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Students show decrease in reading for enjoyment during high school

Experts say reading for pleasure drops with age due to academic pressure, shorter attention spans
Sophia Kelly

Freshman Melody Xu used to be able to read whenever she wanted, and enjoy books purely for fun. However, as she has moved through high school, many academic pressures have taken away that possibility.

According to an opt-in Schoology survey conducted by The Campanile on Nov. 1, Xu is not alone. Over 86% of the 38 students who responded to this survey said the number of books they have read during high school, unrelated to assigned school work, has decreased as they have gone through high school. Librarian Sima Thomas, though, said after students returned to school from COVID-19, she noticed an increase in student book reading, attributing it to social media platforms like BookTok, which promoted and shared book recommendations.

“I noticed that right after lockdown and in the early 2020s, there was actually a jump up in teens reading from certain titles becoming virally popular on TikTok and Instagram,” Thomas said.

21But Thomas also said she has observed a general decrease in the amount of reading done by students over the course of high school.

“I definitely noticed from ninth to twelfth grade, there’s a huge drop off in students reading for pleasure,” Thomas said.

According to a study by Common Sense Media, published in TIME, almost 50% of 17 year olds do not read for fun more than one to two times a year on average.

Thomas said she thinks some of this has to do with students’ lack of free time as high school progresses.

“I’ve known students over the years who’ve gone through ninth to twelfth grade, and they start out as freshmen (as) really avid readers, and then I’ll see them as juniors and they say, ‘Oh yeah, I never have time to read any more,’” Thomas said.

Xu is one of these students. She said her pleasure reading has dropped since middle and elementary school, especially because of the increase in work she has to do for classes.

“In middle school and elementary, you don’t have that much homework, so you could read for fun,” Xu said. “But now with so much workload, extracurriculars and thinking about college, you don’t have as much time.”

Additionally, the University of Santa Maria published an article which said attention spans have decreased over time due to technology and the reliance on it.

Thomas said a shorter attention span does make it more difficult to read detailed books that are not easy to consume.

“Instead of watching a movie, (now) you’re watching little clips on Instagram and TikTok or binging shows on Netflix,” Thomas said. “There is just a different way that we consume information, and it’s so immediate and pleasurable that it is hard to then transfer over to reading which is slower and less dopamine rewarding.”

Which is too bad, Thomas said, because reading has mental health benefits including lowering cortisol, the primary stress hormone.

Thomas also said that reading can increase attention spans.

“If your attention span is short, you can start pushing yourself to read 10 minutes at a time,” Thomas said. “Then, you might move up to 20 or 30 and eventually get to the point where you actually just get lost in a book, it can be pleasurable and relaxing.”

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Naveen Narayanaswami, Staff Writer
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