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Are E-Books Too Distracting for Kids?

Samsung Tablet: PC Plus Magazine/Getty Images, Bottom right tablet: Shutterstock. All others Courtesy of Oceanhouse Media

With the Jack and the Beanstalk e-book by Ayars Animation, parents and children have fun making the cow moo, humming along with the magic harp, and watching the giant sway back and forth atop the shamrock-green stalk. But don't expect the kids to remember what Jack exchanged for the magic beans. What they probably will remember: Mom yelping, “Don't touch that. Swipe here!”

Apparently, storytime in the 21st century can impede family QT. Researchers say that when you let the e-reader stand in for a traditional book, the quality of the parent-child interaction is marginalized as parents spout instructions about the embedded digital enhancements. Not to mention that all those mooing cows and magic harps can diminish your child's ability to comprehend the story.

Julia Parish-Morris, Ph.D., did one of the first studies about e-books and early reading comprehension at Temple University, in Philadelphia. “We found parents provided less dialogue about the content as the child took control of the device,” she says.

Michel Kripalani is the president of Oceanhouse Media, which has produced hundreds of e-books, including the Dr. Seuss series. The father of two says his company leaves out many “bells and whistles” in their digital apps that “distract from the reading experience.” (His storytime gadget of choice: iPad.)

Many e-books come with puzzles and educational perks (like sounding out words and tracing letters) that can be beneficial. Even Parish-Morris admits that, over time, “e-books might provide additional benefits that traditional stories may not.”

Here's how to get the most out of your e-books.

BE AN ACTIVE PARTICIPANT Pilot your child through the story, pausing to ask questions to make sure she comprehends.

LESS IS MORE Choose apps that mimic the experience of reading traditional books. Turn off the dialogue and sounds, and read the story in your own voice.

KEEP TABS Kids-bookreview.com does a great job of dissecting the latest e-books. Under “Pick a chapter,” choose “ebooks.”

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