Amidst global concerns over the impact of social media on youngsters, a recent Florida bill has stirred discussions among experts in the UAE. The legislation bans social media access for children below 14 years old and has prompted mixed responses among experts in the UAE.

While some have welcomed it and called for a similar approach locally, others have decried it, saying it was more important to educate children about the harmful effects of screens rather than banning it outright.

"On the one hand the bill is a good idea as it intends to protect children from the harmful effects of social media at a young age," said Dr Charlotte Cousins, Clinical Psychologist, Lead of Children and Adolescent Services at Sage Clinic.

"However, prohibiting children and denying access to social media alone is not enough. We need to ensure that children are taught about the potentially harmful effects of some social media content, how to safely navigate these platforms and benefit from their many positive aspects."

The bill, signed by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis on Thursday, will also require parental permission for 14- and 15-year-olds to use. Amit Saraswat, Founder of PhysioVeda Medical Center, is a Dubai-based healthcare expert and outspoken advocate for less screen time for children. He said the move was commendable and called on UAE to take note.

"By limiting access to social media platforms, Florida aims to protect impressionable minds from potential cyberbullying, inappropriate content, and addiction that can lead to anxiety, depression, and social isolation," he said. "The UAE, with its commitment to prioritising the welfare of its citizens, could find merit in implementing a similar rule."

Ban could be detrimental

However, several experts felt that such outright bans could be detrimental. "I have always been concerned by the 'banning' of technology, preferring to educate children about the positive uses whilst also making clear the associated risks," said Scott Carnochan, Head Master, Brighton College Abu Dhabi.

He said this was especially challenging since youngsters must be prepared for a tech-driven future. "We need to ensure that our pupils are world ready and we know the large part that technology and social media plays in the lives of our children, so a ban may not suitably prepare our children to make the right choices in future," he said. "Also, a ban on the use of these platforms runs the risk of ostracising children from their friendship groups, given many of these platforms are a key component in the communication between teenagers, whether we like it or not."

Shatha Almutawa, Founder and Director of Kutubna Cultural Center, agreed with Scott. "In my opinion, people thrive when they have freedom and the ability to make informed choices," she said. "Instead of creating restrictions, I think communities should encourage and support what they want to see flourish in their world."

Parents role

The experts agree that parents play a very important role in ensuring youngsters use social media responsibly.

Dr Charlotte said that parents should lay down certain rules and regulations. "There should be an agreement on what social media platforms youngsters will have access to, and there should be boundaries set for the time spent on them," she said. "There should also be a discussion on online safety as well as agreement regarding how to deal with content they come across that they find distressing."

Scott said he had access to his children's social media accounts, but that may not be an approach that works for everyone. "As with education, I don't believe that we should standardise our approach given varying levels of maturity etc, and each family should do what is right for them and their children," he said.

Shatha encouraged parents to find alternative ways to engage with their children rather than resort to screen time. "We are all responsible for creating our culture to make it easy for people to turn to something other than a screen when they are lonely, bored, or anxious," she said. "We need to create the conditions for that to be possible. We want to raise our children to be responsible, thoughtful adults—we do that by giving them the tools to become responsible and thoughtful."

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