Sharjah: More than a third (37.6 per cent) of parents in Sharjah do not review their children’s activities online, new research suggests.
The study, based on a survey of 12,344 households in Sharjah, reveals 66 per cent of parents allow internet access to their children, with one in ten parents not permitting it.
The survey was held by the Child Safety Department (CSD), an affiliate of the Supreme Council for Family Affairs (SCFA) in Sharjah, over a 14-month period from 2018—2019. Titled ‘Community Awareness on Safe Use of the Internet and Social Media Sites’, the study revealed that 72.3 per cent of families allow their children to use smart devices. Meanwhile, 73.4 per cent believe the websites accessed by their children are appropriate for their age group.
The study was conducted by CSD under the directives and support of Sheikha Jawaher Bint Mohammad Al Qasimi, wife of His Highness Dr Sheikh Sultan Bin Mohammad Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah, and Chairperson of SCFA. The data was collected by a field team from the Sharjah Department of Statistics and Community Development.
A representative sample was selected randomly among Emirati families and expatriate residents based on administrative suburban divisions across Sharjah City. The survey achieved a 92 per cent response rate, “which is both high and statistically relevant for accurate scientific analysis”.
Hanadi Saleh Al Yafei, director of CSD, said: “The study translates the vision and directives of [Sheikha Jawaher] and is the first field research project undertaken in Sharjah to explore parental awareness about the threats children are exposed to when using the internet. The study has been developed as a scientific reference tool in alignment with the UAE’s and Sharjah’s vision for development. The data obtained will help develop institutional strategies and plans that support children and families, help the growth and prosperity of society, and ensure protection of its youngest members who are most vulnerable to online crimes and internet addiction.”
Among those surveyed, 7,635 households reported having children, of which 23.5 per cent offered internet access to children “only sometimes”. The study also found that 53.9 per cent of respondents restricted their children’s access to certain websites, while 62.39 per cent of those surveyed said they reviewed their children’s activity on the internet.
Results also revealed behaviour changes observed in children resulting from their access to the internet — the most significant being “intellectual development” while “academic achievement” was ranked as the least significant.
The study showed 55.5 per cent of respondents used parental control programmes to monitor the websites their children accessed and the social media applications they downloaded. Meanwhile, 13.7 per cent indicated they did not use any such monitoring programmes; seven per cent of the respondents were not aware about the existence of such programmes. Although there is a higher percentage of families using internet monitoring programmes, 23.6 per cent respondents did not answer the question, which must be taken into account when awareness-raising programmes are carried out for parents on how to use these applications.
The study recommends forging research partnerships across the network of institutions working in the field of child safety across the UAE to provide relevant data and information to safeguard children from threats in the virtual world. It also recommended the need to limit children’s access to games on the internet using parental controls or by blocking access through telecommunications service providers.
It further proposes carrying out a study among pupils between seven and 18 years of age to hear their views on the reasons why hacking happens and to formulate recommendations to protect them while using the internet.
The study suggests partnering with nurseries and schools to develop programmes that raise awareness about e-safety and potential dangers online, increase general awareness about cyber safety, and use technology to enhance creativity and innovation.
What the survey shows
37.6 per cent of Sharjah families do not monitor their children’s online activity.
72.3 per cent allow children to use smart phones and devices.
53.9 per cent restrict children’s access to certain websites.
55.5 use parental controls to monitor online activity and downloads
gaming websites and YouTube most frequented by children.