Researchers encourage parents to read to their children the good old fashioned way.

By Leah Groth
October 01, 2019
Getty Images/Maskot

It can be tempting to pick up your phone or tablet for storytime with your children. After all, with technology, you have access to endless amounts of books at any given moment no matter where you are. However, according to new research, reading a book on your smart device doesn't maximize quality time with your kids. A new study published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics claims that traditional print books promote interaction between child and parent much more than e-books.

"Shared reading promotes children's language development, literacy, and bonding with parents. We wanted to learn how electronics might change this experience," explains lead author Tiffany Munzer, M.D., a fellow in developmental behavioral pediatrics at the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children's Hospital, in a story on the university website. "We found that when parents and children read print books, they talked more frequently and the quality of their interactions were better."

The study involved 37 parents-toddler families who tried out three different storytime methods: print books, basic electronic books on a tablet, and enhanced e-books. Not only was there less interaction between the parents and children with electronic books, but the conversations that did occur were more about the technology of the gadgets than the stories themselves.

For example, many of the toddlers became distracted by the tech, playing with the volume or pushing buttons. Parents were then forced to address the behavior during the reading and parents also tended to avoid commenting on the stories or asking their children questions when reading from a tablet.

Munzer pointed out that with an actual book, however, the conversation was more likely to involve questions and comments, not only encouraging healthy child development (which is one of the reasons experts promote reading to children in the first place) but also promoting parent/child bonding.

"Parents strengthen their children's ability to acquire knowledge by relating new content to their children's lived experiences," Dr. Munzer says. "Research tells us that parent-led conversations are especially important for toddlers because they learn and retain new information better from in-person interactions than from digital media."

"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," agrees senior author Jenny Radesky, M.D., developmental behavioral pediatrician at Mott. "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."

If you need more evidence to reach toward the bookshelf, kids spend too much time in front of a screen anyway (although reading on a screen is still better than playing video games). By encouraging them to read actual print books, you are getting them in the habit of not being so reliant on technology⁠—and that isn't such a bad thing!

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