Reading print books leads to more parent-child interactions than electronic books

1. Parents made more story-related and fewer device- or medium-related verbalizations when reading with their children on print versus electronic books.

2. Children made more book-related and total verbalizations when reading print versus electronic books with their parent.

Evidence Rating Level: 2 (Good)

Study Rundown: Early childhood reading is known to be an important part of cognitive, language, and social-emotional development, and prior research has shown the importance of parent-child reading, particularly dialogic discussions that expand the story. However, less is known about the role that electronic rather than print books may play in development. In this randomized study, researchers videotaped reading by parent-child dyads to compare verbal and nonverbal interactions while reading books in print, basic electronic, and enhanced electronic formats. Reading print books was associated with more dialogic verbalizations and fewer medium-related verbalizations from parents, and more book-related and total verbalizations from children, when compared to reading basic or enhanced electronic books.

These findings are limited by the researcher’s small, single-site, highly-educated sample population, which may reduce generalizability. Furthermore, researchers only used one type of book-reading application, and most children in the study had little prior familiarity with electronic formats. Nonetheless, the study is strengthened by its randomized and counterbalanced methodology and within-subjects design. For physicians, these findings highlight the importance of encouraging print rather than electronic book parent-child reading for effective interactions, though further study into the development of less distracting electronic book formats may be warranted.

Click to read the study, published today in Pediatrics

Click to read an accompanying editorial in Pediatrics

Relevant reading: Psychosocial Effects of Parent-Child Book Reading Interventions: A Meta-analysis

In-Depth [randomized controlled trial]: Researchers used a University of Michigan research registry to recruit 37 parent-toddler dyads with a child 24 to 36 months of age, excluding children with developmental delay, uncorrected hearing or vision impairments, and parents who did not read English. Participants were videotaped reading 3 books on print, basic electronic format (tablet), and enhanced electronic format (with additional sound and visual effects), and randomized to 1 of 36 study permutations to counterbalance for order of book and format. Videos were coded in 10-second intervals for parent-toddler verbal and nonverbal interactions including dialogic (relating to or expanding the story), nondialogic (simple statements naming or labeling parts of the story), text reading, format-related, and off task (unrelated to the book).

Parent dialogic verbalizations were greater with print (11.9 intervals [standard error (SE) = 1.1]) than with enhanced electronic (6.2 intervals [SE = 0.7]; p < .001) or basic electronic books (8.3 intervals [SE = 0.9]; p < .001). Parents made fewer format-related comments with print books than with basic or enhanced electronic books (p < .001). Children made more book-related and total verbalizations when reading print (15.0 [SE = 1.2]) versus basic (12.5 [SE = 1.1]; p = .005) or enhanced (11.5 [SE = 0.9]; p < .001) electronic books. Nonverbal outcomes were notable for greater collaborative book-reading scores with print versus basic or enhanced electronic books. Among participants, 76% of parents had at least a 4-year college degree, and 62% of children had almost never used a tablet to read a book.

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