Drugs, bullying, violence and teenage pregnancies - a survey gives some startling results. Manal Esmail reports.

Is teen angst only an issue that is hyped in the media? A survey conducted in the UAE proves that the matter goes beyond our television sets and reveals the degree to which people perceive the reality of pressures that teenagers experience todayTo find out about the potential pitfalls of adolescence in the UAE, 10 students at the American University of Sharjah (AUS) were surveyed after being randomly selected in accordance to the provided percentages of the leading nationalities as stated in the university's 2004-05 admissions prospectus.

Have you witnessed it? Have you been affected? Are you a victim?

Each student was given the opportunity to share his or her opinions and experiences regarding five prominent issues that young adults may encounter.

These were bullying, peer pressure, substance abuse, teen pregnancy and violence.

Substance abuse say 60 per cent

Sixty per cent of surveyed students considered peer pressure and substance abuse as common problems that exist among teenagers in the UAE.

"People here tend not to treat such circumstances in an effective manner, and many parents aren't educated enough to see that their children are prone to them," said UAE national Heba Akasha regarding substance abuse.

"These situations usually result from conditions like stress and suppression and often teens fail to confront these problems."

When asked why such incidents are kept hidden from the public, students agreed that these occurrences damage the image of an individual and his or her family.

"Such acts are against all aspects of the UAE's primary culture," explained Akasha. 'For example, their religion, family reputation, etc'."

Students concurred that those who are between the ages of 18 and 21 are more likely to experience substance abuse and that peer pressure plays a more distinct role for those who are between 15 and 18.

Easily influenced at 16

"Teenagers around 16 years of age are easily influenced by peer pressure because at this period they are still trying to find their self-identity and thus believe they should experience 'new things'," said Dana Audeh, a Palestinian student.

"These things may include smoking, drugs, and alcohol, and if these teenagers don't realise what they are putting themselves into and seek help immediately, the situation will only become worse."

Meanwhile, only 20 per cent of students recognised bullying as a major concern.

"I don't believe that many are aware of the significance that bullying has on children in schools everyday," Lebanese student Ahmad Oneissi said.

Failing to report bullying

"These children fail to report such abuse to their parents and authorities and therefore [the mistreatment] doesn't get eliminated and continues circulating among them."

Students, however, diverged to two extremes when asked which age bracket is more prone to this issue.

While some agreed that those between the early ages of 13 to 15 are vulnerable to bullying, others stated that the problem is more pertinent to the age group of 18 to 21.

"No matter the reasoning behind it, bullying is an appalling way to treat another person," Afsoon Eshaghi, an Iranian national, asserted.

"The worst thing is that in the end it is just accepted as a fact because otherwise people would be forced to confront a problem they fear facing."

With regard to teen pregnancy, results conveyed that such an issue is held as especially taboo in the UAE.

Teen pregnancy

Only 10 per cent of students interviewed believed this is a common occurence in the country. In a nation where culture heavily relies on reputation as a key factor in judging an individual's character, teen pregnancy is considered a big stain on a girl's reputation.

"The culture here in the emirates views teen pregnancy very negatively," Ahmad Al Hammadi, a UAE national, said, "and it does not respect anyone who is involved in the situation. I believe this stems from our strong religious beliefs. Such an occurrence violates all rules of Islam."

Some, however, argued that situations like these expose the double standards in society.

"It is quite unfortunate that pregnancy, which ideally should blame both the male and the female involved, is seen as the fault of the female alone," said Sidra Shahid, a Pakistani student.

Extreme measures

The importance of this ideology was reflected in one female student's answer to a survey question asking how a teenager would cope with such a situation. She replied that the person might commit suicide.

Concerning violence, however, merely 10 per cent of students believed that it is a substantial problem.

Mearl Cabral, an Indian national, expressed her views on the issue. "I think violence is a source of male pride," she stated.

"You see violence everywhere, from malls to supermarkets. Each group has their leader, and for the most part it is always guys. I believe they think that such acts define their masculinity though in actuality all it defines is ridiculousness."

Most of those surveyed said that if they were faced with such a predicament they would bear it for fear of being labelled a big mouth.

"It's always 'I kicked' " and 'I beat the crap out of this guy', and the saddest part is victims and witnesses fear reporting such occurrences either because they believe they'll only get into more trouble or be called a 'tattle tale'," Cabral explained.

Witnessing bullying

Fifty per cent of the pupils said they encountered peer pressure and witnessed bullying and substance abuse. Also, 50 per cent said they would seek the help of a friend if they came across such circumstances compared to a combined 40 per cent who said they would either turn to parents, authorities, or professionals for assistance.

When asked the reason for their preference, students said that friends are more understanding and less likely to judge them for their actions.

"Teenagers often make the error of turning to their companions first rather than to a responsible adult because their friends are at the age where they may make the same mistakes," Eshaghi said.

No threat

"In order for teenagers to confront their problems and resolve them effectively they first need to feel that there is no threat of misjudgement towards them and a sense of comfort."

The remaining 10 per cent said they would not report these incidents to anyone and bear them for fear of either being labelled "blabbermouths" or exacerbating the situation.

"That's the biggest issue here," Oneissi said.

- The writer is a student of Mass Communications at the American University of Sharjah

Compiled by Reema Saffarini

Is there too much apathy to violence among the young in the country?

"If this spiral of silence continues and no one is heard, then we are basically allowing these concealed yet harmful misfortunes that young adults continue falling in to, to remain. People here [UAE] need to learn to speak out on what?s bothering them. Only then can we truly protect the younger generation in this country."
- Ahmad Oneissi, American University of Sharjah

"It is more an issue of peer pressure. Some youth are more tolerant of violence."
- Shireen Hussain, grade 11, Dubai Modern High

"I don't think the youth are more violent. It should stop everywhere."
- Gurpreet Kaur, fashion design student at MAHE-Dubai

"Some might think it's stylish to be a gangster."
- Binu Naryanan, electrical and electronics engineering student Bits- Pilani, Dubai Campus

"A person can be affected by the media, but it is up to him to act on it."
- Sunil Panwar, electrical and electronics engineering student, Bits- Pilani

"I guess the youth nowadays are more violent. Violence is all around them."
- Bindu Ravi, biotechnology student, MAHE-Dubai

"Students have become more tolerant. They are exposed to violence everyday."
- Salena Shahid, grade 9, Westminster School

"The young actually get influenced by gangster movies."
- Shaien Kumar, electrical and electronics engineering student at Bits- Pilani

"[Drug addiction] usually results from conditions like stress and suppression, and often teens fail to confront these problems. Such acts are against all aspects of UAE's culture."
- Heba Akasha

"The culture here in the emirates views teen pregnancy very negatively and it does not respect anyone who is involved in the situation. I believe this stems from our strong religious beliefs. Such an occurrence violates all rules of Islam."
- Ahmad Al Hammadi

"Teenagers often make the error of turning to their companions first rather than to a responsible adult - for help."
- Afsoon Eshaghi

"No matter the reasoning behind it, bullying is an appalling way to treat another person."
- Afsoon Eshaghi