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Parents’ Perceptions of Digital Media

By Christina Tausch, Post-Doctoral Fellow, Digital Media Partnership

Nowadays, children are exposed to digital media from early on.  Parents have a lot of questions about when to expose their children to these media, whether to limit their child’s access, and how best to use these tools to maximize their child’s language and cognitive development. Professionals such as educators, speech-language pathologists, pediatricians and community health workers need credible sources of information on which to base their answers to parents. Our blog will connect parents and professionals with sources of information about digital media for children, report the most current findings in the literature, and describe our own studies on this topic. We also hope to facilitate critical interactions with our readers on challenging questions about the use of digital media, with a particular focus on the impact of e-books on early language development and emergent literacy skills.

Currently, an excellent source of research on digital media is the Joan Ganz Cooney Center. Recently the center published the results of a survey of parental practices and attitudes regarding ebook reading. The survey reported by Vaala and Takeuchi (2012) mostly involved well-off and well-educated parents of children aged 2- to 6-years. The majority of the parents who owned iPads reported that they used them for co-reading with their children. The parents had different perceptions of the various features that are found in e-books. They felt that games, videos and animations in e-books distracted children from reading. On the other hand, features such as audio narration, word highlights and clicking on words to sound them out were perceived as supporting the reading process. Parents who exposed their children to e-books on a regular basis were more likely to feel that certain features supported their children’s reading acquisition. Consequently, they allowed their children to use the iPad for other activities, such as playing games, creating arts or music, watching videos or using the chat function. However, even the majority of parents who read e-books to their children preferred the use of traditional storybooks.

Parents who did not regularly use the iPad for shared reading experiences were more likely to show preferences for the feel of print books, mentioned concerns about increased screen time and mentioned distraction factors that inhibit reading acquisition. One of the most salient results for parents who did not use e-books on a regular basis was the concern that the child would eventually prefer e-books instead of traditional paper books. Another concern was the perception of difficulty to read on digital devices. Interestingly however, the context influenced parents’ perceptions, so that e-books were as likely to be used or even preferred over traditional storybooks while traveling or commuting.

The use of e-books is associated with a lot of strong perceptions, both positive and negative.

We invite you to share your thoughts and experiences with us. Do you like to read electronic books or do you prefer paper? Do you share electronic books with your child? Are you concerned about children’s “screen time” in modern society or are you excited by the opportunities for learning that digital tablets may offer?