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October 13, 2014

Is reading on a tablet bad for kids?

Daily Briefing

    Tablets and e-Readers are becoming the norm for reading books, but some organizations have questioned whether the screen time during reading time might cause more harm than good, Douglas Quenqua writes for the New York Times.

    Child development experts for years have touted the linguistic, verbal, and social benefits of reading to children. In June, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) encouraged physicians to remind parents to do so. However, the organization also recommends that children under age two not be exposed to screens and children over age two limit screen time to two hours per day.

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    Traditional books offer more benefits, some say

    Some recent studies have found that reading to a child from an electronic device undermines the benefits and language development aspects of traditional reading.

    Pamela High, the pediatrician who wrote the June policy for AAP, says, "There's a lot of interaction when you're reading a book with your child. You're turning pages, pointing at pictures, talking about the story. Those things are lost somewhat when you're using an e-book."

    A study conducted in 2013 found that children ages three to five whose parents read to them from an e-book scored lower in reading comprehension than children whose parents read to them from traditional books. The researchers said that children were more distracted by the electronic device and were not as focused on the story. A least two other studies also found this to be true.

    Julia Parish-Morris, a developmental psychologist at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and the lead author of the 2013 study, says, "Parents were literally putting their hands over the kids' hands and saying, 'Wait, don't press the button yet. Finish this up first.'"

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    In addition, many e-Books contain "bells and whistles," like sounds or touch screens that can encourage "detours" from actual reading.  "If that book has things that disrupt the conversation, like a game plopped right in the middle of the story, then it's not offering you the same advantages as an old-fashioned book," says Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, co-author of the Temple study. She adds, "What we're really after in reading to our children is behavior that sparks a conversation."

    Some researchers also worry that e-Books could become the "TV babysitters of this generation," and cause parents to shirk their educational responsibilities, according to Kyle Snow at the National Association for the Education of Young Children.

    E-book advocates say 'interactivity' spurs learning

    However, e-book and mobile app advocates say e-Book "interactivity" is advantageous to kids and helps them to pick up language. For instance, a study conducted by researchers at the University of Wisconsin in 2013 found that two-year-olds learned words faster with an interactive application than those using traditional learning mechanisms.

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    Meanwhile, most researchers conclude that technology is no substitute for in-person learning. "It's being talked with, not being talked at" that teaches children language, says Patricia Kuhl, a director at the Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences of the University of Washington.

    More studies needed to determine e-books' efficacy

    Overall, researchers say evidence has not yet determined whether devices do more harm than good because the devices have not been around long enough to conduct extended studies. "We tried to do a strongly evidence-based policy statement on the issue of reading starting at a very young age [but] there isn't any data, really," High says (Quenqua, New York Times, 10/11).

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