Printed Books vs Electronic Books

Future generations of readers may use tablets rather than a printed book – is that a good thing?

A recent article in The Guardian stated: “Reading for pleasure is declining among primary-age pupils, and increasing numbers of ‘time poor’ parents are dropping the ritual of sharing bedtime stories with their children once they start school.” Although based upon data in the UK, it parallels my experience in Hong Kong and now Vietnam. I wonder what are the ramifications of this new ‘trend’? International studies show that even parents who read to preschoolers generally no longer read to children once they are able to read competently on their own. Here in HCMC, one sees children as young as two and three sitting in restaurants in front of iPads and other tablets. It is most likely that if and when they graduate to reading, they’ll choose an electronic device rather than a traditional book.

A team from the BBC’s CBeebies channel saw a huge shift in numbers of its users trying to access it by tablet devices other than laptops and personal computers. Touchscreen phones and tablets are intuitive to children and by 2018, children’s television will have adapted to the presence of this second screen, and it will be odd not to have children at home drawing alone on tablets and then having these appear live in the show. Which raises another critical consideration for parents: how will all this electronic media affect children’s eyesight?

“There’s plenty of evidence that computers and prolonged near work can give what eye doctors call ‘computer vision syndrome’ – symptoms that include eyestrain, headache, dry eyes, and blurry vision, as well the neck and back pain that result from poor posture,” says Dr. Nam Tran Pham, an American Board-certified ophthalmologist and Medical Director at the American Eye Center in Crescent Plaza, Phu My Hung.

“In children, increased use of the eyes for near distances may be implicated in causing elongation of the eye that leads to more nearsightedness. The greatest concern with the iPad (or other hand-held recreational electronic devices) is that they are being used by younger and younger children, and because they are so entertaining, for longer and longer periods of time. This can potentially lead to more eye problems that will show up in the future that we don’t see now,” she continues. The safest approach is for parents to allow the use of these devices in moderation, balanced with other healthy outdoor activities.

Lauralynn Goetz, B.A., M.M.Ed. US, is a director of an early childhood education center in Vietnam

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