By Dennis Thompson, HealthDay reporter
WEDNESDAY, Dec. 1, 2021 (HealthDay News) — Parents who want to read to their young children and give them a developmental boost should pick up a traditional paper book instead of an e-book on a tablet, a new study reports.
Researchers from the University of Michigan found that young children are more likely to interact with their parents when they share a children’s paper book rather than a tablet computer.
Parents also tend to talk more to their children when reading from a paper book.
Moreover, unruly children exposed to emotional outbursts responded better to their parents when reading from print versus digital.
Child development experts have explained that the point of reading to your child is not just what is on the page, but the experience you have with them.
“Children thrive from cascading interactions with loving and responsive adults in their environment,” said Dr. Depesh Navsaria, associate professor of pediatrics, human development and family studies at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.
“This is the number one thing that drives their development, whether it’s speech or social/emotional skills,” added Navsaria, who was not involved in the study.
According to the new study, paper books produce richer interactions between young children and their parents than e-books.
This is important to know because 98% of families of children under the age of 9 own either a smartphone or tablet, and young children, on average, spend more than two hours a day using digital media, the researchers said in background notes.
“While tablets and other technologies are exciting, the best buzz for your efforts will still be out of that paperback book,” said Dr. Brandi Freeman, MD, a pediatrician and co-Vice President for Diversity, Equality and Inclusion at Children’s Hospital Colorado. She played no role in the report.
For the study, researchers examined interactions between 72 parents and their young children, ages 2 to 3, as they read sets of nursery rhymes either in print or on a tablet app. Rhymes have included standards such as Itsy Bitsy Spider; one, two, my shoe buckle; Hickory, Dickory, Doc; And pat-a-cake.
The results showed that parents who had a tablet tended to ask fewer questions and talk less with their young children about nursery rhymes while reading.
These open questions, Freeman said, are rocket fuel for a child’s brain development.
“If someone reads a book about Clifford – ‘Do you see a big red dog?’ What does he do?’ “Does he seem happy?” “Different things that get a child involved,” Freeman said. “Even if they don’t answer, it’s those kind of curious, open-ended questions that help with development.”
Moreover, children tend to pay less attention to parents when sharing a tablet. They responded less to what their parents said, and naughty young children were more likely to get tired and behave.
Navsaria said e-books are being marketed as better for children because they are more interactive, with touchable hotspots that cause animations or sounds to appear.
But all these features prove to be an unfortunate distraction to the most important thing about reading – the shared experience of parent and child.
Navsaria said the interactive features “act as a distraction because the child is looking for the thing that makes something, which printed books generally don’t.” “The tablet ends up placing these distractors in different ways that make it more difficult. Parents have to work harder to do the interaction work.”
Freeman said the interactive features of e-books make parents less likely to ask questions or talk, because the book does most of the work for them.
Navsaria doesn’t want to demonize tablets, and acknowledged that they can be very useful for parents on the go.
“There are situations when books on a tablet might be preferred,” Navsaria said. “The family is traveling or running some errands or whatever the situation is, and it’s easier to carry a single tablet than a stack of 40 picture books.”
Parents would be better off, he said, if they bought e-books that are stripped of interactive features and work like traditional paper books.
“Choose the most popular e-books, which don’t have interactive bells and whistles, where basically the images appear on the screen like they do in a printed book,” Navsaria said. “This will reduce the potential for children to be distracted. I realize that shared screen reading in this way is probably better than not reading if your other option is not to own any kind of book.”
The study by Dr. Tiffany Munther and colleagues was published online December 1 in the journal Pediatrics.
SOURCES: Dipesh Navsaria, MD, MA in Public Health, Associate Professor, Pediatrics, Human Development and Family Studies, University of Wisconsin, Madison; Brandi Freeman, pediatrician and associate vice president for diversity, equality, and inclusion, Children’s Hospital of Colorado; Pediatrics, Dec. 1, 2021, online
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