I read an alarming statistic this morning. In a 2012 survey, only 19% of 17 year-olds said they read for fun every day, down from 31% in 1984. Almost half of the 17 year-olds surveyed (45%) said they read for pleasure no more than once or twice a year. Another 22% said they never or hardly ever read for fun. With the increase of social media outlets and the pressure to be online all the time, I’m sure those numbers are even worse today.
There’s a growing effort to combat this decline in reading, including special days to focus on books. August 9 was National Book Lovers Day. July 30 was Paperback Book Day. April 23 was World Book Day. And many people celebrate the birthday of Dr. Seuss on March 2 by reading to children. But still, the decline in reading continues while young people spend more and more time staring at a screen.
Which screens are they staring at? Mostly, their phones. Students today tend to prefer short YouTube videos over traditional television shows. They’re going to movies less often, too, with “loss of youth” being the number one concern for European film owners in a survey last year. Considering the glut of violent, crass, immoral, and just plain stupid shows on TV and movie screens, the move away from such “entertainment” may seem like a good idea. But I’m afraid our young people are losing something very important as they trade in books, movies, and TV shows for 5 minute videos, 30 second SnapChats, and long feeds of photos and tweets pretending to represent real life.
I believe we have a need for stories in our lives—fictional stories about make-believe people and places or fictionalized biographies of real people dealing with real-life situations. We read stories to learn about other cultures and peoples and to explore the deeper themes of life and living. We use stories to entertain, but also to teach and impart wisdom. Jesus loved stories, using dozens of short parables to teach moral and spiritual lessons.
In a world of random, relentless sensory input, stories help us find connections, see order, and wait expectantly for what’s still to come.
The great thing about stories is that they have an author, someone who has given time and attention to creating the perfect setting and bringing together the right mix of characters who each have a part to play as the story unfolds. The King James Version of the Bible calls Jesus “the author and finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2). And the Psalmist sang to God, “all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (Psalm 139.16).
In a book, everything is connected and purposeful. In a good story, all the action moves toward a fitting ending. There is hope in every story that all will work out well in the end, even if not all stories end well. We need that hope in our real lives as well. We need to recognize that we are part of a bigger story and there is so much still to come!
So read! Read to your children. Watch movies together. Discuss the story line and the characters and the choices the author made. Don’t wait for a special day to dive into a new story. Do it today!
If you would like to learn more about how stories help us understand what God is doing in our world, sign up for my email list to get updates on my next book, Finding Your Place in God’s Master Story. You can also comment on this post and share what story you’ve been reading or watching lately that you would like to recommend.
Children, Teens, and Reading Infographic
13 to 24 Year Olds Are Watching More YouTube than TV
Are fewer young people watching movies in cinemas?
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Stories are a metaphor for life. That's a deep way of saying we can learn life lessons from stories we read or watch on stage or on big or small screens. When viewed through a Christian worldview, even secular films and books can tell us something about our Christian walk. Here you will find a collection of blog posts with lessons I have learned from stories. I hope you enjoy them!