SHARJAH // The internet is cutting the amount of time young Emiratis spend with their families, academics at the American University of Sharjah say.
And Abu Dhabi Police have warned parents about the dangers of internet cafes.
About a fifth of nationals aged between 18 and 40 said they spent less time with their families than before they had internet access.
That breaks down to 19 per cent of those aged 18 to 25; 20 per cent of those aged 26 to 32; and 22 per cent of those aged 33 to 40.
In comparison, only one in 25, or 4 per cent, of westerners aged 18 to 25 said the internet had cut into family time.
Dr Ilhem Allagui, the lead researcher, emphasised that the greatest changes were among people under 40.
"The younger one is, the more likely internet use is to have a deleterious effect on the time that one spends with family," she said.
"No Emirati over the age of 40 reported that they spend less time with their family since they began to use the internet."
The study's release came as police launched a campaign this week on the dangers of internet cafes.
"Adolescents are curious and search for secrets, and the web is full of secrets," said Lt Col Mubarak bin Mahirom, the director of Abu Dhabi community police.
"No matter how much we enforce control on the systems, it is no substitute for co-ordination and cooperation between the family, schools, and the telecommunication establishments in advising the youth."
While the study found the internet had an effect on family relationships, the same was not true of friendships, with two thirds (68 per cent) saying the internet allowed them to spend more time with friends.
The project has just been awarded a Dh200,000 grant by the National Research Foundation after being funded by the university for its first two years.
It also looked into social-network use, finding that Twitter still lags its rival Facebook in popularity. While 200,000 UAE residents have Twitter accounts, only 30,000 are active users.
But that could change. Dr Matt Duffy, an assistant professor of communication at Zayed University, sees Twitter taking the lead, certainly among Emiratis.
"Far more of my students are on Twitter than Facebook," Dr Duffy said. "They tell me it's because Twitter is a public network and Facebook is private. On Twitter, the female students feel safer following and having conversations with males if they're in public.
"I converse with some of my students via Twitter but don't follow many of them because they use the site more for socialising than for disseminating and sharing news, which is my primary use."
And three-quarters (76 per cent) use the internet in English, perhaps because of the lack of Arabic content. Only 6 per cent go exclusively to Arabic sites, and 16 per cent use English and Arabic.
The result, says Dr Mouawiya Al Awad, the head of Zayed University's institute of social and economic research, is a generation gap, especially among the wealthier families.
"One of the things we see on television or in supermarkets for example is competitions to know what Emirati words are and their meanings," Dr Al Awad said. "The younger generation is unable to identify these. The dialect is being lost."
Online shopping, or e-commerce, was an issue of great concern to respondents, with half (49 per cent) claiming to feel "extremely or very concerned" about the security of such transactions, and a quarter (26 per cent) "somewhat concerned".
Dr Maurice Danaher, the assistant professor in the college of information technology at Zayed University, agreed people in the region were more reluctant to do business through the internet than those in the West.
"One survey showed that only 32 per cent of internet users in the Mena [Middle East and North Africa] region purchase goods and services online, compared with 62 per cent in the UK," Dr Danaher said.
"Further, it found that the highest percentage of Mena online shoppers was in the GCC countries."
Like Dr Allagui, he believes this is down to a general lack of trust.
Dr Duffy said the country's "mall culture" might play its part, although its lack of a door-to-door postal service is also a challenge.
"Amazon.com ships goods for free or very cheap in other countries because of the established postal system. I think delivery here would be an issue," he said.
"Going to the mall is such a part of our lives here in the UAE. Why would we want to buy something at home and miss out on an opportunity to go to the mall?"