Kids Say They'd Read More with an E-Reader, But What do They Consider "Reading"?

It probably comes as no surprise to learn that with the upswing in children’s use of technology comes a downswing in the time they spend reading books. However, a new study reveals that children might be enticed to read more if they were given access to books on an e-reader. The definition of “read” varies depending on who you ask though: parents have a more traditional view of reading, whether for enjoyment or entertainment, while a significant portion of the children surveyed consider getting texts and Facebook status updates to be time spent reading. Read below the jump for more from this nation-wide study and its implications.

Scholastic regularly releases reports on the state of children’s reading habits, and the 2010 edition of the Kids & Family Reading Report is all about the digital age. Children are affected more and more each year by cell phones, social networks and video games: the study finds that between the ages of 6 through 17, children spend less time reading and more time going online for entertainment or using a cell phone to text or talk.

E-Readers might be able to combat this decline in such a vital activity to children’s mental health. 57% of kids age 9-17 say they want an e-reader, and 33% say they would read more if they had access to books on one. Despite this promising finding, kids might not actually get their hands on e-readers, if their parents have anything to do with it: over 40% of the parents surveyed say that technology negatively impacts the time children spend reading. So, parents would have to come to terms with the fact that not all technology is as distracting as an Xbox or open Facebook tab if e-readers are to be given a chance to combat declining reading rates.

But what is “reading” in this context? Both parents and children have definitions of reading that exist outside the box of simply “books”. Over half of the parents and children in this survey considered reading to include “looking for and finding information online”. But that’s the extent to which they agree: children would also include “Looking through postings or comments on social networking sites like Facebook” (28%) and “Texting back and forth with friends” (25%) as reading activities, while parents would not.

The study points out that 39% of kids and 47% of parents do not think any of these activities count as reading.

There is clearly some conflict as children and parents adapt to an increasingly digital world. Parents agree that children need to read more, but the definition of reading is becoming blurred: is it enough to play a text-based RPG? Or to check Twitter regularly? Children are more liberal with their definition of reading, possibly as a result of their youth, but it could also be influenced by their more intimate connection to technology than their parents.

E-readers might help children read more traditional text like novels and textbooks, illustrating the productive symbiosis that can occur when technology is combined with education. E-readers offer the extra benefit of being small and easy to carry compared to a bag full of print books, which could contribute to children borrowing electronic books from the library or from friends more than they do now.

This study makes it clear that child education is in flux due to technology – it both distracts them from reading and offers a new avenue for increased reading.

Do you think e-readers would encourage children to read more?