Do Teens Really Not Like to Read?

Posted Jul 27 2011, 7:00 am in , , ,

As you know, I’m a YA author. I keep seeing headlines in my Google stream announcing that Teens Don’t Like to Read and honestly, they disturb me.

Last week, my youngest son and I had a date to see the last Harry Potter movie, an event that marks the end of a treasured Mommy & Me activity. He was just six years old when I borrowed the first HP novel from the library and read it aloud. He adored it, begged for more and by book 3, was capable of reading them alone. But his older brother? He turned up his nose and avoided HP mania all these years – a reality that I still have not fully accepted.

What’s the reason for this alarming news? Are you too plugged in to technology? Too over-scheduled? Or are you simply unable to relate to the content? Or is the recent WSJ article that called YA literature ‘too dark’ actually true?

My question to you is – how do we change this?

I need to know – why don’t teens like to read?

I had this conversation with my oldest son. He first said there just aren’t any good books out there. But that was before he dared me to finish my first novel, which he read. He’s also read SEND and enjoyed it. He’s currently reading Jeff Somers’ THE ELECTRIC CHURCH not because the story sounds interesting (it is), but because Jeff talked to him on Twitter about metal (music, that is).

My youngest son is a committed reader. Now that HP is over, he’s moved on to other stories. He read the Hunger Games trilogy, finished Gayle Forman’s If I Stay and Jay Asher’s 13 Reasons Why.  He’s currently reading my Sookie Stackhouse books.

Are you a teen with insight to share? Please comment.  Even if you’re not a teen, I’d love to hear from you. 



33 responses to “Do Teens Really Not Like to Read?”

  1. I’m not a teen but I have two of them and they both LOVE to read.

    Maybe the answer, as with your son, is for teens to connect with authors some other way, and become interest in what they have to say first.

    Are we really sure that teens don’t like to read though? Or is it that they are reading in non-traditional ways?

    • Patty Blount says:

      Non-traditional ways is an excellent question… My son does read his news online rather than a daily paper. I also think you’re right; my son admitted to wanting to read Jeff Somers’ books only AFTER Jeff expressed his interest in similar music.

  2. D’oh! *interested*.

  3. Linda G. says:

    I’m not a teen, but I raised two of them. One (daughter) is as big a reader as I am, the other (son) not so much. Though my son did devour all the HP books as they came out.

    I think with him it’s just a matter of there not being enough hours in the day to do everything he enjoys, and socializing with his friends in his free time wins out over spending time with “paper people.”

  4. Hi Patty. I’m a mom with two kids – 17 and 12. The youngest loves to read and has finished the Twilight series. The oldest hasn’t liked to read really EVER although I read to him the entire time he was growing up AND even as a teen if I was reading to his younger sister he liked to listen. But he won’t pick up a book or a magazine and is going to HATE his AP English class this September as a senior. He likes to go on FB and Tumblr and that’s about it. He just doesn’t like to read, yet has good grades and is going to go to college. I haven’t figured it out yet. I think it DOES have something to do with his attention span and all the various pulls on his mind vying for that attention – video games, FB, sports on television. Reading is at the bottom of the list or actually not on the list at all.

  5. Patty, I forgot to say, that I’d be interested – since you write YA – what you think might be the reason for my son’s dislike of reading books. What do YOU think?

    • Patty Blount says:

      You could be describing my son here, as well :) As for what I think? I think Linda’s explanation makes a lot of sense. The socialization desire teens have – whether it’s hanging out in real life or texting, using AIM, FB, Twitter, etc., to virtually hang out – it’s missing from reading.

  6. Catie Rhodes says:

    I don’t have insight to share, really. When I was a kid, though, very few other kids liked to read. I was the *only* kid in my class who would go hide during recess and read the book I’d snuck out there.

    My parents read to me, though, from birth. Perhaps that made me a voracious reader? I was always after them to “tell me a story” before I understood the story came out of a book.

    • Patty Blount says:

      I’m the same way, Catie. I find it hard to fathom that there are people who don’t like to read. I read to both of my boys but only one shares my passion for books. My oldest enjoys non-fiction more than fiction. He has never read Harry Potter, but has read my latest WIP (and loved it!) so there is always hope.

  7. I’ve always been a voracious reader but my younger brother (now 16) wasn’t until he picked up a particular book (can’t for the life of me remember which one) and then that was it. I think teens, especially boys, need to encounter THAT BOOK, the one that they can’t put down. It unlocks the door and then they’re away. My dad read to both of us as kids, even made up stories of his own with ourselves as the main characters (of course) but it took my brother a lot longer to “discover” books than it did me. Then again I was left to my own devices a lot as a child and my brother wasn’t, so maybe that has something to do with it.

    Er, just realised that sounds bad – this is my half-brother, he’s 15 years younger than me, so we basically grew up in two different families. There wasn’t any abuse or neglect, in case anyone’s wondering, just different mothers :D

    • Patty Blount says:

      Hi, Anne-Mhairi – thanks for the great insight. I think you may be on to something with what you said about being left to your own devices as a possible catalyst to discovering books. I just wish we could find that elusive X factor that makes a book THAT BOOK. :)

  8. Jeannie Moon says:

    I sent the post to some of my graduated students and asked them to comment and pass around the post. :)

    I go right to the source.

