Digital addiction’s early start stirs concern in Gulf countries

Sleep onset is delayed due to light emissions from the screen, which keeps the brain alert for a significant amount of time after the screen time finishes. (Shutterstock)
Updated 22 June 2019

Digital addiction’s early start stirs concern in Gulf countries

  • The Gulf region is home to some of the youngest screen addicts in the world, experts told Arab News
  • Time spent by children in front of a screen and the quality of content on the screen are viewed as linked to negative outcomes

DUBAI: As children and toddlers spend more time tethered to their screens, experts across the Gulf region are warning of the potential health ramifications facing a young generation of digital addicts glued to mobile devices, iPads and television screens. 

The impact on sleep and dietary and social habits, coupled with risks to a child’s posture, eyesight and communications skills are all risk factors for youngsters across the region, according to experts. 

In Canada and the US, experts say children should not use screens before they are at least 18 months old. 

The UK, like the Arab world, avoids setting limits on screen time use for children of all ages. However, according to a Saudi-based expert, the region is home to some of the youngest digital addicts in the world — and it is increasingly affecting the well-being of many.

“Health professionals are talking about screen time because they are starting to see some effects on child health,” said Dr. Wasfy Haddad, a consultant pediatrician and head of the pediatric department at Riyadh’s Aster Sanad Hospital. “Due to widespread use and the diversity of screen devices, studies on their side effects are still emerging.

“As screens are used for work, education, communication and leisure, it is often difficult to control the amount of the time children spend using the screen instead of taking part in other important children’s activities.”

While screen time can keep children entertained or distracted and is used in an educational setting by teachers, Dr. Haddad said the time spent in front of a screen, plus the quality of the content on the screen, has been linked to a number of negative outcomes.

“These include weight disturbances due to a disorganized, unconscious amount of food they are eating (during screen time). Junk food advertisements also have an impact on food habits and its quality, and parents eventually will lose their control on the feeding policy at home,” he said.

FASTFACT

• 70 percent of parents in Saudi Arabia say they want to set limits and parental controls on connected devices, the second highest number across EMEA.

• 59 percent of parents across Europe, Middle East and Africa allow their child to go online alone in their bedrooms.

•34 percent of parents in Saudi Arabia allow their child to go online alone in their bedrooms.

“Sleep onset is also delayed, making the total sleeping hours less than usual due to light emissions from the screen, which keeps the brain alert for a significant amount of time after the screen time finishes.

“Screen time also has its impact on communication skills, leading to the isolation of the child for a long time from people around, missing out on the opportunities to develop language through play and interaction with others.”

As concerns mount over the effects of digital addiction, Dr. Haddad suggests that screen time be banned for children under the age of two and that parents ensure every child gets between eight to 12 hours sleep at night, while one hour of exercise should always take priority over screen time.

Experts also advise parents and minders to set screen time guidelines for families and involve the older children in the decision-making — with his recommendations being a maximum of two hours a day. Families should also encourage a “digital blackout” during certain times of the day, such as during meals, and keep TVs out of bedrooms.




Experts are concerned that children are spending more time on their screens than they do in activities such as playing outdoors. (Reuters)

According to a study by Norton, Saudi Arabia has some of the youngest screen addicts in the world, with children in the Kingdom on average receiving their first phone at the age of seven.

Furthermore, children in Saudi Arabia spend more time in front of a mobile screen than playing outdoors, with more than a quarter of parents saying their child or children spend more time than their parents online.

On average across Saudi Arabia, children spend close to three hours of their leisure time on mobile devices every day, almost an hour longer than the average amount of time spent playing outdoors. This meant the Kingdom ranked third globally for screen time on mobiles, while the UK topped the worldwide charts.

According to Nick Shaw, vice president and general manager of Symantec’s Norton business in the Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) regions, “Despite the challenges, parents in Saudi Arabia are very keen to manage their child’s device use. Almost three out of four parents in Saudi Arabia (70 percent) say they want to set limits and parental controls on connected devices, the second highest number across EMEA.

“Over half of parents across EMEA (59 percent) allow their child to go online alone in their bedrooms, and over a third (35 percent) admit this is true even for children aged from five to seven. For parents in Saudi Arabia, 34 percent allow their child to go online in their bedroom.”

Saudi Arabia has some of the youngest screen addicts in the world, with children on average receiving their first phone aged seven.

Norton Study

A separate YouGov study has also found that close to nine in 10 children across UAE and Saudi Arabia have access to tablets, smartphones or other handheld electronic devices with screens.

At the same time, digital addicts are getting younger. 

Dr. Sameh Abdulmagid, a specialist in pediatrics at Bareen International Hospital in UAE’s Mohammed Bin Zayed City, is blunt when asked about the potential harm of excessive screen time.

“Screens have become a great danger for our children. It disentangles the child from the real world and imprisons him in the process,” Dr. Abdulmagid told Arab News.

