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Teen Reading Statistics: Benefits of Reading Parents Should Know

How many teens read regularly and continue as adults? We share statistics on teen reading rates, and why teens reading more has important benefits.
Benefits of Reading
Updated: June 28, 2023

I recently had the opportunity to travel with my family for spring break. During the trip, we experienced several layovers. In these stretches of time, I watched the travelers around me. One thing that stood out was the overwhelming number of people looking at their smartphones or in-flight screens.

During the trip, I only saw one person reading a book.

Much has changed in the past 20 years. There was a time when in the same situation books would likely be in the hands of far more people in this setting. In fact, traditional media like newspapers and magazines were routinely handed out on long-haul flights. The access to and availability of digital media has changed the world and certainly how we read and consume information in our free time.

Current research on reading skills and reading habits among adults and teenagers echoes this idea. While one may suggest that people are just reading books, magazines, or news articles on their devices (rather than using traditional media), research tells a different story.

In the past decade, there has been a steady decline in reading for pleasure. Despite the ease of access, people today are reading less compared to past generations.

Related: 25 Best Young Adult Books Teens Will Love

Although reading statistics suggest a steady decline in reading long-form texts, the benefits of reading remain undeniable. There is more value to reading a book than just immersing yourself in a good story.

What are the reasons why reading books is on the decline for teens and adults? Let’s look at current research on reading rates for young adults and teens, discuss the benefits of reading for pleasure, and share ways to encourage your teenager to read in authentic ways.

What percentage of teens read?

Today, less than 20 percent of U.S. teens report reading a book, magazine or newspaper daily for pleasure, while more than 80 percent say they use social media every day, according to research published by the American Psychological Association (APA).

This may seem like a reasonable outcome in a digital world, but researchers also note that while teenagers have access to multiple forms of media (books, magazines, etc.) on their smartphones, time reading for pleasure has still dropped (Twenge & Martin, 2018).

High Schoolers Are Reading Less and Spending More Time Online

American middle and high school students also have less time set aside for free reading. For example, it is often common practice in the elementary school classroom to read a book aloud for student enjoyment and children are often given scheduled library time to find books that interest them.

In addition, many elementary school students (age groups 5-11 years old) enjoy a stretch of free reading time each day, often called Sustained Silent Reading (SSR), to read books of their choosing.

Teen Stress

These practices commonly end when middle school starts widening the gap for adolescent readers as their time reading for pleasure plummets. Middle and high school students increasingly focus on social media, interactive websites, and video games rather than traditional media.

Teenagers who have less experience with long-form text and traditional media may be unprepared for the crucial task of understanding complex issues and developing critical thinking literacy skills (Twenge & Martin, 2018).

For a teen who is used to jumping from one app to another and switching formats and content within seconds, the shift to focusing on one piece of text over an extended period can prove challenging. However, many future career paths and jobs still depend on the ability to focus on one subject, text, or topic for an extended period of time.

What percentage of adults read?

Reading statistics on adult reading habits mirror many of the findings among teenage readers.

Roughly a quarter of American adults (23%) say they haven’t read a book in whole or in part in the past year, whether in print, electronic or audiobook form,” according to a 2022 A Pew Research Center study.

Sharp declines in reading long-form texts are seen as well as a lack of continual reading habits. This gap in adult reading is important to consider as parents are often models of learning behavior for their children. Research suggests that children and teens who have parents that read regularly are more likely to develop reading habits themselves.

What are the benefits of reading for teens?

In addition to becoming better able to attend to text and develop complex understanding, critical thinking skills, and literacy skills, researchers like Georgette Rivera & Catherine Winter suggest a multitude of other benefits of reading long-form texts.

Benefits of reading for kids and teens include:

  • Improved Focus
  • Improved Concentration
  • Mental Stimulation
  • Developing Imagination
  • Improved Vocabulary
  • Improved Analytical Skills
  • Improved Comprehension
  • Strengthen Writing Skills
  • Stress Reduction

Ways to encourage teens to read more

Here are some ideas to engage and motivate adolescents and young people to read in their free time. Tailor your efforts to match your teen’s likes and dislikes and work with them to make reading meaningful and motivating.

