The Best Way To Read A Bedtime Story To Your Child

A study of 37 parent-toddler duos reading together had some interesting conclusions.

You might be able to read a bedtime story to your little one on a tablet, but it’s best to stick to a paper book, according to a new study.

Scientists from the University of Michigan found tablet-reading results in less “social reciprocity” – give-and-take interaction – than traditionally printed books.

The study, published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, involved 37 parent-toddler duos reading in a lab, done up like a living room. Each read from a print book, a tablet book and an interactive tablet book over a 75-minute period.

Scientists, meanwhile, watched through one-way glass and monitored their behaviour.

The researchers found that reading from digital books had more interruptions –including the children obstructing their parents’ view of the tablet, closing the app or trying to pinch the tablet from their parents. This led to more controlling behaviour from parents, such as holding the tablet away from their children, preventing them from jabbing it (and so on).

And this, in turn, was thought by the researchers to negatively affect toddlers’ willingness to listen to their parents.

“It may be that when parents and toddlers engage over a tablet, it might be harder for them to have moments of connection,” said Dr. Tiffany Munzer, a developmental and behavioural pediatrician, who led the study. “I think part of the explanation for that is the design of tablets: they are more of a personal device. It could be that parents and kids are not used to using them together.”

Munzer thinks the use of tablets could turn reading into a more competitive experience, rather than a shared one. “With a print book, parents feel they can cosy up with their kids and make the story come alive. I think the design of the tablet may be interfering with the ability of parents and kids to engage together,” she said.

Books are a lot more reliant on you – as the reader, or one of the readers – to dictate the pace, the volume, and the details. There’s also the fact that a book, while being read, is doing everything it is capable of doing, while with a tablet you know you’re a few taps away from games, YouTube and all sorts of silliness that might appeal more than the story you’re being read.

This doesn’t mean reading from a tablet or e-book is bad – it’s certainly better than not reading, and interactive elements can be really inviting – just that there are certain things about the experience of a parent and child curling up together and enjoying a book that nothing, however high-tech, can quite replicate.