Children in Kingdom of Saudi Arabia among youngest in the world to receive first mobile device: Norton research

NIck Shaw, vice president and general manager, Norton, EMEA
  • 7 years old; average age of child in Saudi Arabia to receive first mobile device
  • Two out of three parents (82%) in Saudi Arabia admit they are worried about setting a bad example by spending too much time on mobile devices
NIck Shaw, vice president and general manager, Norton, EMEA

Dubai, United Arab Emirates: 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 (NASDAQ: SYMC). The survey found that more than three in four respondents in Saudi Arabia (82%) suggested parents are setting a bad example by spending too much time online, and more than half (60%) admitted they have been told off by their own children for their behaviour, 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 Saudi Arabia desire mobile screen time more than candy or sweets. Further, children in Saudi Arabia 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 Saudi Arabia, children spend close to three 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 Saudi Arabia ranked 3rd, 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 Saudi Arabia believe mobile technology and mobile devices can help foster children’s problem solving and learning skills (60%), among the highest, with almost three-quarters (64%) 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 Saudi Arabia (53%) 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 Saudi Arabia are getting their first device at seven- three years younger than parents feel their children should be allowed one. In Saudi Arabia 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 Saudi Arabia more than half (65%) feel guilty about the amount of time they spend browsing the web, the toping the ranks as the highest rating country across EMEA. More than half of parents in Saudi Arabia (60%) admit their own children reprimand them for spending too much time online or at inappropriate times and two in three (82%) 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 74% of parents in Saudi Arabia already set ‘tech free’ times or days in their house, the 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 don’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 Saudi Arabia 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 Saudi Arabia (70%) say they want to set limits and parental controls on connected devices, the second highest number across EMEA, but they don’t know how to go about doing this, while 81 per cent want more advice and support to help them protect their children online, also the second 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 Saudi Arabia the number is event less, where only 34 per cent allow their child to go online in their bedroom.

The My First Device Report revealed that parents yearn for guidance in enforcing healthy screen routines, so the following are some practical tips to help parents better manage device use:

  • Establish house rules and guidelines: these can include setting limits to screen time, the type of content a child accesses online or the appropriate tone of language to use online. These rules should vary depending on your children’s age, maturity and understanding of the risks they could face online.
  • Encourage your children to go online in communal spaces: it’s about striking a balance where they don’t feel that you are constantly looking over their shoulder and don’t feel like they need to hide to go online. It will help put your mind at ease about what they are doing, and they’ll know they can come to you if they are confused, frightened or concerned.
  • Encourage and maintain an open and ongoing dialogue with your children on Internet use and experiences, including cyberbullying. For helpful information on talking with your children about digital dangers, check out Norton’s Cyber Safety for Kids resources page.
  • Encourage kids to think before they click: whether they’re looking at online video sites, receiving an unknown link in an email or even browsing the web, remind your child not to click on links, which may take them to dangerous or inappropriate sites. Clicking unknown links is a common way people get viruses or reveal private and valuable information about themselves.
  • Look out for harmful content: from websites to apps, games and online communities, your kids have access to a lot of content that can affect them both positively and negatively. Using smart family security and parental web safety tools, as well as the built-in security settings in your browsers, can help the whole family stay safe. 
  • Discuss the risks of posting and sharing private information, videos, and photographs – especially on social media.
  • Be a good role model. Children are likely to imitate their parents’ behaviour, so lead by example.
  • Use a robust and trusted security software solution, such as Norton Security, to help keep your children and devices protected against malicious websites, viruses, phishing attempts and other online threats designed to steal personal and financial information.

About the My First Mobile Device Report:

The Norton My First Device Research Report is an online survey of 6,986 parents aged 18+ years old, with children aged 5-16 across 10 markets, commissioned by Norton by Symantec and produced by research firm Edelman Intelligence. The European sample reflects input from 5,974 European parents ages 18+ across France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Poland and the United Kingdom. The Middle East sample reflects input from 1,012 parents ages 18+ across the United Arab Emirates and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. This 10-minute survey was in fieldwork between the 10th and the 20th of August 2018. The margin of error for the total sample is +/-.5%.

How We Define Connected Device

For the purpose of this study, throughout the survey, we asked about connected devices when referring to smartphones or tablets that are connected to the internet. Excluded from this specification are tablets or other devices designed specifically for young children.

About Symantec:

Symantec Corporation (NASDAQ: SYMC), the world’s leading cyber security company, helps organizations, governments and people secure their most important data wherever it lives. Organizations across the world look to Symantec for strategic, integrated solutions to defend against sophisticated attacks across endpoints, cloud and infrastructure. Likewise, a global community of more than 50 million people and families rely on Symantec’s Norton and LifeLock product suites to protect their digital lives at home and across their devices. Symantec operates one of the world’s largest civilian cyber intelligence networks, allowing it to see and protect against the most advanced threats.