Parent-child interact and bond more when reading print books, study shows

Technology has provided us with a variety of ways to consume literature. There are electronic books or tablets where we can store thousands of titles and access them with just a few clicks. But it looks like the traditional way of reading printed books is still the standard, at least when it comes to storytime between parents and children. That is according to a recent study published in the journal Pediatrics.

Toddler reading from a book

In the study initiated by a group of researchers from the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, it was found that parents and children interacted more when they read from printed books as opposed to tablets.

The research observed 37 pairs of parents and toddlers (aged 2 or 3-years old), who read three stories from the Little Critter series back-to-back in different formats: printed book with illustrations, basic electronic tablet, and an electronic tablet equipped with animation and sound effects. They were videotaped in a lab designed to look like a living room, and the parents were given a 5-minute reading time limit for each story.

Toddler reading printed book with adult

When reading via the electronic devices, the parents and toddlers appeared to be less engaged in reading per se, and when parents did speak, they were more likely to talk about the device rather than the story. They also tend to speak negatively when reading from the tablets, saying “don’t push that button” or “don’t change the volume”, when instructing their children.

Conversely, reading from printed books encouraged the parents and toddlers to interact positively. They were more likely to discuss the story while relating it to certain events in the child’s life. The parents start asking their kids open-ended questions than they were when reading from electronic devices. The toddlers also made more statements with the printed books, and non-verbal signs of bonding were seen more when they were reading from actual pages.

Child reading from book with illustrations

So why do printed books work better for toddlers than tablets?

Dr. Tiffany Munzer, the lead researcher of the study, feels that toddlers and parents become distracted by the enhancements that come with the electronic devices, leading them to talk more about the technology rather than what they were reading.

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

On an important note, Dr. Munzer said that this very small study featured parents who weren’t accustomed to using e-books to read to their children. So it’s possible that once they get used to the medium, they will talk more about the story and less about the device.

“This was just one small study using one type of e-book app (which is not commercially available), so it will be really important in the future to replicate this study using different types of apps that are commercially available,” she said.

Dad reading to child

So if you are a parent who uses tablets to read to their children, Dr. Munzer suggests that you engage with your children the way you would when reading from a printed book, and to talk more about the story rather than the features of the device.

Dr. Munzer also stressed that the study wasn’t made to make busy parents feel bad about themselves. It’s about helping them enhance their quality time with 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,” she said.

(Note: This article is for informational and entertainment purposes only and not to be treated as a professional opinion, recommendation or diagnosis.)