The important of reading

Today students do not read books but prefer electronic devices. Even in my class, many students regularly look at their mobile phone and laptop for short messages from friends or news from Facebook.

Last year a U.S. government studies found that since 1990, the percent of high school students who are book readers went down from 75% to 52%, and the percent of college students went from 64% to 32%. But the percentage hid an important thing: Most of what they read are from Google, Twitter, Text message and Facebook, not literature, history, or even novels. Even some adults also stop reading books and newspapers. What they read is mostly something short, easy to read and easy to forget instead of something meaningful. A professor laments: “It seems we are going to a generation of the “new illiterate.” These people only skim through something so they can talk about in daily conversation but not understand in dept for whatever subject that they are talking.”

A psychologist once told me: “The problem that children do not read books because their parents do not read anymore. You look at every family today and ask how many parents are reading with their children? How many of them are reading for enjoyment? Or they prefer the TV, Netflix or YouTube. Children are growing up watching their parents, and parents are still asking why their children do not read books? Why their knowledge is so shallow? Why don’t they think more deeply? Why don’t they have enough patient? Why they get angry easily? The answer is simple: Because their brain is developing with the speed of the Internet and electronic impulse.”

Children will read if their parents read. They will read more because their parents model good reading behavior. If the parents always read books with them when they are young, they will develop a good reading habit when they grow up. When I travel in Japan, I saw that people there read a lot, almost everywhere, in the train station, on the subway, and in the restaurants. My friend explained: “Many Japanese families have a rule: “Read a book first, before TV shows, or video games.” The reading requirement is about one hour per day for elementary school children or one book a week for high school students. To the Japanese, being an adult means feeling comfortable with books. Being rational means having read a lot of books. During a typical conversation, people often cite phrases from famous literature novels, historical events, or even philosophy books. etc. We encourage reading by keeping a lot of books in the home and set aside time daily for our children to read.”

Another study in Germany also indicated that there is a strong correlation between parental actions and the frequency with which children read. Among children who are frequent readers, over 72% of their parents set aside time each day to read with them. But the study went further to correlate between students who read more and their success in school. The result is clear, 86% of children who are frequent readers went to college as compared with 34% of children who are not frequent readers. But the study also found that good reading behavior has nothing to do with technology. E-readers, tablets, laptop are all capable of delivering good reading materials. Books are not just paper but can be read from electronic devices too. So the issue is not whether electronic devices is dangerous for reading, but the content of the reading materials and the habit of reading are necessary.

A professor of psychology once told me: “With all the apparent evidence, it is essential for the parents to read to their children when they are young because it is a crucial piece of their brain development and their future education. You cannot “outsource” the education of your children to others then complain that they fail to help them. Education requires the parents to involve early, especially during the most critical age of four to twelve years old when their brain is developing, and they need to make sure their children read books.”

How children read and what they read will determine more about the adult attitudes about the world surrounding them. In the information age where things are happening fast, you need to have a firm root or deep knowledge to maintain your perspective in life; else you will be influenced by so many things that may push you out of control.


  • Blogs of Prof. John Vu, Carnegie Mellon University