Teen Book Club

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OK, so teenagers spend almost three times more time watching TV than reading. So they happen to consider listening to music “more important personally� than picking up a book. And they'd rather give up reading for a week than go without their computer, stereo, or television.

Despite being reared to revere computers over the classics, teens consider reading to be the most important skill a young person needs to be successful in life, according to a poll by the National Education Association (NEA). Conducted by Peter D. Hart Research Associates, the “Reading Habits of Adolescents� survey asked 12- to 18-year-olds nationwide, questions about their reading habits, interests, and abilities.

Teens rate reading higher in importance in terms of its impact on their future success than they do math, writing, science, and even computers. In ranking the reasons why they enjoy reading, teens cite the fact that they “can learn, keep up-to-date, and get information� (17 percent), second only to reading's entertainment value (18 percent).

In fact, 87 percent of all teens say they find reading relaxing; 85 percent view it as rewarding and satisfying; and 79 percent consider it stimulating and exciting. And while 51 percent think reading is hard work and challenging, only 30 percent find it boring, dull, or old-fashioned.

Of course, the most obvious manifestation of teen pleasure in reading is the amount of time devoted to its pursuit. Forty-one percent say they've read more than 15 books during the past year, almost half of which were for their own pleasure. An additional 38 percent of teens say they've read between six and 10 books this past year. Girls tend to pursue reading more actively and avidly: 30 percent say they spend time every day reading books for fun, compared with only 19 percent of boys.

Minority youth are the most enthusiastic and prolific readers of all. On a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the most enjoyable, 56 percent of Hispanics and 51 percent of blacks give reading a 4 or 5 rating, compared with 47 percent of whites. In fact 50 percent of black teens read more than 15 books last year, as did 40 percent of Hispanics, compared with just 37 percent of white teens.

Much of this volume may, in fact, come from parental encouragement. Fifty-two percent of black youth and 47 percent of Hispanic adolescents say their parents have encouraged them to read, compared with 43 percent of white teens. Minority youth are also more likely to read aloud to someone — a younger child, parent, or elderly person — at least a few times per week. Almost half (49 percent) of black teens and 40 percent of Hispanics read to others often, compared with just 33 percent of white youth.

Overall, the books teens are most happy to crack open are fiction, with novels and stories preferred to nonfiction by more than 2-to-1 (66 percent versus 26 percent). The most popular books are ones that recount stories about people their own age (27 percent say those are favorites), closely followed by books about sports and athletes (26 percent). Twenty-four percent of teens prefer mysteries and detective stories, while 18 percent enjoy books about their culture or heritage. Books about historical topics and people from the past are a favorite for 16 percent. Only 13 percent delight in science and science fiction, and 10 percent like books about other countries and the people who live there.

Most of today's youth consider themselves to be skilled readers. Eighty-five percent say they read very or extremely well, while only 1 percent admit to having difficulty. The respondents seem to have a very high opinion of themselves overall, with 75 percent calling themselves “good students,� only 16 percent admitting to average performance, and 8 percent conceding they're “not that good a student.� Seems that self-esteem curriculum is doing the trick.

For more information, contact the National Education Association at (202) 822-7200.

Black, White, and Read All Over

While white teens are more likely to read for fun and pleasure than black youth (46 percent versus 31 percent), more blacks turn to books to help them with their decision-making (13 percent compared with 8 percent).

MAIN REASON TO READ ALL

TEENS
GIRLS BOYS 6TH-8TH

GRADE
9TH-12TH

GRADE
WHITES BLACKS HISPANICS
For fun and pleasure 42% 48% 35% 46% 39% 46% 31% 36%
To get facts and information 35% 27% 44% 32% 37% 35% 42% 32%
To find out what other people think 7% 8% 5% 3% 8% 6% 3% 11%
To help me make decisions 9% 9% 10% 12% 9% 8% 13% 9%
Note: numbers do not add up to 100 because some options are not shown.
Source: NEA Teens and Reading Survey
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