UAE: Beware of dangerous social media trends targeting kids, parents told
They should set limits and have honest conversations about Internet usage with their children, experts say
Experts in the UAE have once again expressed their concern over viral social media trends that could seriously harm children.
Parents should watch out for their kids' involvement in "unusual activities", they said, following the emergence of TikTok videos that encourage the youth to try the so-called 'blackout challenge'.
This particular challenge — which has been in the global spotlight since last year — dares kids to hold their breath until they pass out. In 2021, two girls in the US died after taking part in it, prompting parents to sue the platform.
“Parents need to set boundaries about Internet usage. They should also have an open dialogue and honest conversations with children about Internet safety," said Dr Nada Omer Mohamed Elbashir, a psychiatrist at Burjeel Hospital, Abu Dhabi.
Adults can help youngsters understand the guidelines better by setting an example and showing them how social media can be used safely, Dr Elbashir added.
"Use parental controls and safe search settings while children browse the Internet. Be up to date on privacy settings. Ensure that you are around when your child is using social media or the Internet, and make sure they are following the age requirement when they want to download Facebook or TikTok or any other app."
Wellness coaches and psychology experts highlighted that bullying is also prevalent on social media, particularly among teenagers.
It is possible that some kids, they said, are being bullied into doing life-threatening challenges online. Some do it for likes, too.
Girish Hemnani, a life coach in Dubai, said: “To access and implant a suggestion in the subconscious mind, one of the ways is to overload the conscious mind. This is what is happening at the mass level via social media apps."
"The conscious mind is still developing for children and yet to discern from the thrill and threat, not being able to think it through and be cautious of possible consequences for oneself and/or for others," Hemnani added.
Even school authorities have a role to play in keeping kids safe online.
“Challenges made popular on social media, such as the ‘Game of Death Challenge’, are a serious concern that should not be overlooked by school authorities," said Nora Eldrageely, middle school counsellor at GEMS American Academy – Abu Dhabi.
“As a faculty and staff, our team members meet regularly to identify trends with students and based on this information we take action. Some initiatives include grade-level assemblies or advisory classes," she said, adding that their school has partnered with the Abu Dhabi Police department to conduct regular safety talks for children.
Some schools even have a “Worry Box” platform where students share any worries that they may have and an AI automated response matches the worry with advice.
Many students have access to school pastoral teams, who are available during break times, mornings and dismissal.
Communication is key to safety
Preaching all the time isn't a helpful strategy to keep children safe, Hemnani pointed out.
"The more parents decide for their kids, the more they will be susceptible to getting influenced. Rather, the approach needs to be, ‘How to use the creative brain to think of possible outcomes and possible solutions?’ The future needs more free thinkers who are tapping into the intuitive side of the brain to think and discern for themselves," the expert added.
Counsellors also pointed out that open conversations are key to ensuring that children are not put in situations where they may be exposed to inappropriate content online.
Paola Sassine, education counsellor at GEMS Al Barsha National School, said: “Talk to your children on a daily basis, give them a chance to tell you about their day, show them you have time to listen. This way, when they are put in an uncomfortable situation, you are the first person they turn to because you have given them the space to talk."