“Observing the contents of what our child is connected to is very important and has high impact in limiting the bad effects of the digital screens.”

Dr. Abdulmagid also advised parents to take measures to limit screen time.

“They should encourage their children to be involved in real-life events, share face-to-face moments, play with others to make them more social and develop social characteristics.Providing the child platforms for activities such as arts and crafts, sports and club activities will help in the physical, mental, and emotional development of the child.

“On the other hand, if parents must allow access, there should be rules for children in using screens. For example, postpone or limit the time for using it on a daily basis.”

Dr. Abdulmagid said there is much debate how long parents should let children to use screens.

“One hour daily is reasonable enough to avoid affecting the sleeping time and eating time of children,” Dr. Abdulmagid said.

“Moreover, the hazards of obesity and lesser physical activities can lead to serious health problems such as developing Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and other physical impairments.

“Unfortunately, we have a growing number of children who suffer visual, psychological and physical problems as an after-effect of spending many hours in front of screens.”

 


Inside Fishbone, the latest restaurant from Chef Susy Massetti

Fishbone is by Chef Susy Massetti. (Supplied)
Updated 21 February 2020

Inside Fishbone, the latest restaurant from Chef Susy Massetti

MANAMA: Chef Susy Massetti is a long-established star of the region’s culinary scene — from five-star hotel kitchens in the UAE and Bahrain to her unique concept at Bahrain’s multi-award-winning Masso by Chef Susy Massetti.

Having left Masso just over two years ago, many Gulf foodies were left wondering where she had gone. The answer is Fishbone, a gorgeous spot tucked away in the Novotel Al-Dana Resort, close to town but with a seaside feel, where she has had a hand in everything from the interior setup — even down to the fabric design — to, of course, the kitchen and menu (which, by the way, is not all seafood).

The restaurant has a gorgeous, and uber-romantic, outdoor terrace with liberal sprinkling of fairy lights. (Supplied)

I was lucky enough to try out a selection of chef’s recommendations on a cool evening recently — and no, this is not the customary British obsession with the weather, but an excuse to mention the gorgeous, and uber-romantic, outdoor terrace with its liberal sprinkling of fairy lights. I chose to sit inside because of the chill, but it will surely be warmer soon.

I was by the ceviche, knowing it to be one of Chef Susy’s signature dishes. But, instead, I went with the recommendation of Fishbone’s Poke Bowl — sushi-grade tuna with avocado, red onions, sesame seeds, coriander and black rice, with Asian dressing.

Chef Susy Massetti is a long-established star of the region’s culinary scene. (Supplied)

Firstly, it looks beautiful, with the black rice adding a visual twist. And that same black rice also contributes to the texture mix, slightly rougher and nuttier than its white counterpart. The abundant raw tuna is a fish lover’s dream, fresh and succulent. The flavor additions are a perfect mix, giving just the right piquancy without overpowering the tuna. If you’re not a fan of coriander, don’t feel shy about asking for it to be omitted, the kitchen is very happy to oblige — though you’ll be missing out slightly.

For my main course, I was delighted to discover a whole section of the menu devoted to truffles. In an ‘Every day’s a school day’ moment, Chef Susy informed me that, as well as working with top-quality imports, she’s also a big fan of local truffles. I never even knew such a thing existed. Apparently, in season, the desert sands of Saudi Arabia are abundant with both white and black truffles and they’re particularly plentiful after rainfall.

Fishbone is a gorgeous spot tucked away in the Novotel Al-Dana Resort in Bahrain. (Supplied) 

I chose white truffle risotto. In my view, it’s the ultimate comfort food, and I wasn’t disappointed. The Arborio rice was perfectly cooked — tender and creamy without a hint of stickiness. The generous portion of wafer-thin truffle slices, pungent, and with that unmistakable delicate taste, was the cherry on the cake, so to speak.

Purely in the interests of research, you understand, I went for a second main of Branzino Al Limone — seabass fillet with a classic lemon-and-caper sauce. Delicious! The flesh was that perfect consistency of fall-off-the-fork tender but still firm enough to retain its robust meaty texture and the accompanying sauce demonstrates the skill of the kitchen — the simplest dishes are often the hardest to get right.

In season, the desert sands of Saudi Arabia are abundant with both white and black truffles and they’re particularly plentiful after rainfall. (Supplied)

At this point, I have to confess that I should have taken the advice on the menu: “Life is short, leave space for the cake.” With choices including chocolate toffee pudding with mascarpone cream, strawberries with jaggery and balsamic syrup, and baked yoghurt with fresh berries, I would have been very much in my element. Sadly, I simply could not fit any more in — the price for having two main courses. However, I shall treat my omission as an excuse to return, not that one is needed.

And if you’re in Saudi Arabia, you don’t need to wait for your next trip across the causeway to sample Chef Susy’s culinary creations, as you’ll also find her at the recently launched Eat’sy on the corniche in Alkhobar. I feel a road trip coming on.