The State of Childhood E-Reading So Far

Photo by flickingerbradChildren are now, for the most part, being raised as digital natives in North America. Their little fingers become adept at swiping screens at an early age, but parents and educators are still debating whether children should be reading much online. Where do things stand now? We’re working on some consumer research of our own to find out, but in the meantime I thought we could look at what’s happening in the US and UK.

E-Reading Is on the Rise for Children

Last year, Scholastic released their fourth biannual Kids & Family Reading Report, which focuses on the reading habits of adults and their children in the US. They found that 41% of parents and 46% of children read an ebook in 2012, which is up from 27% and 25% respectively in 2011.

In the UK, research from the National Literacy Trust found that 39% of children and young people read daily on electronic devices, including e-readers and tablets, and that the number of children reading ebooks has doubled in the last two years, from 6% to 12%.

Do as I Say, Not as I Do

PEW research found that, in the US, parents are more likely to read ebooks than their childless adult counterparts, and yet their attitudes change dramatically when it comes to their children consuming digital content. 81% of parents in the PEW research article stated that reading print books in lieu of ebooks was “very important,” and an additional 13% stated that it was “somewhat important.”

Similarly, Scholastic found that on average, 49% of parents prefer their children to read in print. The figure jumps to 68% for children from 6 to 8 years.

Even the most tech-savvy of parents hesitate when it comes to childhood screen time. According to an article published in The Atlantic, even app developers who build educational games and apps for children prefer to limit the time their children spend consuming digital content.

What Do the Kids Think?

Children’s feelings towards e-reading are mixed. The accessibility of multiple ebooks on one device seems to promote the consumption of more books rather than less, and yet reading ebooks exclusively seems to decrease the overall pleasure children experience while reading.

The National Literacy Trust reported that 52% of children in the UK preferred reading on electronic devices, with only 28% reporting that they preferred print books. These same children were also assessed on how much they enjoyed reading, and though the majority responded that they preferred reading with devices, those who read exclusively on-screen were three times less likely to enjoy reading “very much,” and also significantly less likely to list a favourite book when prompted.

Scholastic found that 1 in 5 children who had read an ebook reported reading more books for fun. Interestingly, though, 80% of children who had read an ebook also said that when they were reading a book for fun, print was the preferred format.

With our own juvenile reading study in the works, I am looking forward to seeing whether young Canadians will report the same kinds of reading habits as children in similar English-language markets, or if they will paint a picture that is unique to Canada.