Abu Dhabi police warn against cyber bullying
A Dubai Police official has cautioned that online games have serious effects such as addiction, isolation and a sense of detachment from reality among children. Picture for illustrative purposes only. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Police officials in Dubai have warned parents about the dangers of online gaming that can lead to children becoming aggressive or even committing crimes.

Colonel Saeed Al Hajiri, Director of the Cybercrimes Department at Dubai Police, said online games have serious effects such as addiction, isolation and a sense of detachment from reality.

“Online games have become available in all homes now due to easy access to electronic devices. The major impact of this on children is addiction to online games as well as violence, bullying and committing crimes,” said Col Al Hajiri at an awareness session organised by Al Ameen Service in Dubai about the risks associated with online gaming.

There is a major threat to children as there is always a danger of online extortion. Criminals can hack devices or blackmail children for money.

- Colonel Saeed Al Hajiri, Director, Cybercrimes Department, Dubai Police

“Addiction to online games can cause weakness in social communication skills, lack of creativity and laziness in studies.”

Dubai Police once received a complaint about a 12-year-old boy being cyberbullied. His schoolmates created a group on a social media platform. The victim, who was also in that group, was being abused online. His father noticed that his son was suffering from depression, so he reported the incident to Dubai Police.

“There is a major threat to children as there is always a danger of online extortion. Criminals can hack devices or blackmail children for money,” he added. Col Al Hajiri said that parents should monitor their children and have a say in their choice of games and e-applications. “Parents should increase their knowledge about technology and online gaming,” he advised.

How criminals target children through online games?

Col Al Hajiri said that criminals tend to meet the victim virtually on an online gaming platform and start chatting to develop an element of trust. The next step is to lure the victim into sending inappropriate or personal pictures to the criminal. Finally, the cybercriminal resorts to blackmailing the victim.

How to report cybercrimes?

Parents can report cybercrimes via the e-crime platform of Dubai Police as well as contact the Al Ameen service for help.

The public can access Al Ameen service through social media on @alameenservice, as well as through the toll-free number 8004444 or by sending an SMS to 4444. Additionally, the service has an application for smartphones. This service has provided safe and confidential communication channels to community members in Dubai since its launch in 2003.

Future of online games

Hamad Al Mansouri, Director General of Dubai Digital Authority, said that there are 2.7 billion online players worldwide. According to Al Mansouri, the challenge is that people’s lives have become more digital. “In UAE, 99 per cent of the population has access to internet and 77 per cent play online games, while the average time spent on these games is 1.2 hours per day,” Al Mansouri said during the session.

He said that addiction to online gaming can cause health problems for all. However, online gaming also has a positive side to it. For instance, it can make a person smarter with computers and help increase his or her focus and develop teamwork.

Al Mansouri added that there is an initiative in UAE called ‘Child Digital Safety’ run by the Ministry of Interior and the National Programme for Happiness and Wellbeing. This is part of a joint effort to raise awareness among children and school students about online threats and challenges and promote safe and constructive use of the internet.

The initiative also familiarises parents and educators with solutions they can use to address these challenges and ensure the safety of their children and students. It includes developing educational material on digital safety, facilitating children with global best practices in that domain and advising parents and teachers to enhance digital safety for their children at home and in the learning environment.

“It is a community responsibility to protect our children. During the pandemic, parents bought electronic devices for online learning. Parents should now educate their children on how to use the internet in a positive way and monitor their internet usage,” he added.

Mental impact of online games

Dr Jasim Al Marzouqi, psychotherapy consultant at Emirates Health Services in Al Qasimi Hospital, said that studies in scientific journals showed that playing video games releases the feel-good neurotransmitter dopamine.

“Studies showed that it causes focus disorder and makes a person anxious even when asleep. It also harms a person’s memory. Online games can cause depression and isolate a person from society,” said Dr Al Marzouqi.

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He said that studies showed that two hours of online gaming per day is the maximum permissible time limit for children.

Officials have urged parents to know their children’s friends on e-gaming platforms, set a suitable time for their children to play games online and activate parental controls. Apart from that, they should also motivate their children to participate in useful activities such as drawing, colouring, puzzles, reading and other educational games and encourage them to exercise at home and get involved in other entertainment activities.