A biennial national survey of parents’ and children’s reading attitudes and behaviors.
The role parents play in reading encouragement
Similar to the trends we’re seeing among kids, a belief among parents that reading for fun is extremely/very im- portant also decreases as their children get older. The majority (83%) of parents of kids ages 0–17 believe that it is extremely/very important that their child reads books for fun, but while 89% of parents of kids ages 6-8 feel that reading for fun is extremely/very important, this view is only shared by 67% of parents of kids ages 15–17.
In addition to the majority of parents believing that it is important that their child reads books for fun, parents also wish their kids would read more. Since 2018, there has been an increase in parents of 6–17-year-olds who say they wish their kids would read more for fun. As we heard from the parent of a 17-year-old, “My 17-year-old son no longer reads for fun. I would love for him to do this but he is resistant.”
The Growing Battle for Mind & Culture Share
With more participation in structured activities and digital engagement, reading is facing increased competition for children’s free time. The Kids & Family Reading Report shows that many children’s digital activities have risen since 2018, including playing games or using apps on an electronic device (84% in 2022 vs. 74% in 2018), watching videos on YouTube (82% vs. 75%), and going online for fun (61% vs. 55%). Of note, children ages 6–11 are increasingly partici- pating in digital activities for fun, including a 13% increase in watching videos on YouTube. Most parents (86%) say they wish their child would do more things that did not involve screen time, an increase from 80% in 2018. As one parent of a 9-year-old shared, “I’d like my son to spend more time reading than on screens of various sorts.”
Knowing that screens are immensely popular among children today, it’s understandable that half of parents of 6- to-17-year- old children surveyed say their child needs at least a little encouragement to read books for fun, and most parents (86%) take some action to try to encourage their child to do so. For parents of school-aged children, the most common ways to encourage their child to read are letting their child choose a book from a school book fair or order form sent home by a teacher (58%), taking their child to a public library (49%), and having children’s books at home (47%). For parents of children ages five and younger, the most common action taken, by far, is to always have children’s books at home (71%).
The Impact of the Covid-19 Pandemic
The Covid-19 pandemic disrupted children’s educations and their families’ lives in both measurable and immeasurable ways, and as the recent NAEP scores show, reading for fun among today’s kids is even more worrisome than many may have realized. Supporting this data, our survey found that one-third of parents of 6- to 17-year-olds (35%) believe their child has fallen behind in reading skills since the pandemic began, despite a belief from the vast majority of parents (86%) that teachers did the best they could during the pandemic.
Additionally, half of parents of 6-to 17-year-olds say they believe their child’s mental health was negatively affected by their pandemic experiences.
As our data shows, literacy plays a role in children’s mental health: while 27% of children ages 12-17 say their emotional or mental health is worse compared to before the pandemic, when we look further into this percentage to account for reading frequency, infrequent readers are more likely than frequent readers (32% vs 23%) to hold this sentiment.
Infrequent readers were also more likely than more frequent readers to say they have felt nervous or anxious, sad or depressed, and lonely.
Additional research from Scholastic Research & Validation and the Yale Child Study Center-Scholastic Collaborative for Child & Family Resiliencepoints to the powerful influence of books and literacy across a variety of metrics including mental health. It also reinforces that a love of reading can be a powerful tool in supporting mental health, including boosting self-esteem, increasing empathy, and mitigating anxiety and depression. The Kids & Family Reading Report demonstrates that the key ingredients to fostering a love of reading are attainable, and that as we continue to work towards rebounding from the lasting effects of the pandemic and developing the next generation of readers, literacy can be an important factor in supporting children throughout their lives.