Dr Bronwyn Reddan on teen reading habits in Australia

As part of Australia Reads’ recent national reading symposium, VOLUME, we were pleased to welcome Dr Bronwyn Reddan, Research Fellow at Deakin University, to share her insights into how to get Australian teens reading more often.

Dr Reddan is a researcher, alongside Leonie Rutherford (Associate Professor, Project Leader) and Andrew Singleton (Professor), on the Australian Research Council Linkage project Discovering a ‘Good Read’: Pathways to Reading for Australian Teens.

In her five minute Lightning Talk, Dr Reddan looks at strategies to support teen reading, using three key questions to guide her discussion.

How often do Australian teens read for pleasure?

In 2022 and 2023, Reddan’s research team surveyed 13,000 Australian Secondary School students aged 11–18 about their reading habits and preferences, and identified three groups of readers:

  1. Avid readers
  2. Occasional or light readers
  3. Reluctant or non-readers

According to their research, most teens fall into the second category. 55% of teens reported that they spend some or a small amount of time reading for pleasure. 25% said they don’t spend any time reading. 17% spend a lot or as much time as they can reading. Looking more closely at teens who identify as readers, 45% of this group say they read more often during the school holidays than during the school term and 44% say they read less now than they did in their final year of primary school, grade six.

What stops teens reading?

There is a lot of research about why reading declines during adolescence but much of this work is created by adults about teens. Dr Reddan and her research team asked teens to tell them directly about their reading, including what stops them from reading. Teens identified five structural barriers that limit how much they read:

  1. Time
  2. Identity
  3. Attention
  4. Motivation
  5. Supply

Of these five barriers, time – and that’s perceived lack of time – is the most commonly identified barrier, with homework, part-time jobs, sport, social media, friends, among the many things that get in the way of teens reading. But, as Dr Reddan says, “when you put all of this evidence together, the real issue is not time, it’s about whether reading is valued as an activity worth making time for.”

What keeps teens reading?

In her talk, Dr Reddan identifies three strategies that can help engage and re-engage teen readers:

  1. Mindset
  2. Leadership
  3. Collaboration

In talking about mindset, Dr Reddan is referring to those attitudes towards reading in the community. As one of the librarians she spoke to said: “if it’s not valued and you don’t see people reading, you don’t make time for it.”

If we want more teens to read for pleasure, teens need to see reading as an important and valuable activity. This is where Dr Reddan says leadership and collaboration come in.

Schools who value reading for pleasure have adults in leadership positions – especially teachers and principals – who model reading and talk about books with students. Parents are also important reading role models for teens (with fathers holding particular influence). But individual reading champions are not enough. The most successful reading cultures are ones where principals, teachers, and librarians collaborate to create a whole-of-school culture that values reading. It also really helps to find ways to make reading social for teens.

Is all this achievable? “It does require consistent, sustained effort from a range of stakeholders,” says Dr Reddan, “but yes, I believe it is achievable.”

Dr Reddan and her researchers were given hope by the last question in their survey in which they asked teens to tell them how much they think they’ll be reading in 10 years time: more, less, or about the same as they do now. 47% said they thought they’d be reading more in 10 years time.

As Dr Reddan concludes her talk by saying: “This tells us that teens are still engaged with reading for pleasure despite the things getting in their way… and gives me hope that we can help teens read more, and that we need to work together with the adults in their life to do so.”

Watch the full Lightning Talk below

Want to find out more about the teen reading research project? Join the researchers live and online on Wednesday 4 October as they unpack the findings of their recent surveys and report. Find out more, and book your ticket, via the Australian Publishers Association website.

For all the latest news, articles, and events from the teen reading project visit: teenreading.net/