Early Literacy Research Library (ELRL) - Article

Differences in Parent-Toddler Interactions with Electronic versus Print Books

Munzer, T.G., Miller, A.L., Weeks, H.M., Kaciroti, N., Radesky, J. (2019) Differences in Parent-Toddler Interactions with Electronic Versus Print Books. Pediatrics, 143(4), e20182012. ,

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Publication year


study description

Experimental, laboratory-based study.

core topic(s)

Shared Reading

Population Characteristics


Exposures, Outcomes, Other

Language and Literacy Development , Parent-Child Relationships/Interactions , Social-Emotional , Technology and Digital/Screen-Based Media


We examined parent-toddler verbal and nonverbal interactions when reading electronic versus print books.


Print and electronic books.

outcomes evaluated

Parent-toddler verbal and non-verbal interactions.


Participants recruited from the University of Michigan online research registry (UMhealthresearch.org) and community-based settings, including pediatric offices, child care centers, and community centers.


We conducted a videotaped, laboratory-based, counterbalanced study of 37 parent-toddler dyads reading on 3 book formats (enhanced electronic [sound effects and/or animation], basic electronic, and print). We coded verbalizations in 10-second intervals for parents (dialogic, nondialogic, text reading, format related, negative format-related directives, and off task) and children (book related, negative, and off task). Shared positive affect and collaborative book reading were coded on a scale of 1 to 5 (5 = high). Proc Genmod and Proc Mixed analyzed within-subjects variance by book format.

sample size

n=37 (parent-toddler dyads)


Measure of Potential Covariates: parent surveys including demographic information (parent age, sex, educational attainment, household income, race and/or ethnicity, relationship to child, and marital status; child’s age, sex, ethnicity, and prematurity).


Measure of Language Development: MacArthur-Bates Communicative Developmental Inventory (CDI) short form (total words produced accounted for age).


Measure of Social-Emotional Development: Brief Infant-Toddler Social and Emotional Assessment (BITSEA).


Measure of Digital Media Use: standardized questions assessed the frequency of home child digital media use (including tablet, smartphone, and electronic-book usage) and parental mediation strategies (instructive, restrictive, and coviewing).


Parents showed significantly more dialogic (print 11.9; enhanced 6.2 [P < .001]; basic 8.3 [P < .001]), text-reading (print 14.3; enhanced 10.6 [P = .003]; basic 14.4 [P < .001]), off-task (print 2.3; enhanced 1.3 [P = .007]), and total (29.5; enhanced 28.1 [P = .003]; basic 29.3 [P = .005]) verbalizations with print books and fewer format-related verbalizations (print 1.9; enhanced 10.0 [P < .001]; basic 8.3 [P < .001]). Toddlers showed more book-related verbalizations (print 15.0; enhanced 11.5 [P < .001]; basic 12.5 [P = .005]), total verbalizations (print 18.8; enhanced 13.8 [P < .001]; basic 15.3 [P < .001]), and higher collaboration scores (print 3.1; enhanced 2.7 [P = .004]; basic 2.8 [P = .02]) with print-book reading.


Parents and toddlers verbalized less with electronic books, and collaboration was lower. Future studies should examine specific aspects of tablet-book design that support parent-child interaction. Pediatricians may wish to continue promoting shared reading of print books, particularly for toddlers and younger children.


Limitations include the small sample size from 1 geographic area, the use of only 1 type of book-reading application (which limits generalizability), and that the age range of our study sample precluded assessment of reading comprehension.