Yang Hao has been letting his daughter to play iPad games since she was two. Two years later, he is beginning to wonder whether the digital exposure is a good thing.
"The electronic helper is great. She often concentrates on the touch screen for a long time, watching animated shows or learning poetry, and we can enjoy a few moments of peace and quiet," said the 36-year-old who lives in Shanghai.
However, the father has become increasingly worried as the four-year-old girl seems to have lost interest in paper books as a result of her obsession with the glowing device.
"I fear it might have consequences for her intellectual development," he said.
Yang's concern has been reinforced by some education experts who speak against the popularization of electronic gadgets among children and warn of their negative influence on children's capacity to learn the Chinese language.
A report released at the China Children's Cultural Industry Forum held in Beijing in late July showed that, among more than 2,700 children aged 4 to 16 surveyed in 10 Chinese cities, nearly 58 percent have mobile phones and 18 percent use tablet computers.
The report said over 60 percent of kids surveyed chat online via QQ, China's most popular instant messaging service, and 26 percent use Weibo, an influential Twitter-like microblog, mainly on mobile devices.
These "digital kids" are most commonly seen in affluent families in megacities such as Shanghai.
When the new semester started, Yang was surprised to know that two-thirds of kids in his daughter's class at an international kindergarten have cell phones and tablet computers.
The amount of time that Chinese children spend reading printed words has significantly dropped in the last few years, largely due to growing reliance on digital devices, said Wang Huamin, secretary-general of the China National Society of Early Childhood Education.
"Parents should bear in mind that reading books on paper remains the most important approach for Chinese preschoolers to learn their mother tongue," said Wang, adding that previous research shows reading in print should account for 60 to 70 percent of children's daily leisure time.
Her view is echoed by linguist Hao Mingjian, who believes electronic gadgets are obstacles for children in mastering the Chinese language.
"Browsing on screen can't lead them to a good grasp of the pronunciation, forms and meanings of Chinese characters, let alone the profound culture behind them," Hao said.
"Reading microblog posts that contain no more than 140 characters each will surely not help to understand cause-and-effect relationships in words and learn pivotal reading skills," said Sun Hongyan, a researcher with the China Juvenile Research Center.
"When necessary, I need to help my daughter get rid of her addiction to the dazzling iPad apps with professional assistance," said Yang, hoping the girl will pick up books before she enters primary school.
Last month, China's press and publication watchdog announced that legislation is likely to be adopted to encourage citizens to read, measures that are partly aimed at improving the literacy skills of minors.
Despite warnings from researchers that children's access to electronic gadgets may cause various problems, other scholars believe the tools are beneficial for children's brain development.