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30 Aug, 2018 11:44

US teens swap books for social media, reading drops from 60 to 16 percent in half a century - study

US teens swap books for social media, reading drops from 60 to 16 percent in half a century - study

Researchers are sounding the alarm over US teenagers’ mental health and abilities, as a new study finds they’ve almost completely dropped books for social media. In the 1970s, 60 percent read books and in 2016 - just 16 percent.

One in three US teens fell short of picking up a book or magazine of their own choice in 2016, while spending an average of six hours online, texting and on social media. Smartphones trump not only books, but TV or going to the movies, according to the research, published in the American Journal of Psychology.

The study collected data from the University of Michigan-run survey project ‘Monitoring the Future’, which has been surveying high school students’ trends since 1975. The study also found a staggering increase in social media use among 12-year-olds. In 2008, 52 percent of them said they visited social media sites such as Facebook or Instagram “almost every day.” In 2016, it increased to 82 percent.

Jean Twenge, a San Diego State University psychology professor and one of the authors of the study, raised concerns over the impact of digital technology on kids.

“Reading long-form texts like books and magazine articles is really important for understanding complex ideas and for developing critical thinking skills,” Twenge said, according the Sydney Morning Herald.

Twenge also wrote a book, the title of which amply explains her feelings on the matter, ‘iGen: Why Today's Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy - and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood - and What That Means for the Rest of Us.’

But it’s not just about kids’ mental abilities, but their mental health as well. Research published last year in the American Journal of Epidemiology collected data from 5,208 individuals and found that Facebook has an overall negative influence on users’ mental health.

However Andrew Przybylski, from the Oxford Internet Institute, who took part in a study published last year in the British Medical Journal, cautioned: “People see that unhappiness in teenagers and adolescents is going up, by some measures, and that the use of technologies is going up. The inference that’s drawn is that A is a result of B.”

He did, however, note in an episode of the BBC's 'Trust Me I'm a Doctor'  that while spending up to two hours on smartphones every week day and four on weekend days may have a generally positive impact on one's wellbeing, more than that could be harmful.

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