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Yeah Right — Getting My Teen to Read Would Be a Miracle

It is not unusual to see a teenager with their phone in their hand and their eyes glued to its screen. You may even harbor some concerns that your teen is internet-addicted with the amount of time they spend on their phone. But at least they’re reading something, right?

Well, the research isn’t so sure about that.

Researchers looking at childhood use of smartphones and other devices have found an alarming link between attention span and usage of these devices. Also, young children (under 3 years old) have learned that tapping or swiping a flat surface produces a response. When it does not, the child can become easily frustrated and lose interest.1

What does this have to do with teen reading?

Lifelong readers are developed early. Parents who read to children regularly have seen their children succeed academically at a higher rate than parents who don’t read to their children.2

But not all hope is lost if you have a teenager that you may not have read to much.

Teen Reading Habits

There is a clear gender gap when it comes to those teens who enjoy reading. Teen girls regularly out-scored their male counterparts when it came to multiple reading assessment tests.3 However, the researcher did not present a way to engage more teens into reading more often.

As for hard numbers on teenage readers, this data can be difficult to come by as it is usually self-reported. However, Pew Research published information in 2014 covering young American’s reading habits and technology use.4 While the teenage respondents only covered ages 16-17, the data was less dire than many news headlines have touted.

  • Teens were actually more likely to have read every day versus an adult over 30 years old.
  • Adults over 30 purchase more books than teens between 16-17, but this is to be expected due to income differences. In correlation, the amount of teens borrowing books was substantially higher than adults over 30.

Getting Your Teen to Read

While those number are nice, just how can you get your own teen to read more? Well, one of the best things you can do for your teen is encourage them in academics overall.

Research has found a direct connection between reading and education, to the point where:5

  • Only 34% of those who did not complete have read a book in 12 months, compared to the 90% who hold at least a bachelor’s degree and have read at least one book in 12 months.

Just by graduating high school causes that number to jump to 61%.

Along with working with your teen on their overall academic performance, there are other things you can do to encourage your teen to get more into reading.

  • Let teens pick – While it would be nice if teens picked up The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood on their own, that may be the book that really grabs their interest. Instead, look at YA (young adult) books. You may be surprised at the deft weaving of difficult topics into the overall storytelling.
  • Designate media-free time – While doing a technology fast may be more than the family is up for, setting aside a time every day to be completely media-free can encourage your teen to pick up a book instead of their phone or video games.6
  • Try different routes – Something many polls have missed when asking about teen reading habits is the consumption of books, and as a result, many have only asked about the reading of print books. Many ebooks can be found for free through apps like Overdrive, which most libraries use to check out their ebooks. There are also audiobooks or podcasts that will read to you.
  • Pictures aren’t just for kids – While some may dismiss graphic novels as not being actual literature, they aren’t people who have picked one up lately. Graphic novels blend artistry with the written word and at times, is even more effect in conveying the overall message of the written story. The mix between the two may be what hooks your teen and gets them reading more.

By trying different avenues to help your teen read and just working with them overall academically, you will find that it didn’t take a miracle to get your teen to read, just some time patience, and creativity.


  1. Margalit, L. (2016, April 17). What Screen Time Can Really Do to Kids’ Brains. Psychology Today. Retrieved from
  2. Benefits of Early Reading. (2010) Retrieved from
  3. Loveless, T. (2015, March 26). The gender gap in reading. Brookings Institute. Retrieved from
  4. Zickuhr, K. & Rainie, L. (2014). Younger Americans and Public Libraries. Retrieved from Pew Research Center:
  5. Rainie, L. & Perrin, A. (2015, October 19). Slightly fewer Americans are reading print books, new survey finds. Retrieved from
  6. American Academy of Pediatrics Announces New Recommendations for Children’s Media Use. (2016, October 21). Retrieved from
Yeah Right — Getting My Teen to Read Would Be a Miracle

Tyler Jacobson

Tyler enjoys going to the mountains near his home in Draper, Utah to connect with his wife and children through camping, hiking, and quality time together. When he isn’t rebooting in the outdoors, he shares his fatherly experiences with the world through writing and creative designs. Tyler shares the ups and downs of family life and the solutions he’s found through lengthy research and involvement in the industry and his own experiences to help parents everywhere. Follow Tyler on: Twitter or LinkedIn.

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APA Reference
Jacobson, T. (2018). Yeah Right — Getting My Teen to Read Would Be a Miracle. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 30, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 26 Jul 2017)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.