Every child should have a dictionary as young people are suffering from a vocabulary deficit, literacy and child development specialist Professor Tom Nicholson says.
Mr Nicholson, from Massey University's College of Education, said kids were failing to build their vocabulary, threatening their learning, confidence, future job prospects, relationships, and the ability to understand jokes. "In this increasingly technological world, we don't have the same opportunity to build vocabulary," he said.
"Reading is coming to be seen as boring and useless, parents are the last bastion of defence against this peer culture where kids don't see the need to build vocabulary."
In his new book Teaching Reading Vocabulary, Mr Nicholson urges teachers and parents to encourage children not only to read more, but also to use a dictionary and a thesaurus.
The dictionary remained the "holy grail" and every child should have one, he said.
"Just by looking up a new word, the process mentally glues it into the memory. Words are slippery customers - you need a definition and understanding of the various contexts it might be used in."
In a survey last year of year-four and five pupils, Mr Nicholson found students were largely reluctant to use a dictionary at home or in class.
Dictionary use should be encouraged by making sure the child has one, and modelling use of it in everyday life, he said.
"Possessing a good vocabulary enables and empowers people of all ages to be understood in social, educational and work situations.
"It would stop a lot of fights in the playground and in life if people had the ability to express themselves with words more competently."
While texting, Twitter, Facebook, and other forms of cyber communications were here to stay, they could not replace the value of reading books and using a dictionary and thesaurus, he said.