Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Kids, Teens and Reading For Fun

©Maurice Sendak, Reading is Fun
Two studies pertaining to the current state of recreational reading among kids and teens have come out recently, providing a mixed bag of findings and a shared message of optimism about the future of reading (or rather e-reading) among young people. The first reports on findings from a survey of more than 2,000 children (ages 6 to 17) and their parents conducted by children's book publisher Scholastic last spring. According to a recent article by Julie Bosman for The New York Times, the Scholastic study found hope in the rising popularity of digital or "e-readers" such as the iPad and Kindle. For example,
Many children want to read books on digital devices and would read for fun more frequently if they could obtain e-books. But even if they had that access, two-thirds of them would not want to give up their traditional print books.
Well, they say they would, anyway. While only a quarter (about 25%) of the kids aged 9 to 17 years surveyed reported having already read a "book" on a "digital device" in the past (not sure what constitutes as a book here, but digital device is described as a category encompassing everything from e-readers to computers), 57% said that they would be interested in doing so in the future. And while only 6% of the parents surveyed owned an e-reader at the time the study was conducted, another 16% said they "planned to buy one in the next year" (Bosman, 2010). More significantly perhaps, was the finding that 83% of the parents surveyed said they would "allow or encourage their children to use the e-readers" (Bosman, 2010). With amazingly creative, interactive titles like Atomic Antelope's Alice for the iPad, I can definitely see why kids and parents are so excited:

At the same time, the parents surveyed expressed the usual reservations and concerns about the role of digital technologies in their children's lives, particularly around displacement effects (e.g. more time with new media would mean less time spent reading) and the fragmented/ing nature of multitasking. One of the issues raised in Bosman's article that I found particularly interesting was that parents were worried that their kids' multitasking habits, combined with the fast pace of other digital media contents, would prevent their children from every getting truly engrossed in a novel. Given all the new data emerging about the negative relationship between multitasking and focus, I wonder if this may be the case...even if just in terms of habits and norms.

Finally, as with every study of this nature that I've read to date, the Scholastic survey also examined the relationship between parents and children when it comes to reading habits. As Bosman describes, "Children ages 9 to 11 are more likely to be frequent readers if their parents provide interesting books to read at home and set limits on time spent using technology like video games." Indeed. And with that I give you the following, brilliant David Malki Wondermark comic strip:

©2008 Wondermark by David Malki (#442)

The second study comes out of the University of Maryland, where researcher Sandra Hofferth has been analyzing the daily activities of teens aged 12 to 18. The study was described in a Washington Post article by Donna St. George, but you can also read working papers outlining the results of the original study here: The “Hurried” Child: Myth vs. Reality and Validation of a Diary Measure of Children’s Physical ActivitiesUsing daily time-use diaries of a "nationally representative sample" (which, upon further examination of the original research paper, appears to actually mean 92 participants - 38 male and 54 female - drawn from a larger public school sample of 9 to 17 year olds, half of whom were from low income families and 30% of whom were minorities). Hofferth found that reading for pleasure had dropped 23% between 2003 and 2008 (which I find incredibly significant for a 5 year time frame), decreasing from 65 minutes a week to 50 minutes a week. She also found that tween/teens aged 12 to 14 had experienced the greatest decrease.

Nonetheless, the article, Hofferth and the other experts interviewed make a point of qualifying these findings, trying to construct the more positive argument that reading may not be decreasing as much as changing form. For instance, Hofferth proposes that: "They could be reading on the cellphone, in games, on the Web, on the computer. It doesn't mean they're not reading, but they're not reading using the printed page." Kim Patton, president of the Young Adult Library Services Association, is quoted saying basically the same thing: "It's not that they're reading less; they're reading in a different way." What we need now are studies (rather than educated guesses and anecdotes) that pay specific attention to these different ways of reading, including focused analyses of emerging technologies, applications, etc.:

To dream again. on Storybird

And in studies that have addressed this possibility head on - by taking a more nuanced approach to definitions of "reading," for instance, or by deconstructing what kids are reading as well as when - this does in fact seem to be the case. St George points us to the Kaiser Family Foundation report released last January, which found that the decline in "reading" among young people aged 8 to 18 (from 43 minutes to 38 minutes a day), was almost "entirely related to magazines and newspapers." Conversely, the study found that  time spent reading books remained steady at about 25 minutes a day for the past five years. In an interview with St. George that also appears in the Washington Post article, KFF researcher Victoria Rideout stated: "The data say to me that kids have a love of reading that is enduring, and that is different than other things teens do." This is certainly supported by industry statistics, which show significant and continued health in the sales of young adult fiction...to the point that YA author David Levithan (Wide Awake, Nick & Nora's Infinite Playlist) has proclaimed: "This is the second golden age for young-adult books" (cited in Reno, 2008). Lots to ponder...

©2010 CBC Book Club

As an aside, and just for fun, be sure to cast your vote(s) this week in the CBC Book Club's ultimate throw down for the title of top YA character. The first round lets you vote in four different categories - "Super Sleuths" (my pick = Nancy Drew), "Adventurers" (my pick = Katniss Everdeen, The Hunger Games), "The Girl Next Door" (my pick = Anne Shirley, Anne of Green Gables), and "Magical and Mystical" (my pick = Pippi Longstocking).


JGC said...

re: Hofferth: "They could be reading on the cellphone, in games, on the Web, on the computer. It doesn't mean they're not reading, but they're not reading using the printed page."

... Do you suppose it matters _what_ they're reading? Because I presume tweens and teens are mostly reading UGC on their phones, the Internet, etc. Is this sort of reading still valuable? Is this a question of literacy or literature?

This post is all kinds of awesome. Thanks for the insight! I've been meaning and meaning to read The Hunger Games.

Sara M. Grimes said...

Thank you so much JGC. As for your question, I'm not sure if the contents of the texts themselves matter - I wouldn't privilege novels over comic books, for instance, or traditional narrative forms over the immerse storytelling found in some digital games.

But I would certainly like to know more about the specific interfaces and technologies kids are using for the additional reading Hofferth mentions. At the very least to better understand how reading and intertextuality (and UGC!) are evolving, as well as to enable timely studies of the genres, themes, new literary conventions and discourses that may emerge out of these new ways of reading.

Perhaps the answer, then, is it's a question of culture - of being able to understand how kids' culture is adapting to new technologies and vice versa. With the ultimate goal of ensuring that there is reciprocity to this relationship.

Shaping Youth said...

Deliciously yummy literacy post, agree w/JGC Hunger Games is at Costco & I still haven't read it yet, dang.

fwiw, I'm seeing lots of 'digital reading' via apps like FML (kids can relate to the foibles and entertainment for hours) and using social media as a peer to peer evaluation mechanism (basically to discern what's worthy of even a nanosecond of their time)

That said, classic Catcher in the Rye style reading still commands 'can't put the book down/I can relate' devouring which flies in the face of multi-tasking territory, so it all depends...

As for specific interfaces and technologies, I think we need to realize social media is often used as a filtered lens for "additional reading" from status lines/shares, recos, and 'you've gotta read this' one on one referrals to even the scourges of digital citizenry (formspring & such) which kids learn from as well. (e.g. how to handle challenging discourse, navigate social scenarios, and even come up with pithy oneliners to lob back at 'frenemies'---I dare say in some ways this 'counts' as honing both reading AND writing skills...we just need to reframe in our heads what various forms of new media/literacy mean! ;-)

p.s. Lemme know when I can snag this one for SY...

Sara M. Grimes said...

Thanks for the feedback Amy! And you can repost this anytime :)