From emails to text messages and social networking, new technologies have profoundly altered our relationship with written communications. While it’s now easier than ever for everyone to share their writing, a new British report warns that young people seem to have lost their taste for the written word.
This research was carried out by the National Literacy Trust among 71,351 British children and teenagers aged between five and 18. It reveals that only a third of young people surveyed (34.6%) enjoy writing in their free time.
This is the lowest level recorded since the trust began collecting data on the enjoyment of writing among children and teenagers living in the UK in 2010, representing a fall of 26% over 13 years.
In fact, young people lose their interest in written expression as they get older. For example, 72% of children aged between five and eight say they engage in this activity in their spare time, compared with just 28.5% of young people aged between 16 and 18.
There are also disparities between young people’s “leisure” writing habits, depending on their gender and their socioeconomic background. Girls tend to write more in their spare time than boys, whatever their age. This divide is not unlike that between the sexes with regard to reading, another activity linked to the written word that boys abandon more readily in adolescence.
Surprisingly, the most disadvantaged children and teenagers are more likely to write for leisure than their peers, regardless of gender. This is a trend that has persisted since the 2010s, as the National Literacy Trust report points out.
Writing at school more enjoyable
While young people are increasingly turning away from the joys of writing on their own initiative, they are not turning away from this means of expression altogether. More than two in five children and teenagers enjoy writing at school (43.9%), compared with 34.6% in their free time.
Many of the testimonies gathered in the study explain this phenomenon in terms of the writing support provided by teachers to their pupils, particularly the younger ones. “I only like writing at school because I can get help. When I write at school I can let my imagination free and let my ideas become one on a piece of paper,” said one 14-year-old girl.
Text messages and other instant messages are the most popular forms of writing among British children and teenagers, followed by messages exchanged via video games. Only 26.8% of young people surveyed write fiction or short stories by hand, and 20.1% on a computer or cell phone. More keep diaries or write letters (29.9% and 27%, respectively).
The National Literacy Trust encourages public authorities to encourage the desire to write in young people from an early age, in order to develop skills beyond expression. “Writing for enjoyment needs to be encouraged, protected, and nurtured as a priority,” its chief executive, Jonathan Douglas, said.
“The reduced scope for creative writing in the curriculum may be affecting children’s motivation and enjoyment for writing, which can, in turn, affect their confidence and literacy skills.
“We need to prioritise writing for enjoyment, and recognise it’s important for helping children express their thoughts and feelings as they make sense of the world around them.”