Are E-Books Evil?

There are quite a few e-books for kids out there. It seems like a natural step. Adults are using more and more digital books. Kids typically control new gadgets more intuitively; why shouldn’t they benefit from this medium of reading?

A new study questions the benefits of e-books. This very well designed study looked at the interactions between parents and kids while reading either a print book or an e-book. They also compared two types of e-books: basic (no features) and enhanced (with non-content features such as games). They found that children’s recall of details is lower in the enhanced e-book version as compared with the basic e-book and the print book (which did not differ from each other). However, comprehension of the story was the same for all three versions. Another finding was that children were more likely to engage in non-content activities when reading the enhanced e-book as compared with the print book and basic e-book. Well, considering that the basic e-book and the print book did not have any non-content features, that is not at all surprising. In terms of engagement in general, about 60% of the parent-child pairs were equally engaged with the print and the e-book. Besides those 60% though, parents were more engaged with the print book, and children more engaged with the e-book.

Personally, I like the e-books. Yes, I’m less engaged with an e-book than I am with a print book. And my toddler is definitely more engaged with the e-book as opposed to a print book, especially when he’s reading a new book – there are more things to discover in an e-book than there are in a regular book. That makes an e-book a great sit-here-and-let-me-cook-dinner activity. As a bonus, the funniest thing ever was watching my toddler trying to get his print version of “The Cat in The Hat” to do what his iPad version of the book can do (he was tapping the pictures trying to get print book to label them).

Apparently, my views are not widely accepted. The vast majority of people (81% according to this survey – just scroll down until you see the graph) think that print books are better to read with children than e-books – and that’s from the people who are reading e-books themselves. In general, the survey found that people prefer e-books when they need quick, wide-selection access to books, but they prefer print books when they are sharing the reading experience – either with friends or with children. Note, however, that the children question was not directed only at parents – so this high percentage could be driven by non-parents’ views of what is a good reading activity for kids.

Going back to the study’s findings, to me they mean that while print books are parent-led reading, e-books are children-led reading. And like children’s thinking, it involves exploring, discovering, and generally being all over the place. Moreover, I think that it’s very important to expose kids to e-books, computers, and TV. Why? Because this is the world they live in. One of our responsibilities as parents is to make sure our kids are able to function within our society. Given the state of our society today in terms of the information culture, it is shortsighted – in my opinion – not to expose children to digital media. It is our job to show our kids the digital media (yes, TV included), to teach them what high-quality content looks like, and how to be critical of that content. Should these activities replace print book reading and non-digital activities? Of course not. I think we should make time for both types of activities.

What do you think? I would be happy to hear your stories about reading books (print or digital) with your kids!

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