Mind the Middle in the Age of Tech and Devices, a guest post by author Jessica Speer
Thank you, Teen Librarian Toolbox, for shining a light on middle grade books this year! The Mind the Middle Project previously shared challenges facing this genre, including Barnes and Noble emptying shelves of all but the bestsellers and Goodreads cutting middle grade out of their yearly awards. These factors, alongside findings that tweens and young teens are reading less for fun and test scores are falling, are indeed a call to action.
As we collectively spread love and support for middle grade books, let’s pause to reflect on the influence of screens and technology on preteens today. These statistics provide a snapshot for kids ages 8-12.
Statistics: Technology Use and Middle Grade Readers
● According to Common Sense Media Research, 42% of U.S. kids have a phone by age 10. By age 14, smartphone ownership climbs to 91%.
● Thirty-six percent of preteens and teens report difficulty stopping using technology once they have started. Technology companies’ business strategies and persuasive design techniques make it challenging for young users to separate from their devices. (Radesky et al., 2022; 5 Rights Foundation, 2021).
● Between 2019 and 2021—digital media use for entertainment increased by 17% to more than five and half hours a day for tweens: Videos and gaming apps are the top digital entertainment options for this age group.
These statistics reveal that easily accessible and engaging digital entertainment may displace other activities, such as reading for fun. This trend comes with downsides. A 2023 study of 10,000 preteens found that those who read for fun early in childhood fared better in several ways. They scored higher on memory and speech development tests. They had fewer behavioral problems and depression symptoms. They also showed an edge in specific measures of brain structure.
The impact of screens on the daily lives of kids and teens inspired my latest middle grade book, The Phone Book – Stay Safe, Be Smart, and Make the World Better with the Powerful Device in Your Hand. As I researched this book, it became increasingly clear that meaningful tech guardrails still need to be implemented to better protect kids’ well-being in online spaces.
Of course, technology and digital media offer benefits, too, and many traditional kids’ activities, like playing games, listening to music, watching shows, and chatting with friends, have simply shifted to digital spaces.
“In the nonstop tsunami of global information, librarians provide us with floaties and teach us to swim.” – Linton Weeks, Washington Post Staff Writer
Indeed, now is a perfect time to mind the middle! Librarians and books help kids swim in today’s tech-focused world. Thank you, librarians and teachers, for sharing your passion for reading and books with students. Your efforts matter.
About Jessica Speer:
Jessica Speer is the award-winning author of books for kids and teens, including The Phone Book – Stay Safe, Be Smart, and Make the World Better with the Powerful Device in Your Hand, BFF or NRF (Not Really Friends)? A Girls Guide to Happy Friendships and Middle School – Safety Goggles Advised. Blending social science, stories, and activities, her writing unpacks tricky stuff that surfaces during childhood and adolescence. She has a Master’s Degree in Social Sciences and a knack for writing about complex topics in ways that connect with kids and teens. For more information, visit www.JessicaSpeer.com
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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