E-Readers or Books, What is Best?

Reading is one of those great summer pastimes that now has been interrupted by screens. Kids read on e-readers of all types, including their phones, and internet-enabled tablets where they can access their apps and other distractions. 

People often ask whether reading on an e-reader counts as screen time. It depends. There are so many great things about e-readers like they give kids access to endless books, other book recommendations, and they can look up words they don’t know. However, I strongly recommend you pick an e-reader that is truly able to do just that one task. So if they have a Kindle ideally, it is the type that does not allow full internet access. 

Digital viewing creates more visual strain than reading from print on paper because increased contrast (a positive) that is present in hard copy material vs. what the visual system has to do to view pixelation which is what you find on a computer screen.

E-readers, like Kindle Paperwhite and Nook, are far better than iPads or smartphones because they more closely mimic the contrast you find on paper and there is less visual fatigue.

Also, according to Valerie Kattouf O.D., Chief, Pediatric and Binocular Vision Center, Illinois Eye Institute, youth tend to hold their digital devices closer to their eyes than a book and it is that viewing distance that is a real problem. 

Dr. Kattouf goes on to say “The diagnosis of eye focusing (accommodative) and eye teaming (binocular vision) dysfunctions have existed long before the onset of digital devices, but the sheer volume of diagnosed cases has risen dramatically and is presenting in younger children. These issues can also have a negative impact on a child’s ability to learn, concentrate, and comprehend. As symptoms of headaches, eyestrain, and blur present a child may not complain about these symptoms but may simply choose to avoid the near school work that elicits these symptoms or may simply show a dislike for academic material.“

Ophthalmologists and optometrists have been in touch with me since the film’s release to say how they feel they are seeing an increase in nearsightedness, but there is yet still not any rigorous research to confirm this. 

Again, it is all about balance, so please encourage your kids to read whatever way works for them but maybe just show them a study or 2 about how distance to the medium they read is important in terms of potential eye strain. And remember it is not just screen reading, it is also about the general balance of time off screens.

Not that long ago when my family was thinking of watching a movie together, I suggested we all curl up and read instead. I was so elated when everyone agreed. We all got books and had such a good time laying around and reading. It only lasted about 20 minutes. but I can’t wait to make that happen again. 

On another personal note, I am bummed that I can not stand reading books on my Kindle. It would be so convenient if I could. I read paper books because I need to be able to take notes by hand and I need to be able to flip to the appendix to see studies that are cited (for many years I only read non-fiction — not proud of that, but it is true.) I will post some of my recent favorite books soon.

A great place to look for books is on Sue Borison’s website Your Teen Magainze For Parents. Borison is a great thinker and has a lot of helpful insights and blog posts about raising teens.

Here are a few questions to get the conversation started this week:

  1. Do you prefer to read a book for pleasure or for school on a digital device or paper? Why?

  2. What is one book you would like to read this summer?

  3. Do you think you hold a digital device closer to your eyes than a paper book?

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