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Print or Digital Text: What is Best for My Child?

Updated: Feb 5

Parents in the 21st century remember a world wherein electronic media was not ubiquitous. Indeed, many of us remember being told to turn off that TV and go out to play, or turn down that music! Their children, however, face new challenges brought by social media and gaming. Parents often feel overwhelmed with the task of disengaging kids from the digital world. Over the past 10–15 years, digital technology has increasingly become embedded in K-12 and university education, which leads to the question of which is better, print or digital text?

The better question is: “What is best for my child?”

The research on learning outcomes when comparing digital and print text is emerging and inconclusive. There are numerous variables in comparative studies including grade level, type of device, teacher professional development, and student preference. So far there is consensus that print may be more conducive to basic reading comprehension than digital, but again, that is not always the case. Below are some factors to consider when weighing the benefits of print vs. digital for your child.

Digital Media (E-books) may not be the best choice if…

  1. … your child is easily distracted. Audio and video, hyperlinks, and ads draw attention from the text itself and hinder comprehension. Your child will also face the temptation of checking social media, gaming, etc., when boredom strikes or material is difficult. (Note: E-readers such as a Nook or Kindle cut down on that significantly because the outside options aren’t available as they would be on a tablet or phone. )

  2. … the glare and flicker of a screen contributes to eye fatigue and headaches.

  3. … you have trouble getting your child off the phone or Xbox. Research on the impact of digital media on brain development is in its infancy, and brain development occurs into our mid-20’s. In short, brains become hyper-aroused from dopamine, the “feel good” neurotransmitter which may lead to addiction.

Digital Media may be helpful to your child if…

  1. …your child would benefit from being able to modify the text. On e-readers, users can change the font size, screen resolution, display orientation, and other features to enhance the reading experience. Such modifications can lead to more time on task and improved comprehension.

  2. ...your child wants additional information. The option to look up a referenced article or concept is only a click away.

  3. … upon trying both, if your child has a digital preference and academic performance isn’t negatively impacted. In fact, many “soft skills” like comprehension strategies, note-taking, detecting bias and validity in online sources can be taught with either type of text.

In today’s educational environment, students in grades 7-12 need to be comfortable with multiple types of text on a variety of platforms, including both print and digital. So, while it’s still a great idea to have an old-fashioned newspaper on the family breakfast table and to subscribe to a few magazines, the fact that your child prefers reading on a screen isn’t necessarily a cause for concern.

Additional Resources:

Digital: A Textbook Dilemma: Digital or Paper? Article Published by The Hechinger Report

Andrea Farenga, Ed.D., has taught future teachers at both the undergraduate and graduate levels for nearly two decades.


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