UAE: Parents urged to pay attention to children's social media, gaming and internet use

Majority of the children do not adhere to basic age guidelines while watching TV or accessing content online



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by

Ismail Sebugwaawo

Published: Mon 7 Feb 2022, 1:53 PM

Last updated: Mon 7 Feb 2022, 2:07 PM

Lack of adherence to age restrictions and the common practice of sharing personal (sometimes compromising) information online remains a key issue among children using the internet.

Dr Ateeq Qureshi, Lead Child Psychiatrist at the Priory Wellbeing Centre, Dubai and Abu Dhabi, has urged more vigilance among parents about their children's online activities ahead of the 'Safer Internet Day' tomorrow (February 8).

"Safe, or safer internet use – since safety can never be 100 per cent – covers all aspects of internet usage. The starting point is parental awareness about their children's online activities and non-judgemental communication with the individual child or teenager," says Dr Ateeq.

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"Majority of the children I see in our clinic do not adhere to basic age guidelines while watching TV or accessing content online. Many children falsify their date of birth to obtain access to social media apps and websites; parents are often unaware and sometimes complicit."

He added, "Sharing personal information or content – messages, photos or videos – online is also common, yet, worryingly, can sometimes result in serious repercussions. I'm now seeing significantly more cases where a child has experienced cyber-bullying, harassment and even blackmail as a direct result of this. Many video games also have chat or communication functions that most parents don't know or pay enough attention to.

"Children and teenagers often interact with strangers, and they need to have the knowledge and support to manage these in a safe way. It's crucial parents have some level of awareness and oversight in an age-appropriate manner to be able to support their children's safety."

With the internet now an intrinsic part of day-to-day life, particularly for young people and children, age appropriateness online has never been more important, according to Dr Ateeq.

While the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) set an age-appropriateness rating of 13+ years for social media sites in 1988, many experts now argue this age rating may not be enough to limit some of the risks now associated with the internet due to advancements over the last few years.

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Minimum age ratings a good starting point in thinking about safe use of internet

Dr Ateeq is keen to emphasise how a 'blanket' age rating should only ever act as a guide.

"Minimum age ratings are generally a good starting point in thinking about safe use, with the primary function to protect children and young people while also enabling them to thrive in the online environment. However, it's also important to highlight how two children of the same age do not have the same cognitive and emotional abilities.

"Children are usually more technologically skilled than their parents. This can lull them and their parents into thinking that they are always capable of making good judgements in their online activities. Since children's cognitive abilities are still developing, their ability to make complex judgements is underdeveloped. Children and young people are also much more impulsive and more prone to seeking instant gratification than adults are."

How internet is now an extension of children, young people's physical, social world

Dr Ateeq explains how the internet is now an extension of children and young people's physical, social world: "They are customers and targets of marketeers and consumers of content. The online world allows children to interact with friends and relatives but also with strangers. Children and young people share information about themselves, which can sometimes be very personal. Hardly any parent would allow their child to have unfettered access to all these things in the physical, social world. Despite the three decades that the internet has been a part of people's lives, many parents still regard it as somehow 'not real'. However, for young people, it is just as real as the physical environment."

Dr Ateeq believes that for many parents, the problem is a combination of them simply lacking in knowledge and understanding about the associated dangers of the internet, in addition to being too passive when it comes to monitoring their child's internet usage.

"Parents and caretakers may feel their young child is ready for Instagram, Facebook or TikTok despite all of these apps having a clear age limit of 13 years or higher. However, the limits are there because most children do not have the cognitive and emotional abilities to deal appropriately with all the content they might encounter on these sites."

Tips that can help parents support their children in the online world:

Watch, play and browse together: Shared discovery from an early age helps increase parents' awareness of the type of content their child is accessing. It also helps the child not regard the parent as a clueless outsider in their online world. This is also very helpful further down the line as children get older, allowing conversations in a cooperative, rather than an adversarial manner.

Engage and communicate in a non-judgemental way: Talk to your children about their internet use. Help them understand that you are not against online activities but want to be involved and supportive as they navigate this vast and ever-changing, virtual 'world'. Educate them about the dangers of sharing photos, sending intimate messages and interactions with strangers.

Agree family rules: Families should explain and agree on rules around internet use with their children. These rules can include: what sites or apps can be used, duration and timing, sharing of personal information and content, if and how to interact with strangers, as well as how to treat other people. These will help keep children safe as well as encourage them to be good online citizens.

Adhere to age ratings: Age ratings are there for a reason – to protect your children and allow them to thrive. Explain the rationale in a manner appropriate for your child's level of understanding.

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Use parental controls and other technological solutions: Parents have access to a range of very simple, technological solutions to promote safe internet use. Most devices allow the customisation of duration and timings of use and content restrictions.

Monitor activities and usage: It is important to do this in an age-appropriate manner and being respectful of a child's privacy. This should not be a licence to snoop on your children but to do the minimum necessary to ensure safety.

Educate yourself and keep up with the ever-changing online world: Parents can only help their children to be safe if they know what the risks are and what actions to take to help mitigate the risks. This requires a curious attitude and effort to learn about new apps, features within apps and online trends.

Safer Internet Day is celebrated globally in February each year to promote the safe and positive use of digital technology for children and young people, and to inspire a national conversation about using technology responsibly, respectfully, critically, and creatively.

ismail@khaleejtimes.com


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