The UAE should protect, educate and guide adolescents away from media’s negative impact, said educators from Zayed University, Ministry of Education, and Dubai Police Centre for Decision Making and Support at a research seminar held at the Zayed University media centre recently.

According to Mohammad Murad Abdullah, Director of the Centre for Decision Making and Support of Dubai Police, today’s TV programmes include “bad language” that is altering adolescent behaviour.

In his presentation titled TV Text Messaging among Young People and its Social Consequence, he showed examples of text messages sent to live shows such as Nojoom, Star Academy, Rotana and Melody.

As a result of the indecent content of the messages, he said, “Teenagers are getting used to these terms and they are becoming more and more detached from their cultural and religious values and beliefs.”

In addition, these texts invite adolescents to start “inappropriate relationships,” and will “transform the viewers’ language into one infused with slang words”.

“Depressingly, these shows are the most popular and profitable,” he said. More than 30 television programmes are dedicated to presenting the audience’s messages or comments about contestants’ performance in a reality show or a musical programme. The monthly profit of these channels is more than Dh20 million.

Boredom, curiosity, a feeling of emptiness in one’s life, and lack of better programmes are among the many reasons why individuals watch these shows, Abdullah added.

The research study of Adel Jendli, internship coordinator of the College of Communication and Media Sciences at Zayed University, agreed.

In his presentation, Effects of Western-Style Arabic Music Video Clips on Emarati Youth, he demonstrated the results of his study. This included surveying “72 young UAE male and female viewers”. As hypothesised, “UAE viewers are frequently exposed to these programmes, especially young females,” he said.

However, contrary to his predictions, many UAE national students said “their identity, values and culture did not seem to be affected at the core by the content of these videos although they acknowledged that their perception of indecent images has been normalised and altered.”

Conversely, participants who chose not to watch these programmes had their own reasons, as Jendli said: “These programmes blindly modelled after Western shows are harmful, and are against fundamental religious beliefs, values and morals.”

A few of the seminar’s participants argued that it is not the effect of Western media on the East. In fact the “media is affecting youth globally,” said Susan Swan, associate professor of the College of Communication and Media Sciences at Zayed University.

Issues raised by the media violate both Western and Eastern cultural values and the Islamic and Christian faiths. “We should step out of the views of cultural perspective,” she said.

Another participant from Dubai Women’s College said, “We are blaming the victims here.” Schools should educate youngsters about their history and culture.

This, according to Mohammad Al Walily from the Ministry of Education, could be solved by changing the traditional way of teaching so that “schools are no longer just a source of education but a place to prepare adolescents for adulthood.”

Professor and assistant dean of the College of Education at Zayed University Alan Russell said a “transition to adulthood occurs in socio-cultural, economic and historical contexts, and through the role of the family, and gaining independence and identity development.”

As a result, in his research study with members in the Ministry of Education and as assistant professor in the College of Education at ZU, Chris Coughlin surveyed 30 UAE national girls and boys aged 16 to 17. This, according to Russell, will help them understand the competencies, attitudes and values youth need for their future.

In their joint presentation The Voice of UAE Youth: Influences, Issues, and the Future, Russell presented the qualitative and quantitative phase of their study. According to his demonstration, the main problems for youth are “lack of freedom, hating school, relations between boys and girls, and smoking habits.”

Most of the suggestions offered by students indicate the importance of education and family support and guidance, said Russell. During his presentation, Russell rated students’ opinions on suggested solutions to their problems “27 per cent of the girls agreed on the role of parents in giving youth freedom and trust … and to complete education”. Also “23 per cent of the boys and 33 per cent of the girls suggested improving teaching and the curriculum.”

Two members from the Ministry of Education continued the discussion about the role of several departments in the ministry in adjusting the curriculum to match students’ needs, and to help knowledge seekers adapt to their fast-growing environment.

According to Al Walily, “The youth represent half of the present and all of the future.” That is why the ministry is willing to consider students recommendations on ways to amend the curriculum.

Administrative Vice President of the social and psychological programmes in the Ministry of Education Mona Al Amiri echoed El Walily’s words during her presentation.

The joint efforts of scholars from both Zayed University and the Ministry of Education will result in producing a chapter “on UAE youth in the international encyclopedia on adolescence,” said Russell.

He added that the sections of the chapter on UAE youth would include “beliefs, gender, self and identity, family, friendship and youth culture, health and risk behaviours, education, work and media.”

The writer is a mass communications student at the American University of Sharjah