The Teen Scene

Whenever I go to an event, I spend quite a bit of time asking the person leading the event – usually a librarian – what sorts of issues they’ve come across, as an organization, in the past few years. Invariably, they tell me that one of the hardest groups to reach is teenagers. This post isn’t so much about answers (though I hope to make that a post later, as I am hard at work on a project based on my own theories) but about questions. The first question is: why?

Why are teens are harder to reach than kids, or adults? I’ve got my own theories, but let’s hold back on those – what are yours? And if anyone has a teen who’d like to leave a comment on this, I’d really love to hear it.

As many of you already know, I’m not too far removed from my teen years myself – four years, in fact.  Photos of myself when I know I was very much a teenager:

Don’t look that different from fairly recent ones:

(I was making a scaredy face because I got an 8-inch haircut)

I’m not that far removed from the situation, yet when they say “teens don’t read” – I can no longer defend that group as my peers. They are younger than I am. They are somewhat mysterious to me, already.

This whole chain of thought started when I read an email from a young woman named Katlyn last night. I’ll tell you in advance that she’s 16, but that’s sort of spoiling it, as I was shocked when I got to that part, myself.

Among other things, Katlyn writes:

“I think it’s horrible that schools are increasingly putting less focus on reading. I understand that it’s important to value other subjects, such as math and science, but a foundation in literature is absolutely vital to any culture. There’s a reason that that some books last for generations. There’s a reason why everyone should read Shakespeare, Dickens, Austen, etc. There’s a reason why reading matters that is being lost in today’s culture. It pains me to see people in my class who would rather play mindless video games than embrace books, which are going to stay with them for the rest of their life. We need to bring the focus back to the things that matter in education. Reading is the best way to spur learning. I can’t tell you how many times books have taught me more than a full day of school. There’s nothing more important to a maturing mind than books. “

Oh, Katlyn – how did you form these thoughts and how can you help us teach others? One librarian very aptly referred to ages 15 through 20 as “the lost years”, saying that students don’t reappear at that circulation desk until they are doing research for college classes. Again, I ask, why?

So here are my questions, and if you’ve got answers, please, share!

1) Where do teens “go” during these years? What are they doing instead?
2) Why is that activity more appealing than reading? And why is it also more appealing than it (apparently) was before?
3) What could bring them back during their teen years?
4) What would bring them back for good?

The more answers I get, the more direction I’ll have for my idea (more to come on that later) so let’s hear ’em!

Published in: on August 8, 2011 at 9:00 am  Comments (6)  

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6 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I don’t have teens, but I asked my neighbor that has 3 of them and his response was that they end up having to buy the books required for school or even books that the teens enjoy reading (i.e. The Hunger Games) because the library doesn’t have them readily available (already checked out or a long waiting list). With big book sellers like amazon or now the tech friendly ipads and kindle – some don’t want to wait. That was his opinion. I would love to support your efforts any way I can. I’m an advocate for the library.

    xoxo michele

  2. What are teens doing instead? I think one thing they are definately doing is exams. It takes all their time and all their reading space. In the UK exams start at 16 so preparation and study begin at 14 and carry on into their early 20’s if they go onto further education such as college or university.
    Also teens are often leaving behind their childhood favourites and haven’t yet established where there likes and dislikes are in the adult world.
    Peer pressure. It’s not cool to tell your mates you’re reading Austen. I know my daughter found fanfiction (its a website) i may not like it but at least she’s still reading and occasionally she reads something a little less toxic.
    I can’t say that there is anything wrong with my city library, it’s a huge amazing place and is restocked regularly. But saying that, it is being proposed that 65 libraries in the Yorkshire area are set for closure sometime this year. With the cost of just living rising buying books is the last thing on people’s minds. In the uk oxfam stores have been turned into book shops where the books are no more then a couple of pounds.
    The other questions – what would bring them back or bring them back for good? Encourage them but don’t hassle them. Make sure there is good reading material around the house. Be a good example and read yourself. Read something they have read and recommend and give an honest opinion, like it or dislike it, say so and why. As for coming back if they have been well fed to begin with they just do it on their own.
    My children are now 18, 20, 22 and 24 they still read, even if it’s not as often or maybe they read what i wouldn’t but it doesn’t really matter what it is they are reading, just that they are reading. Besides not everyone can enjoy Austen and Hardy and there are other good books and authors out there.

    My 365 days reading challenge.

  3. I have a question for you, not directly related to teen reading, but perhaps very loosely. I have a five-year-old boy who inhales learning and loves books. We’ve read a few chapter books together now, but I find myself holding back my favorites. I am afraid that revealing them now, with me reading aloud, will steal the pleasure of him first reading that story for himself when he is able. I don’t want to rob him of that joy of discovery of the good ones. Is that a valid thought? If we read all these wonderful stories ahead of his reading level, what will he read when he gets to that reading level? Did you encounter that issue during the Streak? I have always been an addicted reader, even during my teenage years, and I don’t want to do something to ruin that for him, even if done with good intentions… Thanks, Alice! I believe I’ve already said so, but your book is one of my top tens. I can’t stop loving it (not that I’ve tried).

    • Good question! Although I can see your concern, I think your saving grace is the sheer volume of books available to your son. So what if you “ruin” Black Beauty- there’s still The Wind in the Willows, The Wizard of Oz, and so many more. You’ll make memories together and he”ll have some on his own. It will work out, I promise!

      • Thanks for the reply…one of many silly parental fears I guess. =)

  4. This song is very catchy after listening to it several times. The whistling is pure genius and addicting!
    The song is all fun, perfect for the summertime!

    (The video is fun to watch too!)

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