  9. Samantha says:

    I’m a teen, and personally I have a big group of friends that basically go around passing book recommendations to each other like there’s no tomorrow. We love reading, and we love sharing books with each other. My friends and I sometimes even go to Borders together and pick up a couple of books we both like, so we can trade them later! All in all, most of my friends are big readers.
    But, I do know some friends that don’t read. And, I guess I understand why. We’re just so busy most of the time. Between school, jobs, social lives, sports, clubs, homework, and our procrastination that leads us to get a minimum amount of sleep, picking up a book is just a hard thing to do.
    Also, some teenagers just don’t like to read. They’re just not into it. I personally think it’s a shame, books have helped me get through tough times, and I think they’re missing out, but if they don’t like it there’s not much I can do about it, I guess.
    I don’t think it’s being too into technology, personally. In fact, I read a lot of fanfiction online, when I have no books to read at the time.
    All and all, I think it’s just the fact that a lot of teenagers can’t find the time to sit down and read a book, or they’re just not interested.
    I hope this helped! (:

    • Patty Blount says:

      Hi, Samantha,

      That’s great! I love that you made reading a social event. My oldest son does well discussing the books he MUST read for school but reading is generally not something he’ll do voluntarily – I suppose, because it takes too long. Thanks for commenting. You guys are sure giving me a lot to consider and I really appreciate that.

  10. Jillian Buckley says:

    Hello I’m Jillian, 18, and I just want to tell you that teens do read. One of my teachers, Jeannie Moon, sent this to me and I have to say that I’m not really shocked adults think teens don’t read. I’m going to explain why adults believe we don’t read. We are very fickle creatures, and it takes a lot to grab our attention.

    My younger sister, 16 yrs old, hates reading. She explains it quite easily too. If the book doesn’t start out amazing, she can’t read it. It’s also hard for her to relate to characters from old books that we read in school so she doesn’t enjoy them. She likes here and now, the real world. Not the worlds you create in your minds or created in books.

    I however will read just about anything because I prefer books to reality. I love the places you can go and the people you can be with books. Even if I dont like a book I will finish it just to see how it ends. To see what’s possible.

    Everyone is different and their likes and dislikes depend on their personalities. it’s like how some people like sports and some don’t. It’s the same thing with reading. You can’t expect everyone to like the same things.

    Hope this helped.

    • Patty Blount says:

      Hi, Jillian,

      Thanks for commenting! Jeannie is so great, right? I hate hearing this ‘teens don’t like to read’ headline. It’s pushed as ‘news’ but it’s more like a typical cross-section of the population – just as you said “You can’t expect everyone to like the same things”. There are plenty of adults who don’t read, either. I keep seeing this headline, though, and decided it was time to ask the experts – teens like you.

  11. Steph Chocko says:

    Hi, I’m Steph, 18, a sophomore in college. I’ve always loved to read, ever since I can remember. I’ve been reading less and less though as school gets harder, unfortunately, but I still read online quite a bit and just took a trip to the library on Monday for a stack of books.

    My younger brother, though, doesn’t like to read. My mom would always ask me for book ideas for him and he wouldn’t like any of them – he didn’t even like Harry Potter. He loves the Hunger Games books, though. Go figure.

    I think one of the problems may be that the alternatives to reading, like facebook or video games, are all already in the house. To read, though, you have to take a trip to the store or the library (unless you have a Kindle or Nook), and maybe that effort stops them from looking at all the different books and finding something they’re interested in. Plus they would usually need a parent to drive them there, too.

    It’s not just teens who don’t like to read, though. My dad hates reading. He says that it’s because he’s not good at it. He listens to books on tape very very occasionally, and he hasn’t even done that in years. He just can’t stand it.

    I hope this helps!

    • Patty Blount says:

      Hi, Steph – Hmmm – laziness as a possible reason? Could be. But you’re right; I hate generalizing and saying “teens don’t read” but that point is made repeatedly online and I finally had to speak up on it. Thanks for taking the time to comment. You’re the inverse of my sons – my college sophomore is the one who hates to read and his younger brother loves books. My husband is like your dad – he hates it because he’s not good at it.

      This is great! Loving all the great reasons you guys are giving me.

  12. I think a lot of teens have to “read” so much in school. My son had to read a lot of very unintersting books for English and he got the impression that “all books are boring.” But once he got into things he’s intersted in (mostly non-fiction travel, like Bill Bryson) he reads constantly. But I’m not sure all parents are as persistant as I was (I spent a small fortune–fortunately my husband and I will read just about anything) in finding out what kids like to read.

    Great discussioin on this and I am very glad to hear that there are plenty of teens out there who do love to read!

    • Patty Blount says:

      Oh, yes, I remember the so-called classics and still shudder. I am also thrilled with the responses so far and have to thank Jeannie Moon again for passing the word along to her former students.

  13. Jeannie Moon says:

    So, do my kids totally rock, or what?

