Reading culture amongst South African youth is on the decline due to the popularity of social media, cellphones and online games. Worldwide, teenagers have lost interest in reading, with 41% of teens admitting they do not read for fun – according to the global information and measurement company Nielsen.

â??Literacy is at the heart of all school subjects, so if learners cannot read or write properly, their grades will suffer,â? explains Tessa Stevenson, Grade 12 teacher at Riverside College, a pre-primary, primary and high school based in Burgundy Estate.

Over the past five years, Stevenson has seen a decrease in reading interest in high school learners.

â??By encouraging learners to read for leisure, their vocabulary and writing skills will improve; on the other hand, if they struggle with reading in high school, their chances of attending a tertiary institution and, later, being employed, are compromised.â?

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With the average SA teenager watching around five hours of television each day (Nielsen) and spending more than four hours on their cellphone (Mobile Media Consumption survey), books are fighting a losing battle with technology. YouTube stats show that national viewership is on the increase – up 90% in 2013, which together with cheap phone apps, such as Mxit, Whatsapp and BBM, providing more than enough distraction for teenagers.

Why reading is important

â??Reading as a teenager can help to develop vocabulary and assist with punctuation, spelling and sentence structure,â? says Stevenson. â??At Riverside College we have a holistic approach to education and believe that reading can do wonders for the imagination and provide a form of healthy escapism.â?

Through her personal interaction with the teenagers she teaches â?? Riverside College keeps classes capped at 24 learners â?? Mrs Stevenson has found that reading can offer insight on any number of topics such as science, sport and history. â??Developing a culture of reading can help teenagers to become more empathetic as they learn to relate to the characters, and can even work as a conversation starter in social situations.â?

What can parents do?

It is important to develop a love of reading, so it is viewed as a fun pastime and not a chore. Build on your teens interests â?? if they like sport, why not introduce them to the sports section in your local library? Get sneaky and leave interesting books and magazine lying around the house, so your teen is tempted to browse.

â??What was your favourite book in high school? Buy your teen a copy and explain why you enjoyed reading it â?? as the parent, itâ??s always good to lead by example,â? Stevenson says.

With electronic devices such as tablets and laptops allowing for e-books, it might be a good idea to create an online reading account for your child or invest in a Kindle. Try book applications such as Kobo or even news apps such as News24 to encourage daily reading.

â??Let them choose their own books, as this will help them cultivate a love of reading â?? there is plenty of great young adult fiction on the market, both internationally and locally,â? suggests Stevenson. â??You may find your teen likes the classics, such as Dickens, or maybe they are more into the modern fictions such as Twilight and The Hunger Games.â?

Top teen reads

  1. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

  2. Spud by John van de Ruit

  3. Harry Potter by JK Rowling

  4. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

  5. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky