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Reading & a Paperless Youth

How teens are reading less, and we need to turn that around.

Shoulders screaming, hauling 30 pounds of textbooks in a backpack. That’s one thing I remember about school. My son has no textbooks—at least none he brings home. His lessons are on his Chromebook. It’s a slim item, so his backpack is relaxed like a windsock on a still day.

boy looking at mibile phone
Image by 梓坚 陈 from Pixabay

Gen Alpha is a paperless youth. Beyond schooling, they typically love video games, mobile phones (actually tiny supercomputers that happen to make calls), tablets, smartwatches, screens, screens, screens…no paper. Thus, not as many books.

It’s no surprise that the American Psychological Association found in 2018: “less than 20% of U.S. teens report reading a book, magazine or newspaper daily for pleasure, while more than 80% say they use social media every day.”

Technology is cool, but…

Now, I’ve never been an anti-screens parent. Most things have something to teach—foster some new skill—including technology. (I also don’t believe that reality TV rots your brain, or that rock ‘n’ roll turns kids into deviants.) But reading books is important. Plow through The Anarchist Reader for all I care. Just read a book, kiddos.

Yes, kids read on their screens, but to fall deeply in love with reading—to see it as a salvation—I believe that people must spend lots of time holding books. Words printed on paper must transport kids out of the boring bits of life and into whatever kind of world or topic that feels better to them.

But fewer kids today are getting that opportunity. According to the Pew Research Center, the number of older kids who read for fun is at its lowest since the 1980s. That’s half the number of books that are being consumed by tweens and teens than just a few decades ago. Why is that? There are tons of books, tons of libraries—but with the digital flash, the gamification, and the dopamine hits, other pursuits are more tempting.

Are future kids just not going to read?

Is this just how it’s going to be? We Gen Xers already have to live with the fact that our children will never know the joy of riding in the back of a pickup truck with their friends. Reading less is unacceptable.

To fall deeply in love with reading—to see it as a salvation—I believe that people must spend lots of time holding books.

So is there something wrong with Gens Z and Alpha? Absolutely not. It is up to us as writers to craft stories that engage these kids. They like video games—fast paced, exciting. They are excellent at multi-tasking—shorter bursts of action. They’re not brainwashed by the fairytale tropes of love and relationships—more humor, less romance.

An easy fix

That’s my solution—shorter, fast paced, exciting books with lots of action and laughs.

We’re going to take content back and redeliver it on paper! Let’s give it a try. I’ve been writing 30,000- and 40,000-word YA novels (speculative fiction) and I’m betting that I can get some kids to throw a paperback into their backpacks. After all, they have the room. 😉

What do you think? Let me know in the comments!

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