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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 September 2018

Parents glued to smartphone screens setting poor example for children, forum hears

Experts voice concerns over young people being 'ignored'

Rym Al Falasy, secretary general of the Supreme Council for Motherhood and Childhood, speaks at a conference about Internet addiction. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Rym Al Falasy, secretary general of the Supreme Council for Motherhood and Childhood, speaks at a conference about Internet addiction. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Experts at a symposium on warned that kids are mimicking the worst habits of their parents in their addiction to smart devices.

In 90 per cent of the time, it is the parents’ fault that their children are addicted to the internet, said Dr Najla Al Naqbi, board member of the emirates Safer Internet Society (eSafe) and manager of e-learning and innovation at the Department of Education.

Parents, who often had their eyes glued to their screens, were ignoring their children. In turn, their children have begun to imitate their parents addiction to smart devices.

At a child internet addiction symposium held at the General Women’s Union in Abu Dhabi on Monday, a panel of experts agreed that parents were being poor role models.

Rym Abdulla Al Falasy, Secretary General of The Supreme Council for Motherhood and Childhood said that 75 percent of the people in the UAE use smart devices such as mobile phone and tablets and 73 per cent spend their time on social networking sites and video games.

Dr Saeed Al Dhaheri, member of eSafe noted: “The UAE ranks first regionally in mobile phone users and four in five children own an electronic device and one in five of them use it for more than three hours per day. Today, there isn’t a single family whose children don’t have a phone or an iPad and many parents are unaware of the dangers it poses to their children.”

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Ms Al Falasy warned: “This is a very big concern for us and we have had many cases of children who have been physically and emotionally assaulted because of unsupervised internet use.”

During the symposium a series of short films showed young children whose unsupervised use of social media networks led to them being raped and kidnapped by predators. In one such video, a young boy’s online friend turns out to be an adult who kidnaps and rapes him.

The videos were chilling illustrations of real cases that have happened, the panel warned.

Dr Al Naqbi, board member of eSafe, said parents should be better role models to their children. “When a child comes home from school and sees his mother and father always on the phone then what do you expect?”

She said it was important for parents to spend quality time with their children, have conversations and engage them in different activities.

“The internet is important and we are not recommending that you take away your child’s phone or iPad but it should be used in moderation and under supervision,” she noted.

A sentiment that she shared with the other panellists is that parents today don’t spend adequate time with their children.

“When every time your child comes to tell you something and you ignore them because you are on the phone, eventually they will stop coming to talk to you,” she added.

Dr Al Naqbi advises that parents draw up a daily schedule for their children that includes an activity such as reading or sports and family time. “In today’s day and age, both parents are working and busy but you can organise your time and set time aside for your children," she said.

This was found to be a major contributing factor in children’s addiction to the internet. In turn, this has led to an increase in the number of children with psychological and emotional problems according to psychologists.

Ms Al Falasy noted: “Parents don’t spend time with their children anymore and if they are there with them physically then they are distracted and on their phones. There is no longer any intimacy, care or affection – houses have gone silent with everyone on their phone and no one having a conversation with the other.”

Children “need their parents to listen to them and when they don’t find that, they turn to their phones or iPad’s which could be very dangerous”, she said.

“We encourage children to use their devices and go on the internet – we have an AI minister and this is the direction the UAE is headed towards ­- but all we are saying is that it should be under their parent’s supervision and in moderation,” Ms Al Falasy said.

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