Less than a quarter of teenagers regularly read for pleasure, according to a major new survey.
The study argues that independent reading time in secondary schools should be encouraged as a way of ensuring secondary-aged pupils remain regular readers.
Only 17 per cent of 15 to 17-year-olds frequently pick up a book, while just 24 per cent of 12 to 14-year-olds are reading regularly.
More than half of 6 to 8-year-olds read books for their own enjoyment five to seven days a week – but this dramatically declines over the teenage years.
The findings from the Kids & Family Reading Report, commissioned by the children's publishing company Scholastic, also indicate that teenagers enjoy reading less than younger children do. The study shows that 80 per cent of those aged six to eight said they love or like reading, compared with just 43 per cent of 15 to 17-year-olds.
Youngsters who are given the chance to read their own book during class time, or who are read to by their parents, are more likely to be frequent readers, the research found.
Nearly half of children surveyed said their class or school had a designated time during school to read a book of their choice – but this decreases rapidly with age as only one quarter of kids aged 12 to 17 have the opportunity to read independently during the school day.
The report indicates that 56 per cent of children who read independently with their class or school feel positive about this experience, saying they wish they could do so more often or that it is one of their favourite parts of the day.
But despite a desire to read more for fun at school, teenagers and children are still spending more time on the internet via tablets or smartphones. The YouGov survey, which questioned 1,755 parents and children about reading habits, shows that the screen has become a distraction from reading books for their own enjoyment.
According to the figures, more than three quarters (76 per cent) of 15 to 17-year-olds visit social networking sites five to seven days a week and 80 per cent use smartphones this often.
And the research has also found that a third of children aged six to eight watch videos on YouTube five to seven times a week, while nearly half (48 per cent) play games or apps on an electronic device as regularly.
Russell Hobby, general secretary of NAHT headteachers' union, said: “Reading for pleasure is vital; it brings fluency and opens up a wider world of experiences and ideas.
“We should want this for every young person and we should help people find the time – in the school day and in family life – to treasure these moments.”
The findings come after a study last week from the University of Cambridge suggested that teenagers who spent an hour a day on screens during their spare time dropped the equivalent of two GCSE grades.