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Digital Parents: Digital Reading

Resources to Support Parenting in the Digital Age

Reading in the Digital Age


Becoming a proficient reader is a difficult and time-consuming task. MaryAnn Wolf, in her books Proust and the Squid (2008) and Reader come Home (2018) uses some vivid imagery to explain just how complex the process is, reading issues such as dyslexia, the problems of illiteracy and digital disruption to the reading brainThere has been substantial debate on the impact of reading using digital devices. The discussion began with an article by Nicolas Carr (2008) followed by his book, The Shallows (2011)The Guardian article of Wolf (2018), resulted in a further flurry of discussion, while other researchers, including Willingham (2017) argue that the brain is plastic and changes are not permanent. 


As parents and teachers, how do we navigate the apparent contradictions in research? General consensus leads us to believe that both digital and paper reading has a place and purpose, and we should be mindful of what is done when. 

Digital Reading Pros and Cons

  • Focus on information, facts and concrete detail 
  • Portability and accessibility 
  • Other modality affordance such as audio and dictionary lookup 
  • Scanning and zeroing in on keywords 
  • Reading of the first line and word spotting (called non-linear or F/Z shape reading) 


  • More superficial comprehension 
  • Potential for more distractions 
  • Less time in deep reading processes 

Tips for parents: 

  • The majority of student’s reading should still take place off-line using physical books 

  • Students should be able to read at least one book for pleasure reading per week at their level of comfort – ensure you are setting aside time for undistracted print reading 

  • Encourage students to read in their home language 

  • For students who need help with reading we suggest pairing an audiobook with the physical book 

  • Read-aloud to your children – even in middle and high school 

  • Model good reading hygiene including screen-free reading time and book discussions 

  • When students are researching for facts and overview, digital reading is fine, but employ a pop-up blocker or tool (such as Evernote webclipperAdBlockPlus or Mercury Reader) so they can read without distractions.  

Paper Reading Pros and Cons

  • Allows a higher level of abstraction 

  • Better for grasping complexity of thought and argument 

  • Results in deep analysis 

  • Promotes understanding emotions and developing empathy 


  • Focuses on perceived beauty 

  • Heavy physical item that may get lost or damaged 

  • Sometimes harder to find or access 

Resources at WAB 


Find Out More

For more information, feel free to borrow the referenced books from our libraries, or see the articles saved in our Libguide

Reading in the digital age



Carr, N. (2008, July 1). Is Google Making Us Stupid? Retrieved April 23, 2019, from The Atlantic website: 

Carr, N. G. (2011). The shallows: what the Internet is doing to our brains. New York: W.W. Norton. 

Willingham, D. T. (2017). The reading mind: a cognitive approach to understanding how the mind reads. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. 

Wolf, M. (2018, August 25). Skim reading is the new normal. The effect on society is profound. Guardian. 

Wolf, M., & Stoodley, C. J. (2008). Proust and the squid: the story and science of the reading brain. New York: Harper Perennial. 

Wolf, M., & Stoodley, C. J. (2018). Reader, come home: the reading brain in a digital world. New York: Harper.