Myth #1–Today’s Teens Don’t Read

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There is a heavily engraved image of today’s youth, earbuds as an extension of their actual bodies, thumbs glued to their smart phones.  No where do we see books in their hands.  Today’s youth is uninterested in the simple pleasure of reading.  He would rather be figuring out how to advance to the next level of Halo XXIII or updating his Facebook status about what he ate for dinner.  Not only is he uninterested in the simplicity of the printed word, he doesn’t have the attention span for it.

On the contrary, according to the NEA’s 2008 report, Reading on the Rise, young adults represent the fastest growing subpopulation that have significantly increased their reading habits.  Literary reading as a whole has reversed its downward spiral over the past two decades, increasing by 7% between 2002-2008.  Young adults, who on the last survey showed the steepest decline in 2002 have grown by 9 points, rising fastest out of the whole survey population.  In 2008, 51% of young adults reported that they read novels, short stories, poems, and plays either in print or online. 

The reality is that today’s teens are reading and reading in droves!  Thanks to the popularity of recent blockbuster adaptations of YA series, these exciting and relevant stories are coming into mainstream.  In fact, there is even a movement to include a book award in Fox’s Teen Choice Awards.  YA author Jennifer Donnelly has been an advocate of this movement from the beginning.  I can see it now–Veronica Roth’s Divergent up there next to Lil Wayne and Lady Gaga.

Teens are flocking to stories with strong heroines and nerdy book smart boys.  They are stalking authors like John Greene and Stephanie Meyer with more gusto than any film or radio star.

How do I know this?  Because I talk to them about it. I ask them what they’ve read or who their favorite author is.  I ask them about how they choose books and who among their friends shares the same taste in books as they do.  I ask them what makes a book great and then dangle carrots of curiousity in front of their noses, hoping to lead to discover yet another awesome YA novel.

Then why can’t we seem them doing it? Many of them are reading covertly.  Sadly, in their daily lives reading may not be valued.  Perhaps none of their teachers talk to them about reading for pleasure or even give them time to read something of their choice in class.  Devastating, I know.  Or for some, they are reading in plain view, right under your nose.  E-readers, apps, and digital media have connected a whole generation of “digital natives” to a new look at literary life.  They look like they are scrolling through Facebook?  Nope, they’re flipping as fast as they can through The Summer I Turned Pretty.  Texting a friend?  Nope, they are updating their goodreads shelves and writing reviews of their favorites.
Perhaps it’s not teens whose behaviors and perceptions need a major shift.  Perhaps it’s how we perceive readers themselves and what they read that could use a little adjustment instead.  

Like to think about this a little more?  Check out some of these resources:
“The Young Adult Voice in Research About Young Adults” (YALSA)
“The Kids Books are Alright” (NY Times)
“American Reading Habits Studied”

Please share any resources you may have to contribute to this conversation!

Happy reading 🙂

Audrey

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