Studies commissioned by Egmont Publishing suggest that reading printed titles creates a greater bond between parents and kids – and printed titles still carry more weight than eBooks and digital reading.
The findings – the result of a commissioned study carried out by FamilyKids and Youth and the University of Sussex’s Children and Technology Lab – echo recently announced research conducted by BookTrust in association with the Open University, the findings indicate children prefer print books to e-books for both reading for pleasure and reading for education.
The Bookseller reported in February that the BookTrust study revealed that 76 per cent of surveyed parents found their children prefer print books for reading for pleasure and 69 per cent prefer print books for educational reading. As for interactive e-books, only 30 per cent of parents said that their child prefers using them for reading for pleasure, and 34 per cent for educational reading.
Only 15 per cent of parents said that children prefer using simple e-books for reading for pleasure and educational reading, and that study found the reasons for preferring print books over e-books included children enjoying turning the book’s pages, owning their own book and choosing books from the library.
The Egmont-commissioned “Print Matters” research finds that when it comes to creating an emotional bond between parents and their young children, the power of print is “second to none”.
Using Galvanic Skin Response to measure the physical reaction to reading, researchers set out to compare the experience of reading in print with digital reading devices.
By measuring the physical reaction of a child to reading, the findings highlighted that most parents and children preferred to read print books rather than stories on screens.
Closer physical contact between parents and children was one of the observations ethnographers made when comparing print reading with digital reading, alongside better eye contact as kids turned to look at where the sounds were coming from.
Because printed books are familiar and visible, children can look, choose, touch, and initiate reading by taking one to Mum or Dad to read. Children enjoy organising, sorting, repeat reading, collecting (part of child development) and print books enable this.
Print books can become very significant in themselves – precious objects that represent powerful emotions. They trigger feelings of being cherished and cared for.
In turn, parents love the idea of passing books down, much as a family heirloom. It seems the physicality of the object jogs memories of their own childhood experience.
The Galvanic Skin Response tests found a slightly higher response was noted with digital reading compared to print. Researchers attributed this to the more calming effect of having a print book read to a child.
Mixed Feelings on Digital Reading
The Print Matters research also found that when it comes to digital reading, children enjoy screen time and parents have mixed feelings; they appreciate book apps for entertainment, education/soft learning and they want their children to be digitally literate. However, they are also anxious about their children having too much screen time.
Parents involved in the study found eBooks and book apps are extremely useful as a babysitter and the study found that digital reading is most often a solo experience for children – a substitute for parents, used when they don’t have time to read to their child.
As part of the study, parents were asked to use eBooks and book apps to read to their child. Parents found that the interactive elements can interrupt the story. This was especially true with younger children, who wanted to follow the text with a finger (as did the parents), which caused pages to turn when they didn’t want them to. Parents were heard saying “don’t touch”/”leave it alone” and the device became a distractor that was very much ‘present’ in the reading experience: parent, child, device and story. When reading print, this was simply parent, child and story.
Some children in the study didn’t want to be read to from a device. As many are used to using digital entertainment on their own and having control of it, they have a proprietary feeling about devices and want them for themselves. One mum commented, “I feel redundant!”
Noting reading is an emotional experience, the Print Matters report argues that for parents, reading to their children is nothing less than an expression of love. eBooks and book apps work well for the child’s solo use and print is preferred for reading together.
“Print helps parent and child to be physically close; it encourages cuddles, works well for sharing and for bedtime, encourages eye contact and facilitates quality time together,” the report says. “For children, being read to is so much more than the story. It’s fun, deeply reassuring, calming and bonding. Observed emotions and attachment are stronger than with digital. Unconsciously, both parents and children respond at a visceral level to print. The power of print is, in part, about the power of touch, which comforts children and makes them feel secure. Cuddles and oxytocin reinforce the positive emotional experience of being read to.
Collector Appeal to the Physical Book Still Vital
“The very fact that digital entertainment is so prevalent is another reason why printed books and magazines are valued by parents: they provide time off screen and quality time together,” the report continues. “Why are they loved by children? Apart from enjoying basking in parents’ attention, the hugs and reassurance, there is an important point about the physicality of books and magazines. Collecting, owning and sorting is a key part of child development. In a world dominated by digital leisure time, children may feel even more need to have physical things. This is perhaps one reason why TV characters and digital brands licensed into print work so well. The digital world may be much more ‘current’, but it’s not all about that. Children want both immediate (online) access to the authors, illustrators, brands and characters they love and physical representations they can hold on to.
“It is clear that print books and magazines remain as relevant to parents and children as ever, and that they offer something more than the stories and content found within, the report concludes. “They enable parents and children to spend precious time together, and they bring about a deeply emotional response. Reading with children is an expression of love. Considering this, it is perhaps no surprise that print continues to outsell digital in the children’s market.
“Print is preferred for reading together and eBooks and book apps work well for the child’s solo use,” said Alison David, consumer insight director at Egmont Publishing. “Our understanding of why print resonates with children and parents has deepened. For parents, reading to their children is nothing less than an expression of love. It’s fun, deeply reassuring for children, calming and bonding – and it’s time off screen.
“Books and magazines offer some ‘still’ time among the relentless speed of family life.”
Dr. Barbie Clarke, FamilyKids and Youth research agency, added: “We have carried out many in-depth and ethnographic studies with families but rarely has a piece of research touched such a resonant chord.
“Parents clearly felt a deep emotional connection with their child when they read to them using a print book, especially so when reading the bedtime story, raising memories of their own childhood and a sense of nostalgia for when life seemed simple and they felt safe.”
What Does It Mean for Comics?
Reaction to this study in terms of whether it says anything about how kids feel about comics is mixed. “To be honest, one of the defining characteristics of comics is that a child reads them alone,” says downthetubes reader Tymbus Robins. “My gran tried reading The Beano to me. We both agreed that it didn’t work. Comics are written to be read in silence. Saying ‘Gasp’ out loud is just weird.
“I think there is a parallel between Marvel’s use of thought balloons in 1960s Spider-Man and the act of comic reading. Comics are an event in the head. And it was important that comics existed in tension with the respectable world of adult taste.”
“My mum used to read all my comics – after I’d read them of course!” countered Aaron Crane. “The Beano, Shiver and Shake, Topper, Battle, Warlord… all of them, really.
“Great fun, because we’d each have our favourite stories… ‘Johnny Red’, ‘D-Day Dawson’, ‘Bash Street Pups’ etc!”
• Egmont has published an overview of the Print Matters research here
• Earlier research from the ChatLab showing how technology engages children’s attention and makes them more co-operative is discussed in a free-to-view Frontiers article published in 2014