Aussie Teens’ Reading Habits Surprise

Spending time with a book is still appealing.
Apr 4, 2024
Teens still like a good book.

Australian teens still enjoy reading a physical novel above listening to an audiobook or reading on their phone or tablet, the problem is only a third are reading for pleasure at all, almost three in 10 students in Years 7-12 say they do not read in their spare time.

Reading frequency declines as they get older and girls are more inclined to read than boys.

Most teen readers (73%) prefer printed books if they are to read, with fiction genres such as fantasy, mystery and crime, and dystopian plots among the favourites.

So, the printed book is definitely has some life left and encouraging more children to read is possible but teens need support to find that memorable book and be allowed to follow their interests, that means the role school libraries and librarians play in literacy is as important as ever.

Parents should be encouraged to model reading behaviour and if reading is made social through discussions about books with friends and family it helps, as does carving out time for teens to read at school and at home.

Associate Professor Leonie Rutherford of Deakin’s School of Communication and Creative Arts’ newly released Australian Research Council-funded report has exposed the reading patterns of secondary school students.

The report identified seven personality types based on teens’ reading habits and preferences: Fiction Fanatics, Regular Bookworms, Rushed Fans, Casual Dabblers, Holiday Browsers, Sparse Readers, and Book Abstainers.

Associate Professor Rutherford said a better understanding of each reader type helped to drill down to teens’ attitudes about reading, including what encouraged them to read and what held them back.

“Our research sought to understand the reading habits of secondary students so we could find ways to better foster a love of reading in young people. Teens today have more distractions than ever than to sit down with a good book,” she said.

“It was surprising to find out today’s youth - often referred to as digital natives - preferred printed books over digital copies. But it makes sense when we consider they are often given books as gifts.

“Many also browse bookshelves at school or local libraries, while others experience eyestrain when looking at a screen or get frustrated at alerts on their phone when they are trying to read. Some just like the feel of a book in their hands.”

A total 13,217 Australian secondary school students were surveyed for the study. The report focused on teens’ voluntary reading habits, specifically excluding homework or school-assigned reading.

Unsurprisingly, almost half of teenagers surveyed engaged extensively with social media, making it the preferred passive leisure activity for teens followed by watching TV, movies, or videos on YouTube.

Dr Bronwyn Reddan, research fellow on the project, said curriculum pressures also meant students were given less time to read in class as they moved into senior school levels, but she said reading should be prioritised at any age.

“We know reading for pleasure is linked to better academic achievement, higher levels of wellbeing and better employment outcomes after finishing school. We also found that students who read regularly tend to use social media less,” Dr Reddan said.

Project partners for the research were, the Australian Publishers Association, BookPeople, the Copyright Agency, the Australian Library and Information Association and the School Library Association of Victoria.