Read This Not That: Why Boys Don’t Read

young boy reading

It’s true: Most boys don’t read. Study after study supports the claim that boys are far less likely to read for pleasure than girls. In fact, the 2010 Scholastic Kid and Family Reading Report found that, regardless of race, geography, or socioeconomic status, boys lag behind girls in reading. According to authors of a 2005 NEA study, the gender gap in reading between boys and girls has grown so wide that it can now be considered a “marker of gender identity.”

So what? As long as boys continue to study hard and do well in school, who cares whether they read?

Reading is the most fundamentally important skill that a student can master. Reading is the heart and soul of all other learning: How does a chemistry student learn about the properties of molecules? How does a calculus student learn how to find the limit of an equation? How does a future engineer learn the principles of physics necessary to create structurally sound buildings?

By reading.

Regardless of what field your son is interested in, he will have to read. Even if he wants to study math or science, he will have to read. And the better he can read, the easier it will be for him to learn new subject matter and to effectively communicate his knowledge.

By far the most successful way to improve reading comprehension and speed is to practice. Students who read frequently – regardless of what they read – tend to score better on standardized tests, earn higher grades in all subject areas, and enjoy greater success in college-level courses. With girls, encouraging reading tends to be somewhat easier as girls seem naturally more inclined to read. But with boys, the challenge can be daunting.

Why Boys Don’t Read

There are several theories about why boys don’t seem to want to read:

  • Assigned reading is boring. The books assigned in school tend to be classic works of fiction. As one young adult author put it, “Schools favor classics over contemporary fiction to satisfy testing standards and avoid challenges from parents. And teachers don’t always know what’s out there for boys.” Thus, rather than encouraging boys to find joy and entertainment in reading, typical school assigned reading lists do they opposite: They reinforce the idea that reading is boring and pointless.
  • Self-perpetuating cycle. The publishing industry is profit driven. Once publishers recognized that teen girls read far more than teen boys, they started marketing to girls. Today, young adult literature is dominated by females: Books written and edited by women and marketed to girls. And the more the young adult industry focuses on females, the less likely it is that teen boys will be avid readers.
  • Lack of literary male role models. As a child grows, his introduction to the world of literature is often dominated by women. One educator observed, “Who reads? Well, mostly women. Moms frequently read to their young sons at bedtime. Elementary school teachers and media specialists, who are primarily women, read to their classes. And in movies and on TV, it’s women or girls who are typically rushing off to their book clubs. Men don’t read—instead, they do. For instance, men don’t read books about hunting, they hunt.” Granted this is unfair to the many literary males that truly do enjoy a good book – but by and large, the stereotype fits. As a result, boys often grow to think of reading as too girly and unmanly. These boys then grow into men who don’t read, thus perpetuating the cycle.
  • The rise of electronic entertainment. Once upon a time, reading was virtually the only form of indoor entertainment available. If it was a rainy day, you played checkers or you read a book – there was no television, no X-box, and no internet. Interestingly, the biggest increase in the reading gap between boys and girls has occurred since the early 1990s – thus it has correlated with the proliferation of videogames and the internet. Studies have shown that boys spend more time plugged in than girls, and it is likely that the time boys spend with videogames is at least partly responsible for their poor reading habits.

How to Raise a Guy Who Reads

By far the most important thing that parents can do to raise children who read is to model the behavior – your children do what you do, so if they see Mom and Dad reading regularly, they will be far more likely to also read regularly. But beyond modeling the habit that you want to see in your son, here are some tips to get your boy reading:

  • Find books that are on their level. Any child – boy or girl – will be far more willing to read if they are offered books that they will truly enjoy. If your son likes sports, find a good sports book (fiction or non-fiction). If your son enjoys gross jokes, there are ample books in that category. It doesn’t matter what he reads so much as that he reads. If you try to get your son to like reading by handing him a classic novel or a book with a girl on the cover, he’ll likely turn up his nose and turn on the Playstation. Once he gets into the habit of reading, eventually he’ll begin to branch out into more widely appreciated forms of literature.
  • Demonstrate that men read, too. It is important that a boy’s male role models read. If Dad, Grandpa, or Uncles are never seen reading, then a boy will grow up to believe that men don’t read. But if a boy grows up seeing the men in his life read – even if it’s just a magazine or a newspaper – then he will grow up knowing that men read, too.
  • Set limits on distractions. Set aside reading time – a specific time of day when the television, computer, cell phone, and videogames are turned off and a book is open. You will probably never reach a point at which your teenaged son actively wants to read more than he wants to play Modern Warfare, but if you eliminate videogames during certain times, reading will become more attractive.
  • Make reading a family thing. Even teenagers like to be read to. Listening to a book can offer many of the same benefits that reading a book does. If you’ve got reluctant readers at home, try holding family read aloud sessions to encourage the whole family to read more.

More Resources

Check out these resources for book selection ideas and ways to encourage your boy to read: