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Straight Talk: Society, kids lose big when no one reads

DEAR STRAIGHT TALK: Every morning I drive my granddaughter to high school and observe all the kids, every hand gripping a cellphone. I've been in the newspaper business 46 years and I'd like to ask what young people today read. When they are on the Internet, are they surfing, social networking, or actually reading? Apart from assignments, do they read newspapers, magazines and books?

-- Barbara Hale, features editor, Merced Sun-Star, Merced

Shelby, 16, Auburn: I don't read. I just don't like it. Even Harry Potter I skipped. Sometimes on Facebook, I read a "fun fact" or gossip, but I'm not into politics or business. I have better things to do, and between homework, sports and my social life, there's no time.

Taylor, 19, Placerville: I don't usually read. I wasn't a good reader through school, so I got turned off. On rare occasions, I read magazines from supermarket checkout lines, but news doesn't interest me because everything is spun and it's overwhelming not knowing what to believe. Online, I strictly social network and get entertainment via YouTube.

Lara, 17, Fair Oaks: Before I became a socially obsessed teenager, I read practically a book a day. I was raised without a TV, so books were how I amused myself. I especially love Steinbeck, Dickens and Austen with their good human values. But now with school, sports and socializing, I prefer personal-development books. On the Internet, I do social network but I avoid celebrity gossip. I get news from my email news feed and the ORF, an Austrian site with detailed world news.

Hannah, 17, Auburn: I didn't used to like to read, but recently I started Hemingway's "Farewell to Arms." My mom keeps thinking it's assigned reading! I don't read magazines or newspapers at all. Even on Facebook, I don't typically read news. My friends and I go to a celebrity website for guilty pleasure.

Lennon, 22, Fair Oaks: Aside from school reading, I spend about 30 minutes a day reading things like Popular Mechanics, Rolling Stone, the Sacramento Bee. I also read regularly for pleasure, maybe because I had no TV growing up and still don't. I use the Internet for research and social networking, but I hate reading online; it physically drains me.

DEAR BARBARA: There's your answer. It's interesting that two panelists (Lara and Lennon) who read a lot for pleasure both grew up without TV. A 2007 National Endowment for the Arts study correlates reading for pleasure with academic achievement, political activism, cultural participation, even regular exercise. According to their study, young people age 15-24 average only seven minutes a day reading, half of those age 18-24 never read for pleasure, and only a third of high school seniors read at proficiency. Compare this to an average entertainment screen time of seven hours per day for kids age 8-18, cited by the American Academy of Pediatrics. The personal and societal health costs of not reading are enormous.

-- Lauren

(Straight Talk TNT.org is a nonprofit that tackles youth's toughest issues with youth's wisest advice. Go deeper in today's conversation or ask a question at www.StraightTalkTNT.org or P.O. Box 1974, Sebastopol 95473. We are a 501c3 nonprofit. Adapted from a column from Nov. 19, 2008.)


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