DUBAI // Children are wasting time on social-networking websites instead of studying or spending time with their families, education authorities have warned.
Most of the 50,000 parents in the capital surveyed by the Abu Dhabi Education Council (Adec) said their children spent less than two hours a night studying.
And the average is much lower - just 30 minutes, says Dr Masood Badri, Adec's head of research and planning.
"It comes down to children's engagement with social media," Dr Badri said. "A lot of parents have complained about this. They are always hooked on through their BlackBerry and other handheld technology.
"What is worrying is they aren't even on their own but are interacting with someone else, who may not even be someone they know."
About two thirds (65 per cent) of parents of private-school pupils and almost as many (58 per cent) parents of state-school pupils said their children spent at least an hour a night on homework.
A recent study of 100 secondary school pupils in Al Ain found most used the internet for communication and leisure, rather than educational purposes.
About 65 per cent spent more than two hours a day surfing the web, and 10 per cent said they were online all the time.
Three in four girls said their parents let them chat with strangers and half were allowed to buy products online. Forty-six per cent said they were using it for homework.
And 30 per cent of girls and 26 per cent of boys said their internet use cut into their study time.
"This loose parental control calls for more attention to educate parents about the dangers of careless use of the internet," said Zakieh Ali Al Disi of the Al Ain Education Office, the author of the study.
"The use of the internet should be monitored and guided by school authorities and parents, so as to prevent the misuse of this facility and to direct it towards teaching and learning improvement."
But Dr Fayez Al Badri, the editor of the recently released book Arab Youth and the Internet: Educational Perspective, says the answer is not restricting teens' social-networking use, but encouraging them to get involved in knowledge-sharing.
"Because of cultural reasons, some girls find it easier to interact online," Dr Al Badri said. "So this should be promoted for the right reasons."
He said teachers should help pupils make better use of technology.
"That is why Adec is trying to integrate the use of technology in the curriculum. It is not about only handing over an iPad but about using it for the teaching and learning process."
Dr Naz Awan, a lecturer in education at the British University in Dubai, found a similar pattern in two schools she studied.
"Schools can encourage their pupils to use particular websites and resources and involve parents as well," said Dr Awan.
She said parents should also be aware of material and sites that are inappropriate but easily accessed.
"There are application that measure that help provide that control for blocking certain websites and monitoring how many times a site has been visited," Dr Awan said.
She said excessive use was also affecting face-to-face interaction with family and friends.
Amatullah Ghailan, an Emirati mother and trainee teacher, gives her son tasks on the internet.
"He helps me search for information when I am making questions or when we want to write stories," Ms Ghailan said.
"Every parent should monitor how their children use the internet. If they have nothing to do they will definitely play games or chat. But if you share interesting websites, links and videos, it will become a habit."