To read or not to read: Decline in reading is harmful to teenagers

By Editorial Board

Photo credit: Kaitlyn Barr

In the age of technology, the likelihood of seeing a teenager reading a book for pleasure is decreasing dramatically. According to the American Psychological Association, less than 20% of teens in the United States report reading daily for pleasure, while 80% percent use social media every day instead. The benefits that reading can provide are extensive, such as exercising and strengthening the brain, building a stronger vocabulary, and learning more about human nature. Reading can even reduce stress, according to a study conducted by the Journal of College Teaching & Learning. The researchers found that reading lowers blood pressure, heart rate, and physiological distress. Reading could serve as a key tool in a world that prioritizes mental health.

To relax and wind down after a long day, teenagers tend to mindlessly scroll on their phones instead of opening a book like they may have done in the past. The average time spent on social media worldwide has increased in recent years, going from an average of 90 minutes a day in 2012 to 147 minutes in 2022, according to an online survey from Statista. Although some teenagers may feel more relaxed scrolling on their phones, psychotherapist Victoria Strohmeyer with UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center warns against using social media as a stress reliever. When notifications go off on a phone, they increase heart rate, pulse, and muscle tension. Since phone notifications rarely stop, we experience one stress after another. Reading is the better route to go if a teenager is looking to relieve stress, but unfortunately, most will choose to scroll through social media.

As teenagers, we have so much content available at the press of a button, including an estimated 30 to 50 billion web pages on Google alone, and our attention spans are decreasing as a result. Our brains resemble those of young children, due to an information overload, according to a study from the Journal of Neuroscience. Therefore even when we do pick up a book, we struggle to have the focus needed to get through it. Teenagers are not used to the length of novels, but rather a quick one-minute TikTok video or Instagram reel. 

Along with teenagers not reading for their own enjoyment, many are also ditching the required reading for class. Instead of cracking open their novels, students are increasingly relying on websites like SparkNotes, which provide book summaries. This may be a tempting time saver, but teenagers do not receive any benefits from “reading” on SparkNotes. By taking this shortcut students are losing out on the plethora of benefits that come from reading. 

Although it is not the norm anymore, teenagers should challenge themselves to pick up a book. Reading is a great way to gain new knowledge and to set teenagers up for a future in higher education and the workplace. Reading will be a crucial part of all college curriculums and any field of work, so it is never too late to become a reader.