x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

TV images of unrest not for children, experts say

Children in the UAE should not be allowed to watch violent scenes of civil unrest in the Arab world, experts say.

Parents are being warned about the possible psychological damage of exposing their children to violent television images of the civil unrest in Libya and elsewhere in the Arab world.

And it is not just children who should refrain from viewing. Adults who have witnessed past conflicts may experience painful memories triggered by the violent images.

It is easy for parents to get caught up in the intensity of news coverage and forget their children are there, but that can be very unhealthy for them, said Dr Yousef Abouallaban, a consultant psychiatrist and director of the American Centre for Psychiatry and Neurology in Abu Dhabi.

"The first thing you see is people screaming, bleeding, yelling - how can they understand this?" Dr Abouallaban said. "It increases anxiety, and can cause nightmares. Whatever they watch they see it in their sleep; [it] may make them also scared the next day, unable to concentrate or focus in schools."

He recommended keeping children under 12 or 13 away from such images altogether.

Dr Abouallaban said older children should be allowed to watch televised images of conflict under parental supervision so they can ask questions about what they see.

Dr Peter Polatin, a psychiatrist at the Rehabilitation and Research Centre for Torture Victims in Copenhagen, Denmark, raised the emergence of the unrest - and its impact on viewers - at a recent trauma conference in Al Ain. "It is a message to tell us traumatic experience is something we all face," he said.

Parents may be encouraging their children to watch, so they can learn about their home country's history as it unfolds, but the scenes are "too much" for young ones, said Dr Fadwa al Mughairbi, the head of United Arab Emirates University's psychology and counselling department.

On the other hand, she said, the news could help children understand more about important issues, provided they could handle it - and that was something parents could make individual judgement calls about.

"It depends on age of the child, and their maturity. If they do not tend to panic, then you can help them understand. It would be good to explain human rights to them," she said.

While parents can be blamed for exposing their children to images they cannot yet handle, news channels in the Arab world should give more warning before airing troubling footage, said Dr Abeer al Najjar, a media professor at American University in Sharjah.

"You see the whole atmosphere not sensitive to the best interests of children right now," she said. "Definitely the best case scenario is to give warning that strong images will be [shown]."

Children are not the only ones who suffer from watching. Adults, especially ones with a history of anxiety or depression, or experience with surviving past conflicts, are also vulnerable.

"When existing patients see these scenes, it triggers old trauma - for Lebanese who observed civil war it would trigger old painful memories - so then we have to adjust medication," Dr Abouallaban said. "Even people with anxiety should not watch news."

People who suffer from depression or anxiety do not need an additional burden and should limit their exposure to news, Dr al Mughairbi said.

"They should watch the news once a week, because it is important to stay connected to the real world, regardless of having problems," she said, adding that listening to the radio may be a better option. "People who are sensitive and cannot get images out of their mind should listen to the news, they do not need to see images," she said. "People react differently; some people cannot sleep at night."

She suggested people could help ease their frustration and sense of "watching and doing nothing" by making a donation to relief efforts, either through the UAE Red Crescent Authority or any official organisation.

osalem@thenational.ae