DUBAI: About nine in 10 children in the UAE spend hours on electronic gadgets every day, while parents, who see a clear link in the increased use of technology and obesity, are conscious not to let their children spend too much time on them.
Nine out of 10 children across the UAE and Saudi Arabia have access to tablets, smartphones or other handheld electronic devices with screens, a survey revealed.
According to the research done online by YouGov Omnibus among 1,009 respondents in Saudi Arabia and the UAE between June 27 and July 4, children showed a balanced usage of mobile devices for both leisure and learning activities.
Parents view obesity as the biggest health issue among kids today with more than half of those surveyed naming it as a serious health issue, followed by anxiety/psychological issues (named by close to half of the parents).
While majority of parents (69%) acknowledge the link between excessive use of technology and childhood obesity, when it comes to the health and well-being of their children, nutrition is given the bigger priority, followed by physical activity and limiting 'screen time'.
In this regard, parents gave top-most rank to ensuring their children eat breakfast (28%), and serving more fruits and vegetables (26%). This was followed by an hour of outdoor activity per day (21%) and limiting the use of screens (17%).
Lina Mahmood, a mother of four, said while technology was a reason for her children to be physically inactive, she ensured that they eat healthy.
“I know that my kids are not very active. This is because of the smartphones and also due to the fact that the weather does not allow them to be outdoors for a long time,” she said.
“To make up for this, I make sure they eat healthy,” she said.
As per the survey, more than half believe that watching videos, playing video games and using electronic devices have educational benefits.
Three in five said that children should be taught to use technologies from a young age, and one in three actively encourage their children to use these devices.
At the same time, parents work to find a balance and avoid excessive use of technology.
Four in five parents surveyed try to actively limit their children's screen time and keep an eye on the content (videos/games) their children access, while three in five parents do not allow use of any devices during meals/family outings.
For Huda Shah, a mother of two – aged seven and nine, finding a balance between screen time, outings and usage during meal times is a chore. “It is difficult for me to convince them to put their devices down,” she said. “I do not want to take away their smartphones because I know they need them to keep pace with the technology but I do keep a check on what they are watching online,” she added.
Huda said sometimes she switches off the WiFi to force her kids to take a much needed break.
Commenting on the findings, Omnibus Research head Kerry McLaren said: “In a day and age where technology sits at the forefront of our existence, it is refreshing to see that parents are still striving for a balance with their children, pushing them to also partake in daily physical activity.
“It appears that the majority of parents see a clear link between the increased use of technology and childhood obesity and are conscious to not let their children depend on it,” she said.
The right age at which children should be given access to social media has remained a topic of debate for quite some time now. According to parents, less than one in three children have a social media account, and among those who do, in close to 80% of the cases, the accounts can be accessed by the parents.
Parents believe children are more likely to spend time taking photos, listening to music or browsing the Internet. (Browsing the Internet and listening to music are more popular in the UAE as compared to KSA). — The Khaleej Times/Tribune News Service