Why Do Teenagers Stop Reading Books?

Why Did I Stop Reading As I Grew Up?

As I kid, I cared about books and only books. What happened?

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The strangest thing in the world to me is that I am an English major who, for many years, read nothing but the books assigned to her in classes. When I was little, I practically swallowed books whole. My parents tell stories of how I'd come home from school, pick up whatever book I was reading at the moment, and lock myself in my room for the next three hours. In fifth grade, I was one of two students in my class who had read the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy, and I eagerly participated in the "Battle f the Books" competition with my friends. Reading was never a problem for me. So why did I stop?

I was still an avid reader in middle school, though my choice of fiction was usually of the YA variety, featuring witches and vampires and tragic (or maybe not so tragic) love stories. My friends and I were the nerdy kids in our classes, and we were generally known for being pretty into reading and writing. We passed around notebooks and wrote circle stories, and if one of us had read a particularly good book recently, the novel would quickly make its rounds through the entire friend group.

Now, I know that a lot of things get the blame for children reading less. We love to blame iPads, social media, and online games. Not all of that is untrue. I'd like to make the argument that, in my particular case, there were two key culprits—television and a poorly constructed method of teaching English in schools.

I mentioned that I still read in middle school, and I did. The fact is, kids, and especially the creative ones, need fictional stories to keep them going. I needed some kind of storytelling in my life, and I found it in books. Granted, I also found it in Harry Potter fanfiction, which I read an increasingly worrying amount of as I progressed through my early teen years. Eventually, however, the Tumblr phase ended, and I moved on to bigger, better, more socially acceptable things. I am, in fact, talking about television.

I have always needed some sort of fictional storytelling in my life, and television has provided that with ease and great comfort. Watching tv is a passive activity, as opposed to the active pastime of reading. It requires less work on my part, though I do find myself significantly more impassioned by the narratives I see on my screen than most of my friends. When I really think about it, television was the real game changer in my reading habits. I was so consumed by the stories I saw on tv; I had no time or energy to fit in stories from books.

I don't want to just blame technology, though, because I think the American education system also played a significant role in my decreased interest in reading. School makes reading boring; this is something the general populace seems to agree on. However, I'd like to argue that it isn't the "boring" nature of books like Dickens' Great Expectations or Emily Brontê's Wuthering Heights that teaches us to hate reading.

As an English major and appreciator of "required reading" books, I personally adore the works of Steinbeck, Twain, and Joyce, but I acknowledge that many high schoolers find them tedious and hard to get through. However, throughout my years of school, I noticed that it wasn't usually the books themselves that students had a problem with. The complaints poured in, but they generally regarded a hatred of the unnecessarily long time spent analyzing every little detail of a novel that students were otherwise not inclined to read.

Again, as an English major, I support lengthy analysis of "boring" books. Details matter, and I wish I could convince my classmates of this point. However, the real travesty of high school reading was, for me, how little reading there really was. I found myself reading books I didn't like for months, which made my general approach to reading one of boredom and annoyance. I was already so busy, why bother with the three or four chapters due this week? The real problem was, as I read each book chapter by chapter, I didn't pay attention to the story so much as I did to the details.

Now that I've moved on to college, I've been forcing pleasure reading back into my life. I know, it sounds counterintuitive. The thing is, I love books, but I have trouble starting them because I constantly feel as though I should be reading them for analysis. The reality is that, to really enjoy reading, I need to read for the whole story first. Analysis matters, but the reason that we read is first and foremost to satisfy our need for storytelling, and until I've achieved joy from the story itself, I will never find pleasure in reading.

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You Know You're From Trumbull, CT When...

The best memories are made in this boring, little, Connecticut town.

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1. The majority of places you will consider to eat at are in Fairfield or Westport... Colony, Shake Shack, Country Cow, Playa Bowls, BarTaco

2. But if you find yourself too lazy to get on 95 for food, Panchero's is the go-to... never Chipotle. If it is past midnight, the choice always comes down to the McDonalds in Monroe, where you are almost guaranteed to see a group of people you know, or Merritt Canteen.

3. Once you got your license, your Friday night plans consisted of picking up friends, driving up and down Main Street, and, somehow, always finding yourself at the THS parking lot seeing who's car is there because there is nothing better to do.

4. In the Fall, you couldn't wait for Friday so that after school you and half of your grade could walk to Plasko's Farm for ice cream and apple cider donuts... and hope you could get them before the owners would yell at you to leave. (This one only applies to Hillcrest Middle School kids, AKA the inferior middle school in town).

5. You couldn't wait to be a senior so you could officially lead the BLACK HOLE at football games... if you were even willing to go in the cold.

6. You looked forward to the annual Senior Scav, the last week of summer before your senior year where a list of tasks is passed down by the recently graduated class... the official kickoff to senior year.

7. You pass by Country Club Rd. and get flashbacks from the worst Cross Country practices ever. Driving up Daniels Farm Rd. in the Fall and Spring, you are conditioned to yell "hi" out the window to your friends at practice.

8. You knew someone who worked at Gene's gas station... and found yourself spending more time there on the weekends than you would like to admit.

9. You are convinced Melon-heads are real after frequenting Velvet St. to see the abandoned insane asylum with your friends, IF you didn't want to drive all the way up to Fairfield Hills in Newtown.

10. You have had/have been to at least one middle school birthday party at the Trumbull Marriott.

11. You know that the 25mph speed limit on Whitney Ave. is way too slow... and can't help but hit a little air going down the huge hill at the top.

12. The guy at Towne likely knows your name.

13. You never find yourself turning right out of THS... that side of town is irrelevant for those who do not live there.

14. You know to avoid the Merrit Parkway from 4:00-7:00pm at all costs.

15. You know more than you would like to about people you aren't even friends with... in a town so small, things get around very quick.

16. Going shopping really means going to Target, or any store in the mall, for the millionth time that week.

17. The marching band was the best in the state and you would see them practicing, literally, every time you drove by THS.

19. Depending on the side of town you lived, you spent a lot of time at Five Pennies Park or Indian Ledge Park.

20. You would say you couldn't wait to leave, but when you got to college, you find yourself excited to come back to your hometown so you can reminisce on old traditions and make new memories.

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