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Melissa Cleaver
Omaha Public Schools | Nebraska
Common Sense Education Outreach Coordinator
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Common Sense Media - In the News


4 Alarming Findings About Kids' and Teens' Reading

Common Sense Media's research report shows kids are reading less than ever. Discover the startling statistics -- and what you can do to get your kids back into books.
Seeta Pai Vice President, Research | Mom of two Categories: Common Sense news
Vice President, Research | Mom of two

Do you have a teen who hardly reads? You're not alone. Common Sense Media's latest research report, "Children, Teens, and Reading," shows that adolescents aren't reading for fun much anymore, and their reading achievement hasn't increased for over two decades. What's more, large segments of the population -- black and Latino (compared with white) kids, and boys (compared with girls) in general -- are falling behind.

We reviewed large, national surveys and databases and found trends on kids' reading rates, reading scores, and more. Here's a sampling:

>>Reading rates have dropped precipitously among adolescents.

  • 53% of 9-year-olds vs. 17% of 17-year-olds are daily readers.
  • The proportion who "never" or "hardly ever" read tripled since 1984. A third of 13-year-olds and 45% of 17-year-olds say they've read for pleasure one to two times a year, if that.

>>Reading achievement among older teens has stagnated.

  • Reading scores of 9- and 13-year-olds have improved, but those of 17-year-olds haven't changed in 30 years.

>>There's a persistent gap in reading scores between white, black, and Latino kids.

  • 18% black and 20% Latino fourth-graders are rated as "proficient" in reading compared with 46% of white kids at that age (this gap has been relatively unchanged over two decades).

>>There's also a gender gap in reading across ages.

  • Girls read 10 minutes more per day than boys on average.
  • 12% more girls are rated as proficient in reading than boys.

In a way, the report's findings about teens aren't surprising. Older kids have always read less than younger ones, as the multiple demands of growing up take over. For many, there's simply no time to juggle reading for pleasure with schoolwork, afterschool activities, sports, homework, jobs, and socializing. But some kids are managing to fit it in. Here's how you can help:

Walk the talk. Our study shows parents of frequent readers vs. infrequent readers are more likely to read themselves.

Provide the opportunity. Parents of frequent readers vs. infrequent readers are more likely to keep books at home. Check out our Essential Books Guide and recommended lists of books for tweens and teens to keep up a steady stream.

Set aside time … for them. Look at your kids' schedules and see if there's something you can help take off their plates. Parents of frequent readers vs. infrequent readers are more likely to set aside time for kids to read each day.

Discover pockets of reading. Our study shows people are undecided about whether ebooks are preferable to print books, but we say take it where you can get it. If reading a whole book is too much, almost everything else counts as long as it doesn't spiral down into distraction. Reading fan fiction from his favorite video game? Check. Reading the news on his phone? Check. Reading Wikipedia pages when she's curious about something? Check. Reading blog posts about an interesting topic? Check. Reading The Fault in Our Stars on his ereader or tablet? Definitely check!

Talk to the teacher. Reading scores are important because they're indicators of how kids are doing across most school subjects. If your kid's scores are flagging, find out from his teacher what she -- or school policies -- can do to help. 

Start early. Although it's never too late, it's much easier to build habits when kids are young and impressionable. Raise a reader by encouraging your little one.

Help kids connect. When kids can relate personally to a story's characters and circumstances, they may read more. Seek out reading material with diverse characters and situations to encourage kids who may feel as if they don't see themselves reflected in most books.

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