When Reading to Your Toddler, Ditch the E-Book and Opt For the Real Thing

It’s undeniable: we are living in a digital world. Not only are adults reliant on their devices, but statistics show that kids are, too. It may sound like a stretch, but children now spend more than 7.5 hours per day in front of a screen. In fact, YouTube videos now reach more 18-34 year-olds than any cable network. But despite the fact that we rely on technology to work and to play, one study has found that when it comes to reading, children benefit way more from a real book than they do from a tablet.

Pediatricians actually recommend against any screen time for children under the age of two. Even though tablets and digital toys and games can actually get in the way of creative play and the interactions that promote cognitive and social growth, that hasn’t always stopped tired parents from giving their child a phone or a tablet to play with. And while electronic readers like Kindles, Nooks, or iPads may be a bit more convenient than hauling out a picture book from the shelf, a recent study suggests that using tech to facilitate story time may not be nearly as beneficial as using an actual book.

In a University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital study involving 37 parent-child pairs, researchers found that interaction between parent and child was far greater when printed books were used, rather than both e-books and enhanced e-books. When parents read printed books to their children, there are noticeably more discussion and interaction about the story itself and personal experiences that could relate to the story. Although enhanced e-books, complete with extra features like animation or sound effects, resulted in a bit more interaction than traditional e-books did, neither one elicited the questions, opinions, and ideas from the toddlers that occurred when parents used printed books.

As study leader Dr. Tiffany Munzer told ABC News: “The print book is really the gold standard in eliciting positive interactions between parents and their children. Our goal with some of the kinds of findings in the study is not to make things harder for parents, but to help them focus on activities that spark interactions with their children where they feel that back-and-forth is really easy.”

The study’s findings actually align with recent consumer trends. Although e-books rose significantly in popularity over the past 10 years, that trend has started to slowly decline. Hard book copy sales increased during 2017, and print books still remain the most popular format for reading. In fact, 67% of Americans say they’ve read a print book during the last year.

“The print book is a really beautiful object in that each parent and child interacts differently over a print book,” explained Dr. Munzer. “Parents know their children well and have to make it come alive for their child to create that magic.”

Senior study author Jenny Radesky, a developmental behavioral pediatrician at Mott, added: “Reading together is not only a cherished family ritual in many homes but one of the most important developmental activities parents can engage in with their children. Our findings suggest that print books elicit a higher quality parent-toddler reading experience compared with e-books. Pediatricians may wish to continue encouraging parents to read print books with their kids, especially for toddlers and young children who still need support from their parents to learn from any form of media.”

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