Parent-child interaction can’t be replaced with reading devices

“Oh come on, please, just one more story before bed?”

This all too familiar phrase rings oh so clearly in my head as I think of the times that I stayed up begging my mom or dad before I went to sleep.

I longed to hear about the princesses, dragons and far-away lands that were in my books, so that I could relive the stories in my dreams.

But I can’t imagine that it would have been the same if it wasn’t my parents actually reading to me.

I loved curling up on the sofa and listening to their voices expressively telling Emer Niilo and daughters Jessica [left] and Sarah [right] love to sit down together and enjoy a good book each evening.

Photo by Rachel Kaneme each detail. It was our time together and it was what sparked my interest in reading as I grew older — I can’t even imagine what it would be like if all of those memories were taken away.

However, in our increasingly technology-dependent society, I wonder how the next generation of children will manage as they think back to the times when they had a computer reading them their bedtime story.

Will they recall that defined robotic voice with the same fondness? Will they reminisce of their LeapPad teaching them to read? Or will they feel deprived that they missed out on these experiences because of our so-called advanced technology?

Ever-changing advancements encourage parents to shower their children with these technology-driven toys, but do the benefits really outweigh the cons?

What is really being lost when people switch to screens?

Parental bonding time

“The more interactions you have with a device, the fewer interactions you have with people to learn all those life skills that you need,” says Joanne Baxter, coordinator of the bachelor of applied child studies degree at Mount Royal University.

“The more interactions you have with a device, the fewer interactions you have with people to learn all those life skills that you need.” 

– Joanne Baxter, co-ordinator of the bachelor of applied child studies degree at Mount Royal University.

Baxter says that it’s important for parents to interact with their children, talking, pointing out and labeling things.

This human interaction builds healthy brains as well as valuable social, emotional and cognitive skills that you’re not getting with a reading device, Baxter adds.

“The game dictates when you can respond and how it responds back to you in very set ways, which is very different in the dynamic for humans.”

Baxter explains that this is problematic as many children end up lacking proper human-human interaction skills including eye contact and the ability to take turns, as this is simply unnecessary with a device.

In addition, time spent cuddling with parents while reading a good book is also the basis for building a strong sense of security as children grow older.

Karin Schlegel, a parent educator with Calgary Reads, says, “Continuing to read to [your children], holding them and carrying them through those stories with your physical presence and focused attention can go such a long way to having a child feel that all is secure.”

How to build strong readers

  • Protect time in the family schedule for relaxed, enjoyable reading to take place
  • Continue to read to your children for as many years as they will let you
  • Spend time with books by leisurely browsing at the library or book store
  • Make books accessible – scatted on the coffee table; leave a basket of books beside the sofa and bed; take a bag of books in your vehicle
  • Monitor a child’s time and usage of computers, TV and electronic devices

With constant demands on parents to keep up with their lengthy to-do lists, it’s understandable that reading devices could be considered a perfect substitute — serving as an educational babysitter.

But while good in theory this plan can often backfire.

“They’re giving away the best thing that they could give their children — that one-to one-time with them — they don’t see that’s important,” Baxter says.

Ads for many electronic reading programs highlight, or promote independence in many young children considering the ability to “read by themselves” with a device, as a great achievement.

However, when too much time is spent being independent, children can fall behind in social development. This may lead to a society that will later fail to recognize the importance of face-to-face interaction when there is a digital alternative.

Is there hope?

Yet, it’s reassuring to know that not all parents have disregarded the value of reading time spent with their children. Eimer Niilo consciously sets aside time to read to her five-year-old twins at least twice a day, as she really enjoys this bonding time.

Niilo particularly enjoys the dialogue that takes place when reading a story.

“I like to just sit and chat about the pictures and it actually triggers memories in their minds,” she says. “I love to have those conversations with them.”

“They know how much we love them too because we love to sit and read and spend our time with them. They don’t see us off doing computer stuff and putting them in front of a computer or a TV.”

Looking at the bigger picture, it’s important to remember that just because the technology is available, doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s the right choice. Reading devices, like any other children’s toy, have a time and a place but they should be limited — we cannot rely on them to take on the role of a parent, a teacher or a babysitter.

The memories that can be created when you share a book with your children cannot be bought at the store.

rkane@cjournal.ca

Do you think books should ever be replaced by technology?