UAE children among youngest globally to receive first mobile
Parents feel guilty about the amount of time they spend online in front of their children, and their children are not shy about reprimanding them according to recent research from Norton by Symantec . The survey found that more than three in four respondents in the UAE (78%) suggested parents are setting a bad example by spending too much time online, and more than half (53%) admitted they have been told off by their own children for their behavior, highlighting how today’s families are struggling to enforce healthy screen time routines in an increasingly connected world.
Surveying nearly 7,000 parents across Europe and the Middle East (EMEA) with children aged between five and sixteen, Norton’s “My First Device Report” explores the challenges the first generation of “digital-first” parents face. Unlike them, their children have never known a world without smartphones and tablets. Therefore, today’s parents are embarking on a new frontier, questioning the right age at which their child should be exposed to screen time or have their “own” device, whilst also examining their personal habits and potential effects on their children.
“Modern parenting isn’t easy,” says Nick Shaw, vice president, and general manager, Norton, EMEA. “The old challenges of getting children to eat their greens, get to bed on time and do their homework are all still there, but there is an added layer of technology that parents have to navigate. Unlike their children, most parents today didn’t grow up with connected devices like smartphones and tablets, which leaves them struggling with making and enforcing screen time rules.”
Norton’s research also found that children in the UAE desire mobile screen time more than candy or sweets. Further, children in the UAE spend more time in front of a mobile screen than playing outdoors, with more than one-quarter of parents saying their child or children spend more time than the parents spend online. On average across the UAE, children spend close to two and a half hours of their leisure time on mobile devices every day, close to an hour longer than the average amount of time spent playing outdoors.
The UK topped the charts with British children spending the most time in front of mobile devices – nearly three hours per day. And while children in the UAE ranked 5th, with over 25 minutes less than those in the UK, Spanish children spent the least time on mobile devices across EMEA, only 30 minutes less than their peers.
Blessing or curse? Parents are conflicted about their children’s use of mobile devices
More than half of parents in the UAE believe mobile technology and mobile devices can help foster children’s problem solving and learning skills (62%), among the highest, with almost three-quarters (72%) saying that children being in charge of their own devices teaches them responsibility.
But it’s not all good news, as parents also have real concerns about the potential negative impact of device usage. More than half of parents in the UAE (52%) say mobile screen time affects their child’s quality of sleep. Parents across EMEA also worry about the detrimental impact devices have on energy levels (42%), social skills (40%) and mental health (37%).
These concerns are only growing as children get their own devices at increasingly younger ages. Norton’s research shows that parents are giving in to pester power, as on average children in the UAE are getting their first device at seven- three years younger than parents feel their children should be allowed one. In the United Arab Emirates, the difference is one of the greatest across EMEA, on average, children in other markets receive their first device only one year earlier than when parents feel they should have them.
Most parents do try to enforce rules around screen time but admit that they may be their own worst enemy, as they feel they fail in setting good examples for their children. One in two parents (56%) across EMEA say they spend too much time online, and in the UAE more than half (57%) feel guilty about the amount of time they spend browsing the web, the third highest country across EMEA. More than half of parents in the UAE (53%) admit their own children reprimand them for spending too much time online or at inappropriate times and two in three (66%) said they are worried about setting a bad example for their child.
“Parents clearly see the benefit of mobile devices for their children, but also want to enforce healthy screen routines as they see the disadvantages smartphones and tablets can have on sleep and mental health,” added Nick Shaw. “We all should be mindful of how much time we spend online and tackle the issue of excessive screen time, with parents setting a good example. We found that 69% of parents in the UAE already set ‘tech-free’ times or days in their house, second highest number among EMEA markets when everyone stays away from their gadgets, which offers a great opportunity to reassess our dependence on devices.”
The changing rules of traditional parenting in the digital world
The digital world has parents feeling at a loss with almost half (48%) saying they want to set limits and parental influence on the use of connected devices, but they don’t know how to do so, while two-thirds (64%) want more advice and support to help them protect their children online. And one in 10 parents doesn’t set any rules at all for device usage, saying their children are so tech savvy they would be able to get around the rules.
Interestingly, the report also found the level of strictness increases among younger parents (75%) and parents of younger children (74%). Those groups were more likely to be strict compared to older parents (59%), and those with older children (53%). Despite the challenges, parents in the UAE are the keenest to manage their child’s device use, but many feel at a loss as to how to do it. Almost three out of four parents in the UAE (71%) say they want to set limits and parental controls on connected devices, the highest number across EMEA, but they don’t know how to go about doing this, while 82% want more advice and support to help them protect their children online, also the highest across EMEA. Over half of parents across EMEA (59%) allow their child to go online alone in their bedrooms, and over a third (35%) admit this is true even for children aged from five to seven. For parents in the UAE, the number is even less, where only 45% allow their child to go online in their bedroom.