The tragic tale of why nobody reads anymore and how to use this summer to become a booklover

How many youngsters do you know who would gush excitedly over a recent book they’ve read? Struggling? Or how about this – how many do you know that would giggle elatedly over an incoming text, a facebook post or perhaps a funny tweet? Doubtlessly a handful. Reading and a love of the habit is in enormous decline amongst the younger generation. The majority of children are put off by the misperceived laboriousness of the hobby and thus prefer to engage in more blithesome activity, better known as social networking. I’m going to look at some (shocking) findings from a recent study into this matter and then consider ways in which we can instil good reading habits in our young ones.

Amidst the array of attractive distractions that we call gadgets, a lot of young adults forget that there is a lot to be gained from reading. Not only can you brush up on your general knowledge and wisdom(!), but you might actually get into it! Reading used to be the primary pastime of kids a few generations ago and there’s got to be a reason why we’re so adamantly encouraged to take it up. Not only will it make you more knowledgeable, it will also give you skills of eloquence, a wider range of vocabulary, improved writing and communication skills. All of these attributes will boost your essay and interview techniques, placing you well ahead of the dull crowd.

This issue may well be a transnational one – seemingly apparent not only here but across the pond. In the US “the National Endowment for the Arts, in a 2007 report (‘To Read, or Not to Read’) noted that whilst young Americans spend almost two hours a day watching television, only seven minutes of their daily leisure time is spent reading.” If that is not enough to shock you, more than two-thirds of American 13-year-olds boycott reading daily altogether. Seeing as many cultural trends born in America have a habit of contaminating us and breeding in the UK also, it is not surprising to read the disappointing findings of a report carried out by academics from the University of Dundee. In school years 10 and 11, “boys and girls read books that were “well below what might be expected at this age”… The Very Hungry Caterpillar was the 12th most popular book chosen by girls, while boys often favoured “very easy” books.”

It seems increasingly the case that children are too complacent to challenge themselves when it comes to reading, preferring instead to stick to familiar, rudimentary books. The study found that “five of the six most popular books read by eight and nine-year-olds in the fourth year of school were by Roald Dahl… By the time children reached Year 8 of school, four of these books were still among the most popular titles.” This lack of progression is grossly worrying for developmental reasons. Another finding demonstrates the continuation of this problem well in to the teenage years, close to the time of GCSEs “…By year nine, the 13 and 14-year-old students were reading books with an average age of just 10.”

The reason this issue is so critical and in need of our attention is because, not only is this a sombre sign of the diminishing reading and literary culture in general, but it also indicates a much greater problem: a real loss of essential skills such as interpretation, analysis, critical thinking and understanding acquired through reading, amongst an entire young generation. Professor Keith Topping from the University of Dundee told The Guardian: “We know that reading ability is highly correlated with academic achievement. So if children are reading books that are too easy, this is not only affecting their reading, but also all of their intellectual development.”

Based on this evidence and on extensive additional research carried out by the National Education Association in America which suggests that “reading is not only associated with better personal and financial circumstances, but that readers are also more likely to participate in cultural … events, to undertake exercise, and to volunteer for community work, the knock-on effects from the decline in literary reading are significant.” It is high time we take action to awaken interest in reading again.

That is precisely what the Loxford School in Ilford has done. They have initiated, planned and enforced a Drop Everything and Read (DEAR) scheme. This is a programme which highlights the importance of teachers as positive role models, encouraging a teacher-student shared approach to a weekly silent reading session across the school, whereby all staff and students drop everything they are doing and read silently for the allotted time. As one teacher at the school put it, “Children need to see adults consistently reading for pleasure. Why should children see reading as a valuable activity if the adults around them do not demonstrate that reading is fun and important to them?” This is a very valid point, with much recent research showing that children gain many of their skills, habits and even hobbies from what they see adult role models around them doing.

Bringing reading back as a central part of the school day has proved a tremendous success at Loxford School with one year 8 student saying “At the end of the day you can calm down, relax and enjoy a good book, unwinding with your friends and teachers.” It is so vital that we recognise the significance of instilling and inspiring a culture of reading amongst our young.

Tips on gaining/imparting good reading habits

• Get into the habit. Pick up a book, preferably one you know has good reviews so as to spur some interest, and make a habit of reading quietly for 20 minutes a day. Do this every day, increasing your reading time by 5 minutes each day. The more captivating the book, the less you’ll be agonizing or glancing at the clock ceaselessly and the easier it’ll get.

• Parents – be positive role models. Read books – especially around the house – as often as you can. Children, particularly when they are very young, catch on to their parents’ practices and it becomes habitual for them. If you have young children, set up a daily reading routine and read to your children for 30 minutes a day. This can be a designated relaxation time and a perfect opportunity to learn together.

• Avoid distractions – the biggest of these is technology. Turn off all electronic devices and immerse yourself in the plot of the book. Visiting a library regularly will be sound practice for psychologically training yourself to read. Regularly surrounding yourself with many other readers will cause the habit to rub off on you.

• Discuss and share your ideas. Do this online or as part of a reading group. You’d be surprised how useful and enjoyable this can be. Debating and sharing ideas on a certain issue or story can be a boundless learning and growing experience.

Are you a teenager or know one who would do anything to avoid investing in reading time? Or do you have any tips to share? Let us know of your thoughts and views on this matter by posting a comment below.

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