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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

For teens, texting crowds out books, TV

For today’s teens, “time on digital media has displaced time once spent enjoying a book or watching TV,” concludes Jean Twenge, author of iGen and a San Diego State psychology professor.

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“Less than 20 percent of U.S. teens report reading a book, magazine or newspaper daily for pleasure, while more than 80 percent say they use social media every day,” her new study finds.

Twelfth-graders average “nearly two hours a day texting, just over two hours a day on the internet — which included gaming — and just under two hours a day on social media,” said Twenge. There’s not much time for anything else.

“The decline in reading print media was especially steep,” notes Science Daily.

In the early 1990s, 33 percent of 10th-graders said they read a newspaper almost every day. By 2016, that number was only 2 percent. In the late 1970s, 60 percent of 12th-graders said they read a book or magazine almost every day; by 2016, only 16 percent did. Twelfth-graders also reported reading two fewer books each year in 2016 compared with 1976, and approximately one-third did not read a book (including e-books) for pleasure in the year prior to the 2016 survey, nearly triple the number reported in the 1970s.

Teens’ attention spans are too short to read complex texts, said Twenge.

Maryanne Wolf, a cognitive neuroscientist, realized she’d lost “cognitive patience” when she tried rereading a favorite book, writes Laura Miller on Slate. Wolf worried the internet had eroded her “knack for sustained, deep reading,” she writes in Reader, Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World.

Wolf resolved to allot a set period every day to reread a novel she had loved as a young woman, Hermann Hesse’s Magister Ludi. . . . She had to force herself to wrangle the novel’s “unnecessarily difficult words and sentences whose snakelike constructions obfuscated, rather than illuminated, meaning for me.” The narrative action struck her as intolerably slow.

Nicholas Carr raises the same problem in his 2010 book The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, writes Miller.

Whenever he tried to read anything substantial, Carr wrote, “I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. … The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle.”

Reader, Come Home includes advice for educators on improving students’ deep-reading skills and digital literacy, writes Miller. Wolf hopes “biliterate” children will achieve fluency “in both the skimming, ‘grasshopper’ style of reading fostered by digital media and the immersive, deep, reflective reading associated with print books.”

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