Reading resentment: Why teens have stopped reading for pleasure

Reading has become more of a chore than a hobby according to students. Kids who used to spend hours exploring the magic of books now say that completing their reading assignments is a tedious task, but why in particular are teens so opposed to reading?

Most people agree that reading was an integral part of their childhoods. Toddlers learn lessons of forgiveness and responsibility from imaginative characters and kids explore magical universes from the pages of a chapter book. Reading’s a pastime that not only helps our minds advance intellectually, but also helps us to become more well rounded people; however, despite these numerous benefits, the majority of teens choose not to. 

Many high schoolers have strayed away from this hobby because of its association with school. Centennial English teacher Rus Van Westervelt believes once teachers began assigning reading as homework and for in class assignments, students became resistant to reading. “I do hear more students than usual telling me they haven’t really read a book since early middle school which is very discouraging to me as a lover of books,” admitted Van Westervelt. 

As the workload of mandatory reading increases, the line between reading for pleasure and homework starts to blur. Being forced to complete reading assignments creates a negative association between the papers and worksheets and the reading material. “ I feel like the assignments attached to [the books] make me not want to read the book anymore,” explained Centennial sophomore Haylee Simmons,“ I feel like I only have to read the book to answer the questions.”

Another common reason many students have developed an aversion to reading is the lack of connection they feel to the books chosen for class discussion. Sometimes the books covered in school showcase an older writing style, making it difficult for students to relate to the stories they are learning about. Writing such as the works of Shakespere or can greatly contrast the books people were interested in as kids––when they first got into reading. “Sometimes [the books] are set in an older time period and so it’s not really applicable to our lives,” commented senior Rachel Yan.

Not only has the interest for reading diminished but the activity seems to be becoming viewed more as a feminine past-time. It is a proven fact that females read more than males: a 2018 study conducted on 15 year-olds revealed that over 40% of girls reported reading at least 30 minutes a day, while only about 25%  of boys reported doing so. In the same study 44% of girls said that reading was one of their favorite hobbies, compared to only 24% of boys. According to Centennial’s women and gender studies teacher, Kayleen Reese, a possible contributing factor to the observed trend could be the higher percentage of women as teachers, “there are more females in the teaching profession, especially at younger ages, so I think a lot of  the behavior of children is based on who their role models are.” Identifying the reasoning behind the stigma around teen boys reading is important in understanding the overall decrease in the hobby. 

Social media has its ups and downs when it comes to reading; while it has been a great resource to reintroduce reading as a hobby, it has also affected teens’ ability to focus while they are trying to read. The increasing disinterest in reading seems to coincide with the decrease in attention spans over the younger generations and the use of social media is often blamed for being the cause. Social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram have faced the majority of the criticism since the majority of the population uses them. In recent years TikTok has grabbed everyone’s attention, the average time it takes to watch a TikTok video is 34 seconds, and the average time it takes to read a book is four and a half hours. You could watch 10 very different video clips in a matter of minutes. One book takes hours of your time and brain power to focus on the story line, and often not read all at once. The brief nature of Tik Tok videos has made the idea of spending hours on one story exhausting. “ I noticed when I was a kid and I read a lot of books for fun, my attention span was a lot better,” mentioned Yan, “now that social media has impacted me, it’s definitely a bit harder to read” 

One way teens have attempted to solve this disinterest in reading is through a platform called Booktok, a sect of the social media app Tik Tok. Through the creation of book related videos and trends, users are helping to expose readers to more new aged books that may spark a wider range of interests. “I remember getting back into reading heavily when I had first seen a tik tok about a fantasy book that seemed really fascinating and going to buy the book immediately after,” recalled Overbooked club president Abi Griffin. Since the platform began in 2020, it has become incredibly popular with the BookTok hashtag garnering over 130 billion views. This success has not only been great for previous readers to hear a variety of new recommendations, but it has also created the notion that reading as a hobby is trendy, attracting teens and a new demographic of readers. 

Like the followers of the BookTok fandom, teen readers are still persistent in carrying over their childhood hobby into high school.  “I have my library in my classroom and I’m surprised by the number of people who like to check out books,” remarks Van Westervelt. “I have students in every single one of my classes that like to carry around books with them…because they love to read; but it’s on their terms not on a teacher’s terms.”


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