x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Parents want safety net when their children are surfing social media

Nearly half of all residents polled for a new survey said they were extremely worried about the content children are being exposed to on social media sites.

ABU DHABI // Nearly half of all residents polled for a new survey said they were extremely worried about the content children are being exposed to on social media sites.

Only five per cent said it was not a concern, and 59 per cent of those with children under 13 in their household said they always monitored internet use.

The survey of 760 UAE residents was conducted this month for Al Aan TV's Nabd al Arab ("Arabs' Pulse") programme by YouGov Siraj.

The results have a margin of error of four percentage points.

Only one in 20, or five per cent of respondents, said they thought children under 13 were safe online, while 40 per cent of those with children said they allowed them to access social media sites.

"Social media has two sides: positive, in terms of education, information, exploration, but also there is a negative side of it that more and more, children are being exposed to - people who intend to harm them, or dangerous ideas," said Qais Al Tamimi, an assistant professor of mass communications at UAE University. "You cannot stop these things. All you can do is to educate your children, tell them what is right and what is wrong."

Residents were divided about the effect of new technologies on children. More than 43 per cent said they thought it had a positive effect, while 41 per cent felt it was negative. Barely anyone, or two per cent, thought it had no effect.

Forty-four per cent strongly agreed that children under 18 were too young to own a smart phone.

When asked who should be responsible for monitoring children's activities online, 44 per cent said it was at least partly the duty of the country's internet regulatory committee. Of the Emiratis, nearly two-thirds thought so.

Fifty-two per cent said it was also the responsibility of older siblings to supervise younger children when they went online. More than a fifth put part of the burden on the website manager.

Howard Reed, the senior director of the Higher Colleges of Technology and a parent of a 13-year-old, suggested teachers should lay the ground rules for using modern technology intelligently and safely.

"As the world becomes more complicated, educational institutions have to take on the mantle of responsibility," he said. "As a parent, I don't monitor 100 per cent of anything my child does, and probably haven't since he was about a year old. But a regulatory committee should be the last resort for monitoring the internet or any kind of social network."

As times change, it is important to allow children to spend some time interacting online, said Dana Shadid, a producer on Nabd al Arab.

"Parents realise that they cannot take access away from their children because it is important in terms of their education and learning," she said.

There was a widespread belief, too, that radiation from mobile phones is harmful to children. Some 46 per cent strongly agreed, while 34 per cent somewhat agreed. An agency of the World Health Organisation recently classed mobile phone radiation as a possible cancer risk on par with pickled vegetables.

econroy@thenational.ae