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Teens and Type: The not-so-bright future of reading

Curious to know where reading falls on a teen's wide-ranging list of priorities? With everything from the Internet to English assignments competing for their time and attention, KidScreen wondered what kind of interest the unilateral, unclickable art form of reading holds...
July 1, 1999

Curious to know where reading falls on a teen’s wide-ranging list of priorities? With everything from the Internet to English assignments competing for their time and attention, KidScreen wondered what kind of interest the unilateral, unclickable art form of reading holds for today’s teens. So, we headed to The Loopª, The Geppetto Group’s on-line teen panel, to get the scoop.

What we found is that our fast-forward, time-challenged culture has pervaded teen life, edging out reading as a popular form of entertainment with this demo. Doling out time for school, extra-curriculars, part-time job and homework, teens in general say that reading-which has no specific start time, can go on indefinitely and cannot be multitasked-just doesn’t fit into their hectic lifestyle. Most members of our panel also feel they do enough reading in school. Alana, 16, says: ‘I usually have novels assigned from school with attached reports and assignments. With a busy schedule, I find it too hard to have extra time to read on my own.’ Sixteen-year-old Brian agrees. ‘I am jam-packed with stuff to read for English class, so that’s all the time I can give to it.’

If teens are inundated with required reading, are they at least getting pleasure out of it?

For the most part, the novels selected by schools are not endearing the activity of reading to teens. One exception was Lauren, 14, who loves to read: ‘Reading allows me to experience places I would only dream of going to. It has endless possibilities,’ she says. ‘Kids who only read school books think it’s a chore, something you are made to do.’ In fact, the majority of teens found school selections to be ‘too boring, too long’ (Greg, 15) or ‘incredibly difficult to understand, much less relate to’ (Sammy, 16). If this is starting to sound hopeless, there is some good news for reading’s future. Teen classics seem to be holding their own with the next generation, with Catcher in the Rye, ‘any’ Kurt Vonnegut and The Secret Garden coming out as clear favorites. Teens say these titles have ‘characters and plots that you can relate to your life now, and that can even help you through it’ (Sarah, 18).

Another interesting cultural twist shows that teenage girls are branching out way beyond the traditional feminine categories of romance and drama, into genres that have traditionally been dominated by guy readers. Sci-fi was a hit with girls and guys alike, with titles like Dawn, Ender’s Game, A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Ayn Rand’s Anthem being singled out as popular page-turners.

Teens told us they rely entirely on other teens’ recommendations when choosing books. This word-of-mouth buzz certainly paid off for teen bestseller Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul, now in its second volume with a separate journal teens can purchase for writing down their own thoughts. Abby, 15, likes the brevity of the book’s contents: ‘It has different short stories about events that are important in our lives, that you can relate to. And you can pick it up and put it down whenever you like.’

Another print genre that depends on snippets are magazines-and do teens love magazines! Unlike books, mags fit into their schedules like a favorite pair of jeans. They can ‘pick and choose pages they want to read, or articles they want to skip over’ (Sarah, 18). Whether it’s Seventeen, YM or Sports Illustrated, magazines offer the perfect format for time-stressed teens.

Teen Reading Frequency

For ages 13 to 17

Total Boys Girls

Often 18% 15% 20%

Sometimes 50% 51% 49%

Never 32% 34% 30%

Source: 1997 Roper Youth Report

Teen magazine reading (ages 13 to 17)

Girl favorites Boy favorites

Subscribe to, Subscribe to,

read occasionally read occasionally

and/or read regularly and/or read regularly

Seventeen 49% Sports Illustrated 38%

Teen 41% TV Guide 20%

YM 29% People 11%

People 20% Mad Magazine 10%

Glamour 20% Jet 10%

Cosmopolitan 16% Rolling Stone 10%

Ebony 14% National Geographic 9%

Jet 14% SI for Kids 9%

Mademoiselle 13% GamePro 9%

TV Guide 8% Game Players 3%

Source: 1997 Roper Youth Report

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