x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 July 2017

Expatriate parents spend less than an hour a day with their children, survey reveals

Experts warn that children who receive little parental involvement and guidance could suffer from low self-esteem, poor academic achievement and social problems.

ABU DHABI // Expatriate parents are spending as little as 50 minutes a day with their children, a new survey suggests.

The majority – 59 per cent – blamed long working hours and commuting times, while TV, internet use and household tasks were also contributory factors.

Five per cent of families said their children were of an age where they did not want to spend time with them.

Experts warned that children who receive little parental involvement and guidance could suffer from low self-esteem, poor academic achievement and social problems.

“Fifty minutes is definitely not enough for the child. Both parents should try to spend two hours at least with their children and to communicate without the need for televisions or phones. They must talk to them about school, their friends and social issues or any topic of interest,” said Ahmed Al Omosh, dean of social sciences at the University of Sharjah.

“Parents don’t have time to sit with their children any more. That makes the child more dependent on himself, without guidance, or more dependent on another member of the family or sometimes the house maid,” he said.

Children who do not have familial interaction will grow to be isolated and anti-social, which will affect their future relationships, he said. Mr Al Omosh said through face-to-face interaction, children will grow closer to their parents and will have high self-esteem, as opposed to those who do not spend time with their families, who will lack family support and grow up to do the same to their children.

He stressed the importance of parental supervision to keep track of the child’s interactions and growth.

The survey suggests expatriate families spend a little more than 11 hours together in total a week, with weekends considered the best time for family bonding.

Of the families surveyed, 62 per cent suggested that even when they got together and spent time with their children in front of the TV, doing homework, reading or playing electronic games, this did not qualify as family time.

“Family time, or the lack of it, can shape society. Children who spend more time with their parents and other family members receive good grounding in family values as they learn from their elders,” said Lt Col Awadh Saleh Al Kindi, editor of 999 Magazine, which published the survey.

“Family time is important for the child and results in fewer bouts of depression as members feel secure in being part of a supportive family,” he said.

One UAE resident, Rakesh, from India, said he had less than an hour to spend with his two daughters because he gets home at 7pm or 8pm and “definitely needs more time” with them.

“It does affect my children, I don’t get to see them grow. I try to make some time in the weekends to take them out,” he said. “I wish I got off work earlier, maybe by three or four. It will absolutely make my relationship better with them.”

Dr Mehvash Ali, a clinical psychologist who is director for the academic centre at the American University of Sharjah, said family time can be “therapeutic” and act as a deterrent to potentially serious problems.

These include attentional issues, acting out behaviour, low self-esteem, low academic achievement and social problems, said Dr Ali, who is from the United States.

“In later life, such children are at higher risk of developing mental-health issues including mood disorders, anxiety disorders, eating disorders and substance-abuse disorders. They are also at more risk of dropping out of school or college or having lower than expected academic achievement.”

The survey was carried in the February edition of 999 Magazine, which is published by the Ministry of Interior.

aalkhoori@thenational.ae