The Sunday Times says

Draw a line in the digital sand

Parents with young kids need no survey to tell them pre-schoolers are attuned to screens. After all, that phenomenon was already evident when Sesame Street was launched back in 1969. Today, kids are precociously savvy with the Internet too. On average, children here spend 4.7 hours daily glued to different forms of media, according to a study released by the Media Development Authority. That trend is also evident elsewhere with some even learning programming via Scratch Jr, an app by MIT Media Lab for kids aged five to seven.

Such a digital sandbox is welcomed by many parents who rely on babysitting tools to get on with household chores (or perhaps even their own Net surfing). So, it's not uncommon for parents to set up kids' tablets for access to an unending stream of entertainment. While technology can facilitate enjoyment and self-learning, constant exposure could wire their brains in ways that are still not fully understood. For example, young people might acquire a predisposition towards violence, posits child development expert Ellen Wartella. Left unsupervised, they might also stumble upon undesirable content or predators.

When habits of restraint are not inculcated early, kids can get increasingly demanding and parents commensurately yielding. Drawing a firm line against unsociable screen gazing, say, during a Sunday meal becomes harder when kids are, in fact, mimicking their parents' behaviour. The fear is that media obsession might grow. Experts from PBS Parents, an online resource, say that "parents who set even the most minimal rules around technology have teens who use significantly less technology than their unrestricted peers". That's something worth talking, not just tweeting, about.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 16, 2015, with the headline 'Draw a line in the digital sand'. Print Edition | Subscribe