They should set boundaries and have honest conversations about internet use with their kids, experts say
UAE experts have once again expressed concern over viral social media trends that could seriously harm children.
Parents should be careful about their children’s involvement in “unusual activities”, they said, following the emergence of TikTok videos encouraging youngsters to try the so-called “breakdown challenge”.
This particular challenge – which has been in the global spotlight for the past year – challenges children to hold their breath until they pass out. In 2021, two girls in the United States died after participating, prompting parents to sue the platform.
“Parents should set limits on internet use. They should also have open dialogue and honest conversations with children about internet safety,” said Dr Nada Omer Mohamed Elbashir, psychiatrist at Burjeel Hospital Abu Dhabi.
Adults can help young people better understand the guidelines by modeling and showing them how social media can be used safely, Dr Elbashir added.
“Use parental controls and safe search settings while kids browse the internet. Be up to date on privacy settings. Make sure you’re there when your child uses social media or the internet, and make sure ‘he meets the age requirement when he wants to download Facebook or TikTok or any other app.’
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Wellness coaches and psychology experts have pointed out that bullying is also prevalent on social media, especially among teens.
It is possible that some children, they said, are bullied into taking on life-threatening challenges online. Some also do it for likes.
Girish Hemnani, life coach in Dubai, said: “One of the ways to access a suggestion and implant it in the subconscious mind is to overload the conscious mind. This is happening on a mass level via social media apps.”
“The conscious mind is still developing for children and yet it does not discern the thrill and the threat, it is not able to think about it and beware of the possible consequences for oneself and/or for others” , added Hemnani.
Even school authorities have a role to play in keeping children safe online.
“Challenges made popular on social media, such as the ‘Game of Death Challenge,’ are a serious concern that should not be overlooked by school authorities,” said Nora Eldrageely, middle school counselor at GEMS American Academy – Abu Dhabi.
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“As faculty and staff, our team members meet regularly to identify trends with students, and based on that information, we take action. Some initiatives include school-level assemblies or consultative classes,” she said, adding that their school has partnered with the Abu Dhabi Police Department to host regular child safety talks.
Some schools even have a “Worry Box” platform where students share their worries and an AI-automated response matches worry with advice.
Many students have access to school pastoral teams, which are available during recess, mornings and holidays.
Communication is the key to safety
Preaching all the time is not a useful strategy for keeping children safe, Hemnani pointed out.
“The more parents decide for their children, the more likely they are to be influenced. Rather, the approach should be, ‘How do you use the creative brain to think about possible outcomes and possible solutions?’ The future needs more free thinkers who tap into the intuitive side of the brain to think and discern for themselves,” added the expert.
Advisers also stressed that open conversations are essential to ensure that children do not find themselves in situations where they could be exposed to inappropriate content online.
Paola Sassine, Educational Advisor at GEMS Al Barsha National School, said: “Talk to your children daily, give them a chance to tell you about their day, show them that you have time to listen. That way, when they’re put in an uncomfortable situation, you’re the first person they turn to because you’ve given them the space to talk.”