Educators and concerned parents have long maligned the impact of social media and other forms of technology on children, and one recent study provides some stark clarity to the current situation.
The National Assessment of Educational Progress found that about one-third of 13-year-old kids “never” or “hardly ever” read books during their spare time.
By contrast, a mere 14% of those surveyed said that they read “almost every day.” That number has been on a steady decline for years. In 2020, 17% of young teens reported reading on a nearly daily basis and more than one-fourth said the same in 2012.
A common cause for the precipitous drop, experts say, is the ubiquity of social media platforms like TikTok that consume almost every second of downtime for many young people. Among adolescents between the ages of 11 and 18, one study found that the average amount of time spent online now tops 10 hours per day.
— Pew Research Internet (@pewinternet) April 26, 2023
Scholastic School Reading Events Executive Vice President Sasha Quinton described the status quo as a “crisis” for students and educators, but offered steps that parents and teachers could take to reverse the trend.
“If we focus on that book joy and just connecting kids to funny stories and explosive stories and things that sparked their interest, then they are learning to read and they are on the path to being lifelong readers,” she advised.
While it might not be too late to address the issue, Quinton noted: “It’s really important to know what the average age now that kids have their own smartphone is, and we know that we lose our kids around 9, where they stop reading for pleasure.”
Combined with the learning loss associated with COVID-19 shutdowns, the role of social media and other technological diversions is only further hindering the educational growth of future generations.
Dr. Devorah Heitner, who founded the group Raising Digital Natives, noted that the excessive use of social media among young people has a wide range of potentially negative consequences. In addition to an apparent reduction in the desire or motivation to read, she said that elevated screen time can replace preferable pursuits.
“You worry if it’s replacing activities like sleep, family time, reading, chores — other things that are positive for kids,” Heitner explained. “That’s definitely a real concern.”