In 2009, satirical newspaper The Onion reported that Americans spend 90% of their waking hours “staring at, interacting with, and deriving satisfaction from glowing rectangles.” The website’s “researchers” identified “handheld rectangles, music-playing rectangles, mobile communication rectangles, personal work rectangles, and bright alarm cubes, which emit a high-pitched reminder that it’s time to rise from one’s bed and move toward the rectangles in one’s kitchen.”

And while that might have seemed like a clever exaggeration in 2009, for the teens of 2015 it sounds sadly accurate. Young adults and teenagers of today cannot even remember a time before the Internet, and even very young children spend hours a day playing with their parents’ tablets or smartphones.

Naturally, U.S. parents are nervous about the effect all that “teen screen time” has on young people, and for good reason. Studies show that too much screen time in teens can cause:

  • Insomnia:Too much screen time makes it much harder for teenagers to fall asleep at night, decreasing productivity and performance at school and extra-curricular activities.
  • Text Neck: When people of any age spend too long staring down at a tiny phone screen, they can develop serious neck pain.
  • Less Reading: While 53% of nine year old Americans read daily, just 17% of 17 year old students read each day. Studies show that young men are also reading less, with young women reading for pleasure an average of 10 minutes longer than their male peers.

That “reading gap” is growing larger. In 1999, young children (ages two to seven) read for 45 minutes each day, but in 2013 they were only reading for 30 minutes. And while required reading lists for schools might be a helpful way to force kids and teens to put down that smartphone, ultimately we’re failing to teach young people the benefits of reading for pleasure.

The goal should be to get engaging books placed on required reading lists for schools. Novels for middle school students and high school fantasy books can contain stories that teens really relate to. Plus, the best books for middle school students and teens can provide leadership development training, providing the keys to self-improvement throughout life.