Mobile devices spell danger for Gulf children

One study found that children in Saudi Arabia spend more than 2.5 hours a day on mobile devices, the third highest duration of the 10 countries surveyed. (Reuters)
Updated 15 January 2019

Mobile devices spell danger for Gulf children

  • The region is one of the world’s most highly digitized markets, putting youth at risk of psychological issues
  • More than half of parents surveyed in KSA and UAE said time spent on mobile phones affected their child’s quality of sleep

LONDON: Is social media damaging young minds? That is the question hotly debated by more traditional, “older” media.
Scientists are increasingly concerned about the effect on children of spending long periods of time online — not least because they know so little about it.
It is a key issue in the Gulf region, which is one of the world’s most highly digitized markets, with children in Saudi Arabia, for example, spending more time online than most.
“There is very limited research on very young children, by which I mean between 18 months and three years old,” said Dr. Rachel Andrew, a clinical psychologist in north-west England who specializes in family psychology.
“It is very early to say whether the brain is affected and so there is no clear advice on the amount of screen time that correlates across differences in emotional health.”
A study by Norton, involving nearly 7,000 people with children aged between five and 16 across the Middle East and Europe, found that children in Saudi Arabia spend an average of two hours, 42 minutes connected to mobile devices — the third highest duration of the 10 countries surveyed, and above the average of two hours, 35 minutes.
More than half the parents questioned in both Saudi Arabia and the UAE said that time spent on mobile phones affected their child’s quality of sleep. About three-quarters of respondents in both markets said they were concerned about the risk of online bullying.
The UAE has some of the youngest digi-addicts in the world. The average age at which an Emirati child receives his or her first tablet is just seven. And this is despite many parents feeling there should be no phones allowed until the child is at least 10.
When it comes to who spends most time on digital devices, children in the UAE rank fifth in the world, according to the Norton study. They were also concerned about the impact of devices such as mobile phones, tablets and the like on their child’s social skills, mental health and physical fitness.
A smaller poll of 1,000 parents taken in late 2018 showed that nearly half — 44 percent — supported banning smartphones for the under-16s.
And it seems they are right to be worried. A study by the American Academy of Pediatrics shows that as little as two hours a day of screen time can be detrimental. Children who spend longer tend to achieve lower scores in thinking and language skills tests.
Michael Duke has definitely noticed differences in his 35 years as an educational psychologist.
“However you shake it out, kids are spending too long online,” he said. “School staff tell me it’s difficult to get certain children to concentrate or pay attention to a task. They can spend two or three hours playing a game online but it’s tough to get them to look at a book.
“Games are designed to draw kids in. There’s an addictive element to them and kids will spend four or five hours a night to get to the next level.”
Baroness Professor Susan Greenfield, one of the world’s most eminent neuroscientists, goes even further. She was among the first in 2014 to voice concern about the potential damage to children of too much online activity, claiming that it was “re-wiring” young brains, driving young people to become more narcissistic and to seek constant and instant stimulation, while at the same time becoming more prone to low self-esteem and depression as they engage in less in face-to-face interaction.
“They are no longer able to go into their own mind, think laterally and have their own thoughts,” she told the Daily Telegraph.
She also believes social media and online games are not only preventing development in children, but also causing adults to regress and become infantilized, with the mental maturity of toddlers.
“What I predict is that people are going to be like three-year-olds: Emotional, risk-taking, poor social skills, weak self-identity and short attention spans,” she said.Greenfield wants social media and gaming companies to be forced to do more to protect children. On Thursday, Baroness Beeban Kidron — like Greenfield, a member of the upper house of the UK Parliament — will call for official recognition of the relationship between the use of digital technology and the health and wellbeing of children and young people.
In the UAE, the poll of 1,000 parents taken in late 2018 showed that 92 percent said social media and the Internet had a negative effect on their children’s mental health.
Dr. Rasha Bassim of the Priory Wellbeing Center in Dubai has previously told the media that addiction to smartphones and the Internet can cause the brain chemistry in young people become “imbalanced” — leading to irritabiity, more emotional distress, broken sleep, patterns, isolation and high levels of anxiety and depression.
Yet those same concerned parents are often the worst culprits in feeding their child’s Internet addiction. They give in to pester power and set a bad example. More than half of parents in the UAE admit their own children reprimand them for being glued to their phones.
Certainly, mental health professionals agree that even if our digital addiction cannot be reversed, it can and must be managed.
Dr. Bernadka Dubicka, chair of the child and adolescent faculty at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, told Arab News, “Smartphones and new technology are here to stay and there are also many benefits to them. However, as we become increasingly aware of the potential negative impact on our children, as a society we all need to take responsibility to help our children to use screen time in a positive way.
“It’s the responsibility of parents, educators, governments and technology providers to work together to minimize the potential harmful effects.”
“My feeling would be that it’s less about ‘all screen time is bad’ and more about parental control,” said Dr. Rachel Andrew.
“I hear a lot about phones at mealtimes or on holiday and the struggle to get them turned off at night. Parents have been forewarned: Be clear to set the ground rules.”
“There’s no prescriptive panacea,” said Michael Duke. “If a child is on their phone two or three hours a night, it’s the role of a parent or carer to make sensible decisions while that child is under your roof.” The message is: Tough love must be applied.


