Traditional vs. Electronic Books and Your Child

Contributor: Dr. Elise Herman, KVH Pediatrics

Simply put, reading to your child daily is one of the best things you can do as a parent. But does it need to be a traditional (paper) book or is an electronic book pretty much the same experience for your child? There have been studies that suggest reading a traditional book does have some advantages.

The Journal of the American Medical Association published a study in September 2019 that showed fewer ‘back and forth’ interactions between parents and toddlers when using an electronic tablet. This type of interplay is important as it builds connections in the brain and helps develop communication and social skills in children.

A recent study from the University of Michigan found that parents and kids interact more when reading a paper book and that communicating this way helped encourage healthy child development. Parents often asked how the story related to the child’s experiences or about the story and its characters. They also posed more open-ended questions, such as asking what the child liked about the story, which created more opportunities for a conversation between the two.

When parents and children are reading from a device, be it a table, computer or smart phone, interactions tend to be more focused on the technology itself. Comments about the device, instructions to not push buttons, how to set the volume if applicable, etc., can dominate the conversation. There has been research showing that “enhanced” digital books that have sound and animation can be distracting and therefore children do not remember the content as well.

So how best to read with your child? Although there seem to be real advantages to traditional books, reading from electronic books is still fine in addition to paper books. Here are some tips to make reading to your child the best experience:

– Read daily including at bedtime – and try not to rush
– Let your child choose the book at least some of the time (going to the library together also builds excitement for reading)
– Let your child hold the book and turn the pages
– Avoid electronic books that are “enhanced” with sound and animation
– During reading, ask questions about the story (“What do you think will happen next?”) and relate the story to your child’s life (“Remember when we went to the park and played like that?”)
– Encourage your child to point to things in the book (“Where is the rainbow?”)
– Read books with simple rhymes and repetition; your child will be more likely to ‘read’ along with you
– Make it fun! Silly voices and acting out the story makes reading very engaging to kids of all ages
– It is also good to encourage your child to look at books independently regardless of whether they can actually read yet

Be a good role model to your child, and read a lot at home. Since we don’t want our kids to see us always looking at electronic devices or a computer, make it a habit to read from traditional books, magazines and newspapers. And remember that whether it is a traditional book or at times an electronic book, it is wonderful that you are sharing reading with your child. Well done, Mom and Dad!

Managed by Kittitas Valley Healthcare, HealthNews does not provide medical advice. For medical advice, please see your healthcare provider.