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Reading on Paper vs. Reading on Screens: Which is Better for My Child?

It seems like tablets and e-readers are almost everywhere these days – including classrooms – and that’s led to some concerns about screen-time for kids. It can be especially confusing if your child likes to read on a Kindle or another type of screen, and you may have wondered:

  • What impact does reading have on my child’s brain?

  • Which is better for my child – reading on paper or reading on a screen?

  • Is there anything I can do to improve my kid’s e-reader experience?

In HelloJoey’s “Screens Without Screams” kit, we explore the effects screens have on your child’s brain and behavior. We also look at how viewing videos and reading impact brain development and offer expert suggestions to help you optimize screen use in your family.

How reading impacts brain development

You may have a hunch that reading affects your child’s brain differently than watching TV – and science shows that’s true. Screens impact the way your kid’s brain develops, and there is solid research on how passively viewing a video and reading affect the brain differently.

ParentLab’s resident neuroscientist Dr. Alex Korb shares more. “There’s an interesting study that compared screen-time with reading time. The time kids spent reading was correlated with higher functional connectivity between visual language areas and other cognitive control regions of the brain, whereas watching more TV or more screen-time was related to lower connectivity between these visual language areas and other language and cognitive control regions of the brain.”

Is it better to read a book or a screen?

Of course, reading on a screen or a Kindle isn’t the same as watching a TV show on one of those devices, but it isn’t the same as reading a book, either. Both books and e-readers have their own benefits.

E-readers like the Kindle can be a great way to reach reluctant readers because most kids are already familiar with devices and tend to use technology for nearly everything. One study of 10th graders found that the majority preferred e-readers to books, and that preference was particularly strong among boys and reluctant readers.

On the other hand, studies show that reading on paper results in better reading comprehension than reading on screens. Researchers in Norway found that 10th graders who read text on paper performed significantly better on reading comprehension tests than their counterparts who read the same material digitally.

There also are concerns about screens and the emission of “blue light,” which has been found to interfere with the hormones we need for sleep. Blue light exposure before bed might mean our kids don’t get enough rest, which can have profound impacts on physical and mental health. However, many devices now have settings to reduce the blue light they emit – and some screens, like the Kindle, don’t emit blue light at all.

Practicing Distraction

Another concern with reading on screens is the distraction factor. Most of us use our phones and iPads to chat with friends, play games, check the weather, post to Facebook, and stream media – sometimes all at the same time. It’s convenient, but those notifications and alerts become distractions when we’re trying to read, and multitasking actually reduces our (and our kids’) ability to focus.

“A lot of people think they're good at multitasking, but in general, nobody is,” explains Dr. Korb. “Studies show when you switch back and forth between tasks a lot over a short period of time, you don't get as engaged and don't feel as satisfied with any of those tasks. It's best for both productivity and enjoyment if you focus on one thing at a time, because when you when you switch back and forth between two tasks, you are practicing being distracted.”

Our brains are not good at multitasking, and when we keep doing it, we actually diminish our capacity to concentrate. When our kids are constantly interrupted while they’re trying to read, it’s like they’re practicing being distracted – and they’ll just get better at it. Then, when they need to focus, they won’t have developed that skill. By discouraging background noise while your child is reading, you’re encouraging the ability to concentrate.

App Tip

When it comes to reading on a screen like a Kindle or your phone, Dr. Korb advises that books are better than screens, but reading on a screen is still better for building brain connections than watching a video.

If you allow your child to use an e-reader, adjust the settings to block blue light, or have them stop reading on the screen about an hour before they go to bed.

Also, consider designating one device in your home that’s just for reading, and remove other apps or features to limit distractions like games or email.

In HelloJoey’s “Screens Without Screams” kit, we explore what research says about kids and screen-time and include expert suggestions and strategies for dealing with screens. You’ll discover more about:

  • the physical effects screens can have on your child’s health.

  • how screens can impact your child’s brain development.

  • why a family media plan is important.

  • ways you can use screens to connect with your kid.

Want to learn more about “Screens Without Screams?”  Start your path to a solid parenting foundation in just 10 minutes a day. Check out the HelloJoey app.

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