Deepkumar and his family enjoy some quality time alongside the Sharjah Corniche. Image Credit: Atiq ur Rehman/Gulf News

Dubai: One third of parents in the UAE spend as little as five hours a week or less with their family.

How does that sound for an alarming fact?

The study, which was commissioned by Majid Al Futtaim, showed that residents do not prioritise enough quality time with their family. But this admission comes with a realisation: four-fifths (81 per cent) of people surveyed agreed that they need to prioritise more time for the people they love.

The consequences of parents spending less time with children are so well documented that you would wonder why parents would be guilty of it.

Dr Rose Logan

Gulf News spoke with Dr Rose Logan, consultant psychologist at The Lighthouse Arabia, to know why parental inattention due to lack of time is so harsh on children.

“Research suggests that the first three years of life are the most influenced and that the relationships and experiences we have in that time lay down the [emotional/psychological] foundation for a lifetime,” said Dr Logan. “That is not to say that there are no other important phases in a child’s development.”

Among the main consequences in early years, the lack of parental presence and a lack of another adequate caregiver can affect the formation of secure attachments, Dr Logan said.

“It can have a profound social, emotional, psychological, behavioural and educational impact across the lifespan.”

In fact, it can also affect the way the child will raise their own children, added Dr Logan.

Extended parental absences during the early years can also lead to weaker bonds between child and parent.

Children, said Dr Logan, thrive when there are consistent boundaries set for them in a stable environment.

“Children who have no boundaries, or inconsistent boundaries, are likely to struggle with school, peer relationships, behaviour and emotion regulation.”

When children are older, and parental absence continues, especially in times of transitions like adolescence, the child who feels unsupported may strive to seek attention and approval, which can lead to increased stress and pressure on them.

“They will learn to reach out to other people or sources for this support, further weakening the parent-child bond.”

This could also help usher in unwanted influences on the child, she said.

Secondly, she said, if parents are not present, they are relying on others to instil the values and morals that they wish their child to follow and internalise, and this means parents are going to be less able to guide their children and keep them safe.

“Children are likely to become disengaged from family life and will form their own moral compass around information and experiences that they encounter outside the family, including online.”

“Children are able to access inappropriate violent and pornographic material from the comfort of their bedrooms and the research is clear that this can affect behaviour, social relationships and in the case of pornography, be the start of a lifelong sex addiction.

“The media also often portrays an unrealistic expectation of life to a highly impressionable audience and with no parental buffer, children may come to hold unrealistic aspirations which can lead them to feel flawed and inadequate. It easy for this to turn into clinically diagnosed issues such as eating disorders and depression, anxiety, etc.”

What is neglect?

When a child’s basic needs are not met, it could be deemed neglect, explained Dr Logan. Lack of time to devote to a child’s needs could be construed as neglect, she explained. This is a form of abuse that has shown to be more detrimental to normal brain development than physical abuse.

“This is not the same as a child being left in the care of a trusted other. Children who suffer from neglect may not be adequately fed or clothed or provided with adequate health care or stimulation. They may not have adequate supervision and may not be protected from physical or emotional danger,” she said.

Children who experience neglect may:

1) Struggle with relationships

2) Are more likely to experience mental health problems and have poor cognitive functioning.

“They become shut down as they have learnt that the world will not interact with them and so there is no point in trying. When they do look for attention, they often do so in ways that are unhelpful such as alcohol use or unsuitable relationships, and may leave them open to further abuse as a result,” she said.

Dr Logan pointed that if a parent is unable to care for their child due to work, their own emotional or physical health or another reason, they still have the responsibility for ensuring that their child’s needs, including emotional needs, are being met by caring, consistent figures.

“A lack of time could become neglectful but it does not have to. There is no harm in asking for help and if you know it is going to be hard to manage all the demands you have, invest in people [family, friends, nannies] who you can trust to take over when you are not able to.”

 

Survey numbers

 

* 5 hours a week (or less)

Time spent by one third of UAE residents with their family

 

* 93%

of UAE residents are happiest when spending time with friends and family.

 

* 46%

recognise they waste at least two weekends per month by not spending quality time with friends and family

 

* 48%

turn down offers to meet loved ones at least twice a month

 

* 81%

agree they need to prioritise more time for the people they love