Abu Dhabi: With about 98.99 per cent of the total population in the UAE using social media platforms, the country has one of the highest rates of social media penetration in the world.
Yet, two-thirds of families do not apply any controls on the content that children are exposed to, Abu Dhabi’s Early Childhood Authority (ECA) has observed.
With children also getting more screen time, on average, than recommended, this exposes young minds to multiple risks, including psychological, behavioural and developmental hazards, warned Thamer Al Qassimi, executive director of special projects and partners at the ECA.
To curb the dangers, the authority has launched its Reporting on Children Guide for Media Outlets, which calls on content creators and mass media to adopt practices meant to safeguard children’s wellbeing. Officials also stressed that parents and guardians work to protect children from the dangers of exposure to inappropriate content.
“This is a shared responsibility, and we are calling on media producers to commit to ethical practices when reporting on children, as well as when developing content for them. At the same time, there is now a proliferation of parents who are also content creators, and we urge them to know and protect the rights of then children when developing content, especially as some forms of information can negatively impact children’s welfare in the long-term,” Al Qassimi told Gulf News.
Children make up 21 per cent of the total population in Abu Dhabi emirate and since its inception, the ECA has been working to promote their protection and development. Its latest guide is designed to encourage principled reporting on children, and the careful exposure of the youngest members of society – those aged below nine years – to digital content.
“Children in this age group are greatly impacted by exposure to media and news stories due to their limited ability to understand the nature of things around them. This is also the period in which children’s main personality traits are shaped, along with their mental abilities and basic skills,” Al Qassimi said.
Unsafe content can hamper children’s sense of safety and security, and erode their self esteem. It can promote depression and isolation, while hampering children’s concentration and academic performance. Experts have warned that some content can also encourage violent behaviours, or can cause parents to become over-protective in a manner that limits children’s natural curiosity. In addition, children can also develop various disorders from inappropriate exposure, including eating disorders, poor
While children’s wellbeing is enshrined in the UAE under Wadeema’s Law – Federal Law No 3 of 2016 on Children’s Rights, the ECA noted worrisome trends in reporting during the pandemic, including the release of material with missing details. It therefore went on to release the Child Online Protection Guide earlier this year, and is now ‘closing the gaps’ by also appealing to media producers and content creators.
“Through such initiatives, we hope parents and guardians will work harder to protect children, and that media outlets will use child behavioral experts to ensure that content is safe for the target audience, including young children,” Al Qassimi said.
He also said published content should also be relevant to UAE society, and respectful of cultural and social values.
How to ensure content is child-friendly
-Avoid stigmatisation of children in any manner.
-Provide accurate context for the subject.
-Change the names and visual identity of children who are part of a sensitive story, such as one that involves abuse.
-If a child is identified in the content for their best interests, still ensure that they are protected from harm.
-Obtain permission from a parent or guardian before interviewing a child, and confirm information obtained from a child with other children or an adult.
-Ensure that a guardian is present when speaking with a child for the purposes of content creation or reporting.
-When using children for content creation or in reporting, avoid staging the material.
-When developing content for children, ensure that the information is not unfairly biased or incomplete. And if you discuss a challenge, present its solutions.