Are eBooks Bad For Kids?

[Photo via Mashable]

In the eyes of many parents, there’s just something wrong with the image of their child hunched over a tablet computer, whizzing through a program with the tip of their finger. Upon closer inspection, the parent sees that they’re reading an eBook, but still the screen itself is unsettling. Haven’t a few generations of parents been taught to turn off the devices and give children a book instead? What happens to that instinct now that books are digital?

Well, it’s actually quite a tough parenting instinct to shake, it turns out. A new Pew Research Study found that 81% of parents still find that reading print books are incredibly important to a child’s development, and that 81% (again) find print books preferable to digital ones while reading with their child.

The statistics do begin to change a bit when parents are asked about selection and travel. When reading books while on a trip, 73% of parents preferred eBooks (the tablets can also double as a computer, taking up less room). Parents who valued selection also preferred eBooks by 18%.

Does this mean that eBooks are bad for children? No, it simply means that parents are still changing their own parenting habits, and that they still believe there’s value in a simple, colorful print children’s book (which there is).

Yet another study however, might not give solace to those parents itching to make the digital jump. Britain’s National Literacy Trust found that children who do most of their reading online are half as likely to be an above-average reader. It also found that “those who read only on-screen are also three times less likely to enjoy reading very much (12% vs 51%) and a third less likely to have a favorite book (59% vs 77%).”

While the favorite book statistic is more indicative of reading habits shifting away from contained long-form stories and more towards shorter, serialized works, the advanced reader statistic is a bit alarming. Does reading eBooks stunt children’s growth?

Digital Book World weighed in, and (as can be assumed from their name) was not pleased by these findings: “Some parents and educators correlate digital screens with ‘unhealthiness.’ For years, they’ve been trying to wean their kids off of TV and video games. TV and video game screens are windows into non-reading activities.  eBooks, however, are not video games or passive TV shows.”

Because of the rapidly changing nature of reading, technology, and education, it’s obvious that the jury is still out on the effect of eBooks on reading skills. However, reading is reading. It’s all about making sure that those eBooks are less of a game and more of an internal experience, allowing children to create world’s in their minds, and to think critically.

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One Comment

  1. Diana Dull Akers

    When it came to ebooks, I was a print book loyalists for some time, very slow to warm up. Yet after participating in a beta test for a children’s ebook company (Bookboard.com) and watching my five year old (who loves books but struggles with reading) read her first sentences using an ebook, I started paying attention. Not all digital books are created equal. I appreciated Bookboard’s approach with ebooks that respect the original book and don’t add bells/whistles/games, etc. “Books aren’t broken” is their mantra and that, alone, gives me some faith (enough that I began parent blogging for them, so yeah, I’ve come around in my thinking on this topic!) Here’s an interesting interview with one of the cofounders about what they are trying to accomplish by choosing to reward kids who read with — wait for it — more books! http://www.digitalbookworld.com/2013/reward-kids-to-encourage-reading-q-and-a-with-founder-of-bookboard/

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