What does Facebook’s plan to hire journalists mean for media industry?

Updated 22 August 2019

What does Facebook’s plan to hire journalists mean for media industry?

  • Facebook’s journalists will be curating stories from news sites and won’t be editing headlines or writing content
  • Stories will appear in a section called the “news tab,” which will be separate from the traditional news feed that displays content from users
NEW YORK: Facebook’s plan to hire professional journalists instead of relying solely on algorithms to deliver news is a positive step but is unlikely to shake up an embattled media industry, analysts say.
The social media giant said Tuesday it would build a small team of journalists to select the top national news of the day “to ensure we’re highlighting the right stories.”
It comes as the US media landscape is plagued by job losses and newspaper closures, with organizations trying to figure out how to record profits in the age of free news.
Stories will appear in a section called the “news tab,” which will be separate from the traditional news feed that displays updates and content from users’ friends and relatives.
“In theory I see this as a really positive development. It is something quite promising,” Danna Young, a communications professor at the University of Delaware, told AFP.
Facebook’s journalists will be curating stories from news sites and won’t be editing headlines or writing content.
The California-based company has consistently said it does not want to be considered a media organization that makes major editorial decisions, and this announcement does little to change that, experts add.
“It’s not transformative because it’s not going to change necessarily the behavior of individuals who are referencing stories on their feeds,” said Young.
“That’s where the power comes from — individuals you know and trust putting their tacit stamp of approval on stories by sharing them,” she added.

"Trending topics" scandal
The tab will be the site’s first news feature using human moderators since it shut down its ill-fated “trending topics” section last year after a scandal over allegations workers had suppressed stories about conservative issues.
Articles not deemed top news stories will still be collated using algorithms based on the user’s history, such as pages they follow, publications they subscribe to and news they have already interacted with.
“Our goal with the news tab is to provide a personalized, highly relevant experience for people,” Facebook head of news partnerships Campbell Brown told AFP in San Francisco Tuesday.
The news tab feature comes as Facebook embarks on a series of initiatives to boost journalism, with traditional media organizations accusing it of benefitting financially from their hard work.
Internet platforms are dominating the Internet advertising space making it difficult for established news organizations to transition what were very profitable print advertisements online.
Facebook announced in January that it will invest $300 million over three years to support journalism, particularly local news organizations.
It has also funded fact-checking projects around the world, including one in partnership with AFP.
Facebook will reportedly pay some publishers to license news content for the tab but Mathew Ingram, who writes about digital media for the Columbia Journalism Review, doesn’t expect that to trickle down to hard-up organizations that need it the most.
“The companies they are going to choose are ones already doing well I assume. It might give them a little extra cash but I don’t see it driving a huge amount of traffic,” he told AFP.

In free fall
Print journalism in the US is in free-fall as social media overtakes newspapers as the main news source for Americans.
Around 2,000 American newspapers closed in the past 15 years, according to the University of North Carolina, leaving millions of residents without reporters keeping track of what their local authorities are up to.
“The death of local news has such destructive effects for democracy. It’s a complex issue that Facebook alone cannot fix,” said Young.
The number of journalists working at US newspapers slumped by 47 percent from 2008 to 2018, according to a Pew Research Center survey released last year.
The total number of journalists in newsrooms fell by 25 percent, the group found, while consultancy firm Challenger Gray & Christmas says this is going to be the worst year for layoffs since 2009.
It’s a difficult time for Stephen Groves, who recently earned a master’s in journalism at New York University, to be looking for work. When he heard about Facebook’s plans, he was skeptical.
“Facebook is not a journalism company and so before working for Facebook I would want to see their commitment to ethical, robust journalism,” the 30-year-old told AFP.
The digital sector is also in trouble.
When Buzzfeed cut 200 jobs in January, 29-year-old Emily Tamkin was let go from a position she had held for just a few months.
“I’m personally not cheered by the fact that Facebook is swooping in and hiring journalists. If that’s the silver lining then we have a very big cloud here,” she told AFP.