Parents warned against children’s addiction to internet

While it may be easy for parents to allow their children to play on tablet computers to keep them quiet, they could be fuelling an addiction in their child.

Nine-year-old Noora Al Matrooshi plays on her iPad. Mona Al Marzooqi / The National
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ABU DHABI // For the sake of a little peace and quiet, many parents allow their children to play on tablet computers, but they could be fuelling an addiction in the child.

Doctors say they are seeing children as young as three addicted to the internet, although most cases are in adolescents.

Omnia Al Wakeel, 34, an Emirati mother of four, said she was struggling to make her daughters give up using their gadgets.

Her children, who are between the ages of three and eight, spend up to four hours a day and most of the weekends on their iPads, she said.

“They get angry if I try to take the iPad away. I got them a lot of toys but they don’t want to play with them. All they want is to play on their gadgets. I hide their tablets, but it’s like a battle.”

In an attempt to reduce the amount of time her children spend on their iPads, Ms ­Wakeel does not allow them to take their tablets when they go to meet family.

She said she tried to arrange such outings so they got to spend more time outdoors.

A M, an Indian mother, also said her 13-year-old son was addicted to his tablet.

“There was a phase around two years ago, when my son was on the tablet all day long during his holidays. I had to take his tablet and did not return it to him for months,” she said.

A M instead asked her son to take up sports and through this he has been able to overcome the attachment to the internet.

“Children go to social media because they feel lonely. My son is a single child and I feel that he doesn’t have anyone to talk with at home and thus wants to chat with his friends,” she said.

Warning signs that a child may be addicted to the internet include if the child stays up late or if they become withdrawn and antisocial, said Madeeha Afridi, a counselling psychologist at Lighthouse Arabia in Dubai.

Ms Afridi said about 50 per cent of the teenagers she meets every week have issues related to technology addiction.

“Some parents say ‘I can’t have rules’, and these are the ones who struggle. Young children can suffer from internet addiction when there are no rules around technology at home,” Ms Afridi said.

Ms Afridi’s recommendation to parents includes limiting the use of gadgets during the week for children younger than 12, unless they have homework assignments.

She also recommends allowing only one hour of monitored internet use a day at the weekend.

If the child is older than 12, they should be allowed to use their laptops or tablets only in communal areas at home and not in their bedrooms.

Carolyn Yaffe, a cognitive behavioural therapist at Camali Clinic in Dubai, said children who are depressed, are having problems fitting in or have faced major upheavals, such as a move or a divorce, may be prone to internet addiction.

“The internet gives children and young adults a feeling of fitting in and this helps them forget their problems,” Ms Yaffe said.

“I hear a lot of concern from parents about the time that their children are spending on social media.”

A 2011 study by Mahboub Hashem and Susan Smith at the American University of Sharjah found that nearly half of the young Emiratis surveyed spent about 10 hours a day on social and other media.

The study, which was published in The Global Media Journal's Arabian edition, surveyed 638 Emiratis between the ages of 16 and 25.