  14. Victoria Betz says:

    Hello, I’m Victoria, 19, a sophomore in college. I would like to say that I have always enjoyed reading. I’m friends with Steph Chocko and I have to agree as college has gone on it’s gotten harder to make time to read the books I like as apposed to the books I’m required to read.

    However, over this summer I have managed to read three books and I loved them all. (I also re-read all of the Harry Potter series and loved it just as much, if not more the second/third time around.) My younger sister who is 14 years old has also read quite a few books this summer. She got a nook for her birthday and she loves it, although sometimes I catch her playing soduko on it instead of reading. I know she loves to read almost anything she can get her hands on that has to do with Vampires or other supernatural things.

    She loved the Twilight series, Vampire Academy, Vampire Diaries, and a bunch of other similar books. So do quite a few of her friends. I think at this point it’s not that teens don’t like to read. It’s that a lot of the genres they are hearing about from friends are the same kind of thing. There is so much more out there but some of them don’t believe it because all they hear about is Vampires and Werewolves.

    One other problem is that so many teens today are just interested in being connected on the internet. They think that by reading a book they are going to lose time connecting with their friends. They get bored very easily with books because they don’t have someone interacting with them directly.

    I don’t really understand it but that’s what my cousin Brianna just explained to me. Well, her exact words were “I get bored. There’s nothing to do…I don’t like sitting and reading, I feel like I’m in school.”

    Don’t be too disheartened though, there are still plenty of teens out there who like to read! I am one of them and I know I’ll love to read for the rest of my life!

    Hope this helps!


    • Patty Blount says:

      Hi, Victoria,

      Thank you so much for commenting. You make a great point – about too much of the same thing. I enjoyed all the vampire stories, too, but don’t write them because I don’t think I can bring anything fresh to the genre.

      I also think your next point echoed some of the other comments posted here – teens want to socialize with their friends, be connected while reading a book isolates them.

      Great insight and I thank you again for posting.

  15. Deena Lettas says:

    I’m not a teen any more (as of last month), but I’ve loved to read since I’ve been able to. I, too, was enamored with the Harry Potter series. My love for Harry Potter as well as my elementary school’s annual reading competition kept my nose in books. While I was in high school, most of the students I knew were also avid readers. I think that the reason that many teenagers claim to dislike reading is simply because they don’t like being told what to do. When students are assigned books that they don’t enjoy and are then forced to analyze them (to death, in some cases), it turns them off to reading. Because of this, many students end up seeing reading as a chore rather than a leisurely activity.

    However, I honestly do not believe that most teenagers dislike reading. The success of the several series that you’ve mentioned (as well as the horrendous Twilight series) is proof that teenagers are still reading.

    While I do admit to spending too much time with technology, I always set time aside for reading (and writing). I also believe that it’s important for children to be allowed to choose what to read. For my elementary school’s reading competition, we were given forms that required a book title, number of pages, and short summary. I think the best thing about this was that the students were allowed to read any book of their choosing. I believe that it’s important for students to begin reading with some sort of freedom so that they don’t see it as a burden when they’re assigned to read certain books when they’re older.

    I also believe that a student’s perception of reading relies heavily on his educators. I was fortunate to have fabulous teachers (English and otherwise) that were passionate and endearing. If a teenager has only ever experienced overbearing and strict teachers, I think he’s more likely to want to rebel against what they believe they are supposed to do.

    • Patty Blount says:

      Hi, Deena,

      First, happy belated birthday! Second, thanks for posting. My oldest son would agree with what you said about being forced to analyze books to death. It does turn reading into a chore. Personally, I’m not a Jane Austen fan and read her books just wishing she’d get to the point already. Yet millions of readers still adore her. Perhaps I should have been stricter with him… requiring that he set aside reading and writing time along with video games.

      Thanks for posting!

  16. Donna Coe-Velleman says:

    Sorry Pati, no words of wisdom here. My daugher is 27 and loves to read as much as I do. But I wasn’t always like that. I didn’t read as a teenager but about 15 years ago for some reason I found a book I really liked (couldn’t tell you the name maybe it was the Hobbit) and I’ve been reading every day since.)

    So maybe these non readers will, in the future, start reading. One can only hope. :)

    • Patty Blount says:

      Thanks, Donna. I guess the lesson here is I’ve been buying into the media’s over-generalization of teen reading habits.

      • Jeannie Moon says:

        When I was in journalism school, one professor (who was an award winning newspaper reporter) was fond of saying, “I love statistics, I can spin them however I want.”

  17. Julie Glover says:

    One of the ways we’ve used to get our kids to read is to put them to bed and then let them stay up later if they are reading. They are all over that! In fact, there have been times that I have walked in to my sons’ rooms and declared, “That’s it! Put that book away now!” Then I walk out with a smile they can’t see. Because it is SO cool that my struggle is to get them to put down the book. They feel like it’s a little rebellious to read then. Reverse psychology, you say? Hey, it works.

    Also, I’ve read to them and told them stories from infancy, and they get recommendations from friends.

  18. Patty Blount says:

    Check out this interesting post at – cover art! I admit, it could be a factor and worse, one I wouldn’t have thought of.

    What do you think?