In schools all across America, books are fighting to stay relevant and desired—Shakespeare vs Snapchat, J.K. Rowling vs. Instagram. With technology rapidly advancing and becoming more accessible, books are being read less and less frequently by teenagers who prefer the instant gratification of social media and technology over the long but rewarding experience of reading a book.
A 2016 study by the American Psychological Association found that less than 20 percent of American teenagers read daily for fun. Another study by Professor Jean Twenge of San Diego University compared the reading habits of teenagers in 1976 to those of teenagers in 2016, finding that 60 percent of high school seniors in 1976 reported reading for pleasure, in comparison to only 16 percent of 2016’s seniors.
These statistics are deeply troubling. Teenagers are spending more time on their phones than reading, which is nothing new. However, books have rapidly lost popularity, as far back as when the television was invented.
“When I was a kid, I liked to read a lot,” sophomore Nolan Geer said. “But as I got older, it became more of a chore for me, rather than something I wanted to do, especially with all the [new] technology coming out.”
The decrease in reading may have a lot to do with the amount of time and effort it takes to read a book. As technology becomes faster and more efficient, teenagers are becoming more accustomed to getting gratification instantly, and books take much more than a few seconds to give the satisfaction and entertainment that teenagers are seeking.
"As I got older, [reading] became more of a chore for me, rather than something I wanted to do." - Nolan Geer.
“Books used to be competing with TV and movies for kids’ attention, which was already difficult enough, but now we’re competing with phones,” English teacher Peter Salmans said. “If you open a book by Shakespeare, the payoff is deep and ultimately very fulfilling, but with a phone, the payoff is often immediate, and it is incredibly difficult to compete with something that is designed to be addicting.”
However, there is hope for the reading community. Despite a rapid decrease in popularity, there are still teenagers who enjoy reading and the rewarding feeling that comes with reading a good book.
“[Reading] is something that I have an emotional attachment to, and it’s something productive for me to do with my time,” sophomore Sebastian Bernard said.
Regardless of whether teenagers do or do not like reading, the health benefits of reading are undeniable. Reading improves memory, reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s and reduces stress, according to an article by Business Insider.
“[Reading] makes us feel less alone, because it’s a way of communing with another consciousness in a way that you can’t commune with in any other way,” Salmans said. “It gives us an insight into society and human nature that other art mediums don’t do as well.”
"[Reading] makes us feel less alone... it gives us an insight into society and human nature." - Peter Salmans
If teenagers do not like to read, then how can teachers and parents encourage them to?
“I think teachers should let us pick what we want to read, because when it is assigned, it feels like more of a chore to read,” Geer said.
By giving students more options and modern novels, teachers can encourage students to be interested in the world around them and be more curious overall. Reading can help students develop their critical thinking skills and can prepare them for college and the workforce. As teenagers lose interest in reading, they lose valuable life skills that will help them in all walks of life.
“Just as working out prepares you for a football game, reading prepares you to think critically, come up with ideas, be more persuasive, and express yourself more clearly, skills that are useful in all facets of life,” Salmans said.