Read a book? Teenagers prefer YouTube, survey finds

Adi Bloom

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Children who enjoy reading when they are younger often have very little interest in books by the later years of secondary school, a new survey reveals.

Reading ranks as the most widespread leisure activity among children aged between 0 and 10, the survey finds. But, by the time children reach secondary school – between the ages of 11 and 13 – reading has dropped into fifth place in their list of preferred leisure activities.

And this decrease continues. Between the ages of 14 and 17, reading is only the 10th most popular leisure activity among girls, and the 13th most popular among boys.

The survey was conducted by Nielsen Book Research, which provides information to the publishing trade. The Nielsen researchers spoke to 1,500 parents of 0-13 year olds, as well as to 500 14- to 17-year-olds and 1,000 18-25 year olds.

'Too busy with GCSEs'

Steve Bohme, UK research director for Nielsen, believes that the lack of teenage interest in books can be attributed to the pressures of schoolwork at that age.

“To some extent, it’s being busy with GCSEs and so on,” he said. “It’s going to limit the amount of leisure time that teenagers have. But, when they do have leisure time, they’re choosing to do something other than reading.”

The proportion of 14- to 17-year-olds using YouTube or watching films or television programmes on mobile phones or tablets has risen significantly since 2012, the Nielsen survey finds. And the use of games apps among this age group has increased by 23 percentage points in the past three years.

“It’s reasonable to assume that, having spent all day poring over books and study, they might want to do something different instead,” Mr Bohme said.

YouTube is a growing influence in students' lives, with many turning to the internet for advice on careers instead of asking their teachers.

Nielsen categorised young readers into four groups.

  • Superfans – the heaviest readers – tend to be female, and have an average age of 12.
  • Potentials make up a third of the total, and include equal numbers of boys and girls. They have a positive attitude towards books, but tend to be light readers.
  • Distractables are most likely to be boys, and have an average age of 11. They are fairly heavy readers, but tend to prefer other activities.
  • Antis tend to be older boys, with an average age of 14, who simply dislike reading.

“We should see whether there’s anything schools can do to continue to promote books and reading, almost as an antidote to schoolwork,” Mr Bohme said. “Actually, sinking into a good novel is the perfect way to escape the hard work of school.”

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Adi Bloom

Adi Bloom is Tes comment editor

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