UAE youth ‘addicted to social media’

More than one in four students use social media for five hours or more a day, while almost one in three say they have been bullied online, a study has found.

Dr Masood Badri, head of research at Abu Dhabi Education Council, said schools should do more to embrace social media.  Delores Johnson / The National
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ABU DHABI // More than one in four students use social media for five hours or more a day, while almost one in three say they have been bullied online, a study has found.

Asked how many hours they spend on social media each day, 14.7 per cent of students answered between five and 10, and 12.3 per cent said more than 10 hours, the Abu Dhabi Education Council survey shows.

Most students – 69.7 per cent – said they were on social media between one and five hours daily, while 3.3 per cent said less than an hour.

Forty-one per cent of students said their social media habits had caused them to do without food or drink for a long time, and 56.5 per cent said they had tried to quit social media within the past 12 months but were unsuccessful.

See the full results here: UAE youth 'addicted to social media' - graphic

“That’s considered addiction – spending more than two hours consecutively is considered addiction,” said Hana Balbisi, spokeswoman for ICDL Arabia, a non-profit organisation offering internet training and education for schools and businesses.

“If your kids stay online for more than two consecutive hours then definitely it’s something you need to worry about.”

Adec surveyed 31,109 public and private school students in Grades 6 to 12 (ages 10 to 20) during the second term of this academic year about their social media habits.

Most of the respondents, 72.1 per cent, were from private school, 59 per cent were females and Emiratis made up about 39 per cent.

Most of the students, 58 per cent, also said time spent on social media robbed them of family time and 56.4 per cent said it interfered with them completing their homework.

Asked whether they have ever been cyber-bullied through social media, 28.9 per cent of the students said yes.

“I think this percentage is only going to rise here in the UAE,” said Barry Lee Cummings, chief awareness officer for Beat the Cyberbully, which works with schools to educate students about online harassment.

“The only thing that can be done is to increase the amount of education around this area.”

Of those who were bullied, about a quarter said they turned to their parents for help, 27.5 per cent went to a friend or non-immediate relative, while 22.4 per cent did not tell anyone.

Only 3.1 per cent spoke to a teacher about the incident, while 2.2 per cent sought advice from a social worker.

Ms Balbisi, whose company holds summer camps to teach students cyber safety, said many children were ashamed to admit they had been bullied online.

“Most of them are too shy or maybe too embarrassed to talk about the problems they’re facing online, so they’d rather just keep it to themselves,” she said.

“And this is what really scares us because it will affect the child in so many ways.”

The effects could be that “they won’t want to go to school, they’ll stop talking to their friends, they want to stay alone more,” Ms Balbisi said. “We always tell them that the first thing they need to do is talk to someone that they trust – a parent or a teacher.”

If students don’t feel comfortable speaking with someone they know, Ms Balbisi tells them to call the hotline for the Ministry of Interior Child Protection Centre, 116111.

Twenty-four per cent of the students said they had bullied others using social media.

Dr Masood Badri, Adec’s head of research, said he hoped the survey’s findings would prompt education policymakers to take students’ use of social media and mobile phones more seriously.

“A culture has to change,” said Dr Badri.

Instead of banning students from using their mobile phones and social media in public schools, he said Adec should use the technology to its advantage.

“This is the 21st century. You cannot do that any more,” Dr Badri said of banning phones. “You could have so much e-learning resources on mobiles. Adec needs to think out of the box.”