1. Be an Example and Read as a Family

Read as a Family

If the statistics in this article resonate with your own experience, and you wish that your teen had better reading habits, one thing you can do today is to make a goal to read more yourself. You can help your teenager with this new focus by including them in the process.

Share what you're reading and interesting things you have learned. This may spark a desire for them to read with more frequency. Make book reading part of your leisure time and make it a priority. You can even schedule regular family reading time after dinner to get in the habit of reading together.

2. Let Teens Choose Books They Love

Help young adults find great books that are meaningful to them. While a timeless classic may be one of your favorites, it may not resonate with your teen.

It is all right if teens are reading books that are more contemporary like young adult novels or even graphic novels! Make your goal to help your child create a positive reading habit, regardless of the genre. Hopefully, as your teen engages with text in meaningful ways, they will expand their scope of books and more importantly, create a love of literature and reading.

3. Create A Summer Reading Program

Set up a summer reading program for your child (at any grade level). Design the program to fit your young child's or young adult’s specific interests or needs. Set achievable scholastic goals like reading for a certain amount of time each day, reading a defined number of books, or trying several different genres of text. As reading goals are completed, work out a system for rewarding their efforts.

4. Get Suggestions from BookTok and YouTube Book Videos

There are several TikTok and YouTube Shorts accounts that are dedicated to book recommendations. In this short format, content creators like amys_bookshelf and readwithsyll share books that they love, books on specific themes, and collections that inspire them. This hearkens back to the classroom ‘book talk’ where teachers would share a book synopsis with the class to motivate them to read new texts. In addition, book companies such as Scholastic have websites that recommend great reads for all age groups and grade levels which can help narrow your search for the perfect book.

5. Visit A Library

Visit a Library

Libraries can be great places to reignite your love for reading. A recent Pew Research Center Report found that “Although the internet is increasingly important as a source of information for a majority of Americans, most adults still use libraries.

Some 53% reported going to a local public library in the past 12 months.” With so many options available for different grade levels and reading abilities (including non-readers and reluctant readers), children, teenagers, and adults are sure to find something that interests them.Check with your public library to see if they have young adult programs.

Our local library recently held a mini Comic-Con event where teens came together to cosplay and talk about their favorite characters. They also hold a teen book club every month to promote teenage reading.

6. Carry A “Stuck” Book

Years ago I started carrying a book with me (usually left in my car) wherever I went. Just the act of having a book close at hand helped me to build a better reading habit. If I was stuck waiting for a practice to end, in a long line, or sitting at the doctor's office, the book was there, and thus, I was more likely to read it.

Have your teen pick out a book they want to read then make sure it is with them in those, “in-between” moments.

7. Have Your Child Find a Book Club for Teens

Encourage your teenager to start or join a book club. This will give them something to talk about and explore as they move through themes and plot twists. There are online book clubs your student can join if they feel more comfortable in an anonymous space. In addition, many libraries, after-school clubs, and recreational centers hold teen book clubs.

Years ago, after a new Harry Potter book was published, I overheard eighth-graders in my class talking about the book, joking with each other about not spoiling surprises, and guessing the next move in the story. This shared experience with a book can be powerful and engaging. Book clubs provide a place to think about, process, and celebrate great literature together.

Teen Book Club

8. Read A Book Then See The Movie

I have a friend who picks a book to read with her now 13-year-old each summer. When they are both finished with the text, they watch the movie and talk about the differences, the choices of the director, and how they felt the story translated to the screen.

Recently I listened to them talk about the book, “The Maze Runner.” It was delightful to hear the thoughtful discussion about themes within the book and the frustration they felt connected to what was left out of the movie and how they would have done things differently.

This interaction showed a depth of understanding of the themes of the book and underscored their engagement with the text. As a bonus, this created an authentic shared experience for the parent and teen.

Final Thoughts on Teen Reading Rates

Despite the declining rates of reading for pleasure, research indicates numerous benefits of reading for teens. Working to find ways to motivate your teen to read books is a powerful way to build lifelong reading habits.

Find what works for your teenager and make goals to read more together.The benefits of reading are plentiful and the drawbacks are few. Pick up a good book, make a goal to read more, and rediscover the joys of reading!

Jessica Mangelson, Ph.D.

About Jessica

Jessica received her Ph.D. in Teaching and Learning from The Ohio State University. She has… Read more

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