Most parents in the U.A.E. are not aware of their children’s online activities, thereby exposing them to potential danger, according to a report in 999 Magazine, the official English language monthly of the Ministry of Interior.
The magazine spoke to parents, media managers and internet giants and found that children in the U.A.E. are online on an average of two to six hours a day, and this increases the risk of children having access to inappropriate content or being contacted by predators.
The cover story of 999’s October issue exposes the hidden world of dangerous apps. Most children aged over 10 in the U.A.E. have at least one smart device, and on this they can download applications that allow them to chat with strangers (who are potentiallly often sexual predators), send photographs that could embarrass them later or turn them into blackmail victims, and even hide some age-inappropriate apps from the device screen. Social media apps also promote anonymity, which allows children to bypass parental supervision.
Lt. Col Awadh Saleh Al Kindi, Editor-in-Chief of 999, said, "Social media apps enable unmonitored access to content that can be potentially of danger to children. While the U.A.E. strives to protect citizens and residents from cyber pitfalls, parents must also take an active role in the battle for digital safety. Parents must be aware of what their children are doing online and advise them not to engage with strangers, even those who claim to be children themselves." A study by Common Sense Media, a US-based non-profit organisation, estimates that children today spend over 60 hours of screen time every week on their smart devices.
A 2013 Pew Research Centre survey found that nearly 40 percent of teens say that they have lied about their age to gain access to a site or create an account.
Further, a study by child psychologist Dr. Tanya Byron -- commissioned by the UK government to investigate the risks posed to children by exposure to the Internet and video games -- found that there was a "generational digital divide, which means parents do not necessarily feel equipped to help their children in this space.
The speed with which the industry evolves makes it hard to keep track of possible perils – new apps, new social media platforms and new games become popular with pre-teens and teenagers before parents even know they exist.
Additionally, according to The Social Age study by knowthenet.org.uk, released earlier this year, around 59 percent of children have used a social media network by the time they are 10 (despite them being age restricted), and 43 percent have messaged strangers online by the time they are 12. Anonymous chat apps open them to the risk of predators, with the anonymity also making them more likely to share inappropriate material.
999 Magazine is a part of the strategic plan of the Ministry of Interior to provide media coverage for the activities and efforts of the Ministry and Abu Dhabi Police. It also aims to encourage the public to contribute to the reduction of crime and enhancement of safety in the U.A.E..