Terrorism-induced violence a menace to young minds, experts warn

Friday 11/12/2015
A Jordanian boy accesses his household’s laptop with no parental supervision.

Amman - Gruesome images of heads being chopped off, people pleading for their lives or screaming in pain as they are burnt alive and blown-up bodies lying in blood-soaked streets are just a click away for children using smart de­vices with little parental control.
Experts warn that such terror­ism-induced violence is a menace to young minds, especially in the volatile Arab region. It is possibly on par with the threat of the Islam­ic State (ISIS) and other militants in what their websites term “recruit­ing allies” or “grooming” future ji­hadists.
In the northern Jordanian city of Salt on November 20th, four youngsters abducted an Egyptian worker, sliced off his penis, burnt his body with cigarette ends and cut his flesh in diagonal lines on his back, chest, abdomen and legs with knives and daggers before the bleeding 28-year-old escaped.
Police said the teens seem to have been “inspired” by the Is­lamic State (ISIS). A security official said the assailants told their victim that they were torturing him like “Daesh does to people”. Daesh is an Arabic acronym for ISIS.
Family therapist Sana Abulail said the media portrayal of violence is “infiltrating the minds of young­sters and creating a new generation of independent individuals who see it as another way of expressing their emotions and feelings”.
She said her research indicated that “other youngsters, who are under strict parental supervision, especially with limited and guided access to social media, tend to be calmer and less abusive”.
“The world around us is infested by violence beamed on TV satel­lite stations and social networks,” she said. “For example, videos of beheadings by ISIS are available to anyone, including children, and nobody would imagine the ex­tent of psychological damage they cause.”
According to a YouTube study of 24,000 young people who were asked if they found any internet content hurtful, 27% of children aged 7-11 and nearly half of 11- to- 19-year-olds respondents said they had come across something they thought was “hurtful” or “unpleas­ant” online.
Abulail said violence is depict­ed in news reports, movies, talk shows, online postings, social net­works and by people who dissemi­nate images of blood-covered bod­ies and brutal killings on handheld devices.
All that is on the tip of a finger on children’s smartphones, tablets, laptops or desktops, Amman high school teacher Rula Sabanekh, 33, said.
“Parental control and filters via internet service providers are not enough to curb the damage that can be linked to watching a video of an animal being slaughtered or a man being beheaded,” Sabanekh said. “That’s why a strict control by parents and the authorities is needed.”
“Violence shown by the me­dia and others, like violent video games, pose serious psychological threats to our children, