Only one in five teens reads books

Bethany Hiatt Education Editor

Most teenagers do not read books regularly, putting them at risk of missing out on important academic and social benefits linked to reading, a WA study has found.

Just one in five teens, or 19 per cent, spends some of their free time reading books every day, according to the research into the recreational reading habits of 520 students in Years 8 and 10 across 20 schools.

Margaret Merga, who interviewed the students as part of her PhD studies at Edith Cowan University, said reading books not only helped teens get better results at school but also boosted their chances of getting a good job and increased their ability to communicate in modern society.

"Communication in this day and age is like a kind of power," she said.

She was concerned that adolescents were choosing to read less even though demands for more advanced literacy skills had increased.

"Research suggests that aliteracy, the state in which an individual has acquired the skill to read, but chooses not to, is a growing trend both in Australia and internationally," she said.

Dr Merga said evidence showed that many of the benefits that came from reading books - such as developing a longer attention span - could not be gained from reading magazines, comic books or digital screens.

The study, published this week in the Australian Journal of Language and Literacy, warned that State-based efforts to improve teen reading rates were "patchy and insufficient" because of an increased focus on teaching reading to very young children.

Dr Merga said parents and teachers needed to encourage teens to read more, aiming for at least an hour a day.

One-third of students who said they read daily did so for less than an hour a day, while 66 per cent read for less than two hours.

In comparison, 67 per cent of all students said they spent more than two hours a day using social media, 36 per cent spent more than two hours playing sport and 37 per cent watched more than two hours of TV a day.

Only 23 per cent of girls and 15 per cent of boys were reading daily.