Study Suggests E-Readers Actually Undermine Reading Benefits in Kids

IMG_2658“Nobody reads ‘real’ books anymore,” said Boy Wonder, the kid with an ever-present book in his hand. “Everybody has an e-reader and I want one, too.” With his birthday coming up and his school’s recent allowance of e-readers on campus, I thought, “Hey, why not?”

The idea of a portable library in the palm of my son’s hand excited me. Imagine all the books he’ll read! Imagine all the space e-books will save! And with that, an e-reader quickly became his most prized possession.

Soon, he was reading books more voraciously than I could afford to download them. “Mom, I’ve read three books this week!” he’d boast, but I wondered… was he really reading them? He never consumed traditional printed books at this pace before.

New study findings presented by West Chester University associate professor, Heather Ruetschlin Schugar and instructor, Jordan Schugar at the annual American Educational Research Association conference found that middle schools using e-readers suffered lower reading comprehension levels than those reading traditional hard copy books.

But wait, aren’t they the same? Words on screen versus words on the printed page?

Apparently not. The study found that kids using e-readers had a tendency to focus on a digital book’s interactive features while skipping over entire sections of text altogether.

Sigh. It’s not our kid’s fault, what with all those colorful, entertaining interactive displays that threaten to woo their attention away from the “boring words” my younger son describes. According to The New York Times, “It seems that the very ‘richness’ of the multimedia environment that e-books provide — heralded as their advantage over printed books — may overwhelm children’s limited working memory, leading them to lose the thread of the narrative or to process the meaning of the story less deeply.” Oof. While I think we can all agree that interactive features totally rock, they need to be formulated in a way that enhances comprehension, instead of taking away from it.

Schugar and colleagues went on to discuss another study’s findings that revealed over 40 percent of a child’s e-book “reading” time was actually spent engaged in interactive play rather than reading. Grrrrreat, here I thought my kids were exceeding their recommended reading time, when in reality they’re probably only reading 57 percent of the time.

So what are parents and e-book loving kiddos to do?

Study authors have some suggestions:

1. Do your homework.

Not all e-books are created equal. Research e-book options that offer interactive opportunities within the text, not in spite of it. Look for interactive features designed to build a greater understanding of vocabulary and enhanced comprehension. Also, e-book interactions should be brief, you know, so they can get back to reading.

2. Help your child.

While your kids are probably technological wizards, they may not know how to optimize their e-reading experience. Researchers advise parents to guide their children in transferring reading skills from print books to e-readers by talking to them about main plot points and characters.

3. Minimize the use of e-book features

As wonderful as “read-to-me” and look up features can be, researchers suggest using them sparingly as not to interrupt the flow of your child’s reading and comprehension. Makes sense.

OK, so e-readers pose risks to my kids’ reading comprehension that I admittedly hadn’t thought of before but I’m still a believer.

While I’ll forever subscribe to the theory that any reading is good reading, now that I possess a greater understanding of the ways in which interactive e-books can both enhance and distract learning, changes are a’ coming in the way my kids will be utilizing these devices going forward.

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