TEENAGERS in Bahrain are at risk of increased cyber bullying and addiction to social media platforms, warned experts.
They also said children as young as four have been showing signs of behavioural misconduct and violence which they pick up from animated characters created to entertain.
They urged families to start a healthy dialogue with their children in hopes of tackling what they described as cyber addiction - adding that some teenagers spend up to 20 hours a day online.
The experts spoke to the GDN following the release of a report by an international think tank, which stated that more than half of children aged eight to 12 worldwide are subject to online threats including cyber bullying, video game addiction, offline meetings and online sexual grooming.
The 2018 DQ Impact Report by Singapore-based DQ Institute in association with the World Economic Forum records problems that have been more acute in emerging economies, where internet adoption has been more rapid and less subject to appropriate safeguards by parents, industries or governments.
“In the GCC overall, the threat of Internet is more on children and youth because our demographics is more than 70pc youth and children,” said Bahrain Youth Forum Society’s Naseem Initiative head Enas Fardan.
“Some of the reports also show that GCC countries widely and rapidly adopted social media, even more than the Western countries.
“All of these make our population prone to cyber bullying and associated threats.
“Moreover, in our countries we don’t develop much content as we are not content creators and we take the content from outside, which presents a culture that is different from ours.”
Ms Fardan, who is working on a project to tackle bullying in schools, warned of the dangers of “colourful animated characters” appearing on online platforms that were supposedly entertaining children.
“We know how children are addicted to series and shows where they enjoy characters like Spiderman or Superman,” she explained.
“When we see it from far it is just a video that entertains children, but watch it with them for some time and you will figure out the roots of our children’s misconduct.
“It is a culture of violence and misconduct that they gift to our children.
“We often wonder from where our children learn some odd words or behaviour – you will trace the roots if you spend some time watching these videos.
“Education and spreading awareness is the only solution to this tricky problem.”
The GDN reported last month that a ‘Gaming Disorder’ may be added to the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) International Classification of Diseases (ICD) for the first time.
WHO might recognise addiction to video games as a mental condition in an upcoming update to the 11th edition of the ICD which was last updated in 1990.
The description identifies the disorder as constant gaming that leads to lack of control in duration and frequency of playing, prioritising gaming over activities and responsibilities, and the continuation of gaming despite negative consequences.
“This is very much a threat to Bahrain, just like any other country,” said Dar Al Aman Shelter for Abused Women head Dr Huda Al Mahmood.
“Lack of parental monitoring is the main reason, while we have to acknowledge that these days children are very clever and they know more than their parents about the cyber world.
“The internet and a smart phone is a dangerous combination and these days we cannot even deny these things to children, as it is also a part of their education.
“I have young adults confessing to me that they spend over 18 to 20 hours online, chatting or surfing the net, which is addiction.
“There are indicators of this behaviour affecting family stability as we receive cases of teenagers getting disconnected with parents leading to disagreements.
“We see children as young as four or five comfortable with an electronic device, watching cartoons or playing a game. We also see children aged five to six even accessing online videos.
“All these are dangerously exposing children to strangers, and let us not forget that we live in an era of paedophiles.
“The situation is tricky and a solution is difficult – all we can do is try to have a dialogue with the younger population on the negative impacts and harms than restricting them or denying them.”
In July last year, the GDN reported on the National Internet Safety Review that stated more than a third of young people in Bahrain reported being bullied online.
The review, conducted by the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority, surveyed almost 2,500 school children between the ages of 12 and 18 from around the country and found that cyber bullying was the most pressing threat.