US Children Reading Less; Internet, Smartphones Main Causes

Over the past 40 years, the number of children who read for pleasure has dropped considerably, according to San Francisco-based Common Sense Media. Their study explored changes over time that were done in seven surveys and tests by public and private groups, reports Andrew Seaman for Reuters. 

Many children admit to only reading for pleasure once or twice a year, while others only ever open a book if it is assigned for school. According to one study, almost one-third of 13-year-olds and about one-half of 17-year-olds say that they read for fun less than twice a year.

According to a government study, the rate of nine-year-olds who read for fun once or more per week fell from 81% in 1984 to 76% in 2013. The same study discovered that today's children are having a harder time learning how to read. For kids in the fourth grade, only about one-third of them are "proficient" in reading and another one third tested under "basic" reading skills. Seaman quotes one expert as saying:

"It raises an alarm," said Vicky Rideout, the lead author of the report. "We're witnessing a really large drop in reading among teenagers and the pace of that drop is getting faster and faster."

In addition, a drastic racial reading gap continues to exist. Only 18% of African-American fourth graders and 17% of eighth graders tested into the proficient level for reading, writes Sharon Noguchi for the San Jose Mercury News.

For Latinos, the estimated reading proficiency rates are 20% and 22% for fourth and eighth graders. These test results compare to 46% with Caucasian fourth-graders and eighth-graders. There is also a stark gender gap among child readers. About 30% of girls ages 15-17 said they read 5-7 days a week. However, only 18% of boys the same age said they read that frequently. Noguchi writes:

The findings, Steyer said, highlight the need for a national educational effort aimed at reading, similar to the focus on math-science education. He suggested calling on parents to model behavior — reading to their children and reading themselves — and getting schools, business and policy makers to refocus on reading.

Some experts point to social media as the downfall of conventional reading. Kids spend a lot more time on the Internet and on their smartphones than they do with books. Reading proficiency has since suffered. Experts do, however, admit that a conclusive study has not yet been done on e-books and reading applications such as the Kindle or Nook, says Noguchi.

Luckily, eBooks may help with children's interest to read. Also, in other good news, among younger children, the time that they spend reading or being read to has actually increased to anywhere from a half-hour to an hour a day. Around half of parents with children under twelve read with them every day.

05 15, 2014
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