Children reading more on screen than print, NLT finds

The growth in children’s digital reading is an “opportunity for publishers rather than a warning knell”, a leading figure in children’s reading has emphasised, as new research into the relationship between children, reading and technology is published.

For the first time, children are reading more on computers and electronic devices than in print. However, those who read daily on screen are less likely to be strong readers than those who read regularly in print.

According to research from the National Literacy Trust, sponsored by Slaughter & May, 39% of children and young people read on electronic devices every day, whereas only 28% read printed materials daily. The number of children reading e-books has doubled in the last two years from 6% to 12%.

Children surveyed also showed a preference to reading on a screen: 52% said they would rather read on electronic devices; just under a third of respondents (32%), said they preferred to read in print. Of the two sexes, girls are much more likely than boys to read in print, with 68% of girls reading in print compared to 54% of boys.

The research also found that those who read daily on screen are almost twice less likely to be above-average readers than those who read regularly in print (or in print and on screen): 15.5% compared to 26%. Those who read only on screen are also three times less likely to enjoy reading (12% compared to 51%), and a third less likely to have a favourite book—just 59% of children surveyed who read on screen had one, compared to 77% of kids who prefer to read print books.

The survey was of nearly 35,000 young people aged between eight and 16 at 188 schools in the UK, and was unveiled at the charity’s breakfast debate on the role of technology in children’s reading yesterday (16th May).

NLT director Jonathan Douglas stressed that the research showed it was important to welcome the “further reading opportunities” digital reading represented for children, but said: “We are concerned by our finding that children who only read on screen are significantly less likely to enjoy reading and less likely to be strong readers.”

However, he added that the growth in children’s digital reading was “an opportunity for publishers, not a warning knell”, and said the children’s market was beginning to mirror the way the adult market has developed as the number of children reading digitally increases. He also said there was a “clear relationship between attainment and reading patterns”, with those children with a “balanced diet of print and digital” achieving a higher level of literacy.

Tablets proved to be the device most commonly used for reading fiction; 36% of respondents who have a tablet read fiction on it, with 30% reading fiction on their computer, and 23% reading fiction on their smartphones.