As Kids’ On-Screen Reading Overtakes Print, Outcome is Worrisome

In Children's by Dennis Abrams

By Dennis Abrams

logo national literacy trustNew research by the UK’s National Literacy Trust has found that for the first-time, children are reading more on computers (and other electronic devices) than they are reading books, magazines, newspapers, and comics.

The research found that while technology provides new ways of engaging children in literature, children who only read on-screen are much less likely to be good readers than those who also read in print form. In addition, they are also significantly less likely to enjoy reading.

This seems to point to a very real danger in dispensing with print books altogether, and Words for Life, the campaign for parents from the National Literacy Trust, is calling on parents to make sure that their children have a healthy reading balance between books and tech devices.

The research, done with the participation of 34,910 young people between the ages of eight to sixteen, published by the National Literacy Trust reveals:

In total, 39% of children and young people read daily using electronic devices including tables and eReaders, but only 38% read printed materials daily. The number of children reading ebooks has doubled in the last two years (from 6% to 12%).

Children say they prefer to read on screen. Over half (52%) said they would rather read on electronic devices, while only a third (32%) would rather read in print.

Nearly all children now have access to a computer at home, and 4 out of 10 now own a smartphone.

Perhaps not surprisingly, girls are significantly more likely than boys to read in print (68% to 54%).

Girls are also more likely to read on a wide range of on-screen device, including mobile phones (67% girls vs. 60% boys), eReaders (84% girls vs. 69% boys), and tablets (70% girls vs. 67% boys).

The study also examined the influence of technology on children’s reading abilities and their enjoyment of reading, finding that those who read daily only on-screen are nearly twice less likely to be above average readers than those who read daily in print or in print and on-screen (15.5% vs. 26%). Those who read only on-screen are also three times less likely to enjoy reading very much (12% vs. 51%) and a third less likely to have a favorite book (59% vs. 77%). (And a question on this from us: Isn’t it possible, if not likely, that the children who only read on-screen were children who weren’t very good readers and didn’t enjoy reading very much to begin with?)

Jonathan Douglas, National Literacy Trust Director said in a statement:

“Our research confirms that technology is playing a central role in young people’s literacy development and reading choice. While we welcome the positive impact which technology has on bringing further reading opportunities to young people, it’s crucial that reading in print is not cast aside.

“We are concerned by our finding that children who only read on-screen are significantly less likely to enjoy reading and less likely to be strong readers. New technology clearly has a valuable part to play in literacy development, but we would encourage parents to ensure their children still read in print form if they are to become avid readers and reach their full potential in school. Parents can visit for advice, activities and booklists to help them support their children’s literacy development.”

About the Author

Dennis Abrams

Dennis Abrams is a contributing editor for Publishing Perspectives, responsible for news, children's publishing and media. He's also a restaurant critic, literary blogger, and the author of "The Play's The Thing," a complete YA guide to the plays of William Shakespeare published by Pentian, as well as more than 30 YA biographies and histories for Chelsea House publishers.