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What do young people today read?

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Posted: Friday, November 1, 2013 8:08 am

Dear Straight Talk: Every morning I drive my granddaughter to high school and observe all the kids, every hand gripping a cellphone. I’ve been in the newspaper business 46 years, and I’d like to ask what young people today read. When they are on the Internet, are they surfing, social networking or actually reading? Apart from school assignments, do they read newspapers, magazines and books? — Barbara Hale, features editor, Merced Sun-Star

Shelby, 16, Auburn: I don’t read. I just don’t like it. Even Harry Potter I skipped. Sometimes on Facebook, I read a “fun fact” or gossip, but I’m not into politics or business. I have better things to do, and between homework, sports, and my social life, there’s no time.

Lara, 17, Fair Oaks: Before I became a socially obsessed teenager, I read practically a book a day. I was raised without a TV, so books were how I amused myself. I especially love Steinbeck, Dickens and Austen, with their good human values. But now with school, sports and socializing, I prefer personal-development books because you can skip around and still learn. In 10th grade I lived with my dad in Europe and Europeans think Americans are really dumb because we are clueless about world affairs. That motivated me! On the Internet, I do social network but I avoid celebrity gossip. I get news from my email news feed and the ORF, an Austrian site with detailed world news.

Hannah, 17, Auburn: I didn’t used to like to read, but recently I started Hemingway’s “A Farewell to Arms.” My mom keeps thinking it’s assigned reading! I don’t read magazines or newspapers at all. Even on Facebook, I don’t typically read news. My friends and I go to a celebrity website for guilty pleasure. It’s meaningless, but that’s what we do.

Lennon, 22, Fair Oaks: Aside from school reading, I spend about 30 minutes a day reading things like Popular Mechanics, Rolling Stone, the Sacramento Bee. I also read regularly for pleasure, maybe because I had no TV growing up and still don’t. Right now I’m reading “Infinite Jest” by David Foster Wallace. I use the Internet for research and social networking, but I hate reading online; it physically drains me.

Geoff, 23, Redding: I use a customizable news feed that pulls from thousands of newspapers, magazines and online publications to give me the day’s politics, economy, technology, philosophy, video game news, etc. It’s like reading 12 newspapers a day.

Dear Barbara: There’s your answer. It’s interesting that the two panelists (Lara and Lennon) who read a lot for pleasure both grew up without TV. A 2007 National Endowment for the Arts study correlates reading for pleasure, regardless of income, with academic achievement, political activism, cultural participation, even regular exercise. According to their study, young people age 15-24 average only seven minutes a day reading, half of those age 18-24 never read for pleasure, and only a third of high school seniors read at proficiency (the level needed to read this newspaper). Compare this to an average entertainment screen time of seven hours per day for kids age 8-18, cited in the American Academy of Pediatrics 2013 policy statement. The personal and societal health costs of not reading are enormous. See more on our website. — Lauren

Straight Talk TNT.org tackles youth’s toughest issues with youth’s wisest advice. Go deeper in today’s conversation or ask a question at www.StraightTalkTNT.org or PO Box 1974 Sebastopol, CA 95473. We are a 501c3 nonprofit. If today’s column has been useful, please consider a donation!

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