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Saturday, Feb. 24
The Indiana Daily Student


OPINION: Lower literacy rates – the culprit? Early screen time usage


When I was little, we used to go to the library every Saturday. I wouldn’t leave without at least five or six books in my arms, all on the verge of falling over any second. I’d read one of those books every day. By the time Saturday came around, it was time to exchange my books for new ones.  

I was so in love with reading that if I didn’t abide by my strict reading schedule, I'd feel guilty. I'd think about what part I would’ve gotten to in a book had I not gone to a friend’s house or watched a movie. I'd try desperately to catch back up and finish my weekly book stack.  

This phase lasted about four years. As soon as I entered middle school, things changed. I had more homework and extracurriculars. I even got an iPad; movies, texting and the internet were at my fingertips. I didn’t have to wait until I got to school to use one of the public computers for my homework, I could do it at home. I explored what it was like to have a device in the modern age. It seemed so much cooler and advanced than reading a book.  

I still read, but not my weekly five books. It turned into a singular weekly book. 

Reading became an even more distant thought in high school. I had boatloads more work and commitments. After a full day of school, I had cross country practice, then homework. By the time I finished everything, I'd eat a late dinner and be too tired to read. I'd unwind by listening to music before bed. Reading became harder for me after a long, tiring day.  

Not to mention getting a real cell phone.  

My cell phone became the definition of a distraction. It's even easier to use than an iPad or laptop, allowing me to get sucked into texting and taking pictures. I'd even sworn off any social media apps, but still, books lived in a distant world. I would read occasionally, but it wasn’t my priority anymore.  

[Related: OPINION: Embrace your inner child]

I found it increasingly hard to sit down and actively read for hours on end like I used to when I could be texting my friends or going out. It's a horrible feeling when I think about it; my love of reading is becoming a more distant memory by the day. 

I’m not the only one guilty of falling victim to the world of technology. Reading is an even more distant idea for young children. 

Results of the 2022-23 Indiana Reading Evaluation and Determination assessment show nearly one in five students are struggling to properly read by the end of third grade. This could be the case due to the emerging power of technology and social media. Kids are in front of screens now more than ever.  

According to a survey done by nonprofit research organization Common Sense Media, average daily screen use from 2019 to 2021 for kids aged 8 to 12 increased from four hours and 44 minutes to five hours and 33 minutes. 

A study done by Reading & Literacy Discovery Center of Cincinnati’s Children’s Hospital in 2020 revealed children five years and younger who were in front of a screen more than an hour a day scored worse on a literacy test than those who read books more often. Lead author Dr. John Hutton concluded kids who had higher screen time usage start school behind those who are more accustomed to reading and have not had heavy exposure to screens. 

McCall Booth, PhD student at the media school studying how social media affects people, said uncontrolled social media use for children in their early stages of development can cause their attention spans to shorten. Heavy social media use can make kids too dependent on quick entertainment and make it harder for them to step away from a screen. 

“It might be a little too easy to get exactly what you want or it might prime you to feel as if I need a lot constantly in order to feel like I'm engaged, I'm entertained,” Booth said. 

Technology is making it harder for kids to grow and cultivate their own love for literature. Social media is stealing kids’ attentions away from one of the basic building blocks of life – reading.  

There are solutions out there. Booth recommends parents regulate screen usage so it doesn’t hinder kids’ abilities to develop social skills. She also said it’s important to involve their kids in discussions about the benefits and risks of social media.  

[Related: COLUMN: Every book has a purpose]

Citizens in Vermont, a state with higher literacy rates, were concerned about the pandemic’s negative impact on literacy. As a response, they put together a Strategic Planning Initiative that put aside $3.06 million to provide professional learning modules to teach kids how to read by third grade. 

It's up to the citizens of Indiana and the rest of the nation to reintroduce reading as a fun, engaging activity before it’s too late. 

Isabella Vesperini (she/her) is a sophomore majoring in journalism and minoring in Italian.

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