American teens aren’t reading anymore as books take a backseat to TikTok in the digital era.
According to a recent National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) report, nearly 1 in 3 13-year-old students said they either “never” or “hardly ever” read during their downtime. Just 14 percent reported reading “almost every day,” down from 17 percent in 2020 and down from 27 percent in 2012.
Sasha Quinton, the executive vice president for Scholastic School Reading Events characterized the drop as a “crisis” for American education in an interview with The Hill.
“If we focus on that book joy and just connecting kids to funny stories and explosive stories and things that sparked their interest, then they are learning to read and they are on the path to being lifelong readers,” Quinton said.
At the same time, teens are turning their time to social media, with platforms reaching the next generation at younger and younger ages. Last year, the New York Times reported on a survey from Common Sense Media that found children and teens are using screens and social media “more than ever.” For adolescents aged 13-18, average daily screen time now exceeds 8 and a half hours.
Given the addictive algorithms engineered by major tech platforms, it’s no wonder American teens today are more captivated by their smartphones than their books. According to the Pew Research Center, more than half of teens aged 13 to 17 surveyed by the pollster said it would be “hard” to give up social media despite more participants reporting such activity had a net-negative impact on individuals their age than those who said the effect was mostly positive.
A rise in teen depression and attention deficit disorders, meanwhile, coincides with the proliferation of social media. Diagnoses for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) have continued to increase across all ages in the aftermath of pandemic lockdowns, wherein government mandates incentivized sedentary lifestyles played out online. NAEP also reported in June that 13-year-old students are showing “no signs” of academic recovery from the prolonged lockdowns.
The Pew Research Center found YouTube and TikTok are the most popular apps for teens aged 13-17. But while American adolescents are distracted by quick videos promoting hyper-sexualization and eating disorders on the Beijing-based TikTok, a Chinese version of the app amplifies educational and “inspiring” content with strict time limits.