A survey of more than 1,200 expats conducted by 999 Magazine reveals that UAE parents are spending much less time together with their kids compared to when they were growing up.
The survey, conducted in January, points out that, on an average, expat parents in the UAE spend just 50 minutes of quality time together with their children on a normal working day, with a slight improvement on Thursday (75 minutes).
A variety of pressures of modern life – including increased workloads of parents and children, longer commute times, and a near invasion of our lives by TV and the Internet – is eating onto our family time, maintain parents. The new poll shows that the UAE’s expat families have a little more than 11 hours together in total each week, with weekends the best time for family bonding.
Even when families do get together, more than six in 10 parents (62 per cent) say the quality of time spent is not great as most of it is spent either in front of the TV, doing homework, reading, playing computer games or some other tasks that don’t qualify as quality family time.
Experts are warning against the dangers of not spending enough quality time with children, maintaining that family time can be ‘therapeutic’ and acts as a deterrent to potential serious problems. There are a number of issues that can come up when children receive little parental involvement and guidance, insists Dr Mehvash Ali, a licensed clinical psychologist in the US who is currently working as the Director for the Academic Centre at the American University of Sharjah.
These include attentional issues, acting out behaviours or conduct disorders, low self-esteem, low academic achievement, lack of religious values, and social problems, she maintains. “In later life, such children are at higher risk for developing mental health issues including mood disorders, anxiety, disorder, eating disorders, and substance abuse disorders. They are also at more risk of dropping out of school/college or having lower than expected academic achievement,” explains Dr Ali.
“Family members must spend time with each other. If they don’t do so voluntarily, they might end up being forced to spend time together, like in times of crisis or distress,” maintains Dr Mohammad Tahir, Psychiatrist at Health Call in Dubai.
Longer working hours in general and longer commute times are the primary culprits for UAE families spending less time together than they’d want to. A majority (59%) of respondents cite these as their #1 reason for spending less time with kids.
The decline in family time in the past few years coincides with a rise in Internet use and the popularity of social networks. A majority of the UAE’s working population, including parents, are tech-savvy and are increasingly using social media channels for online interaction. At the same time, an increasing number of children, especially teenagers, are getting hooked on too, a trend that is fast eating into the quality and quantity of family time.
TV and Internet are among major reasons why the UAE’s expat families don’t spend quality time together, cited by 14 and 11 per cent of respondents, respectively. Household chores were the #1 reason for 8 per cent of respondents while 5 per cent of parents maintained that their children were of an age where they did not want to spend time with them.
Lt Colonel Awadh Saleh Al Kindi, Editor-in-Chief of 999, says: “Time spent with family results in fewer bouts of depression as members feel secure in being part of a supportive family. In addition, parental involvement helps parents themselves to de-stress because this provides them an opportunity to be away from work-related activities.”
“In a broader context, family time or the lack of it can shape society. Children who spend more time with their parents and other family members receive good grounding in family values as they learn from their elders who would not only impart wisdom but also share cultural and social virtues with them,” he added.
In the UAE, a largely expat-driven society, the social set up is unique in that there are people of more than 200 nationalities living in the country. With parents unable to educate their children about their home country’s history and society, children are confused and sometimes grow up under the shadow of their friends’ or housemaids’ cultural background.
In such a situation, if children view their parents as unavailable to them or too busy most of the time, they can interpret that to mean that their parents do not care about their family – even though the parents may be spending more time at work so they can afford better education and lifestyle for the children.
Key Survey Findings
• During the working week, the UAE’s expat parents manage to spend just 50 minutes on average with their children although Thursday scores marginally better (75 minutes)
• During the entire week (including weekends), expat families in the UAE spend 670 minutes (11 hours and 10 minutes) together
• Friday is family bonding day by far, with almost four hours (three hours and 50 minutes) devoted to the family over the weekend day
• Long working and commuting times are the primary culprit, cited by a majority (59%) of respondents as their number one reason for spending less time with kids
• 55% of working parents say they are unable to have even one meal a day with their kids on most days
• TV and Internet are the other major reasons, cited by 14% and 11% of respondents as the main reason for being able to spend more time with kids; while household chores are the number one reason for 8% of respondents
• Interestingly, 5% parents acknowledged their children were of an age where they did not want to spend time with their parents
• Even when families do get together, more than six in 10 parents (62 per cent) say the quality of time spent is not great as it is spent either in front of the TV, doing homework, reading, playing computer games or some other tasks that don’t qualify as quality family time
• Holidays are the best time to bond as family, believe a staggering 89 per cent of respondents
The expat survey, which randomly covered Asians (39 per cent), Westerners (31 per cent), Arabs (25 per cent), Africans and others (5 per cent), also highlighted the impact that workloads have on the time and the days of the week that UAE families tend to spend together.
These and other details of the survey, along with expert advice on why and how parents should take time out of their busy schedule to spend quality family time can be found in the February edition of 999 Magazine, a part of the Strategic Plan of the Ministry of the Interior to provide media coverage for the activities and efforts of the Ministry and Abu Dhabi Police. It also aims to encourage the public to contribute to the reduction of crime and enhancement of safety in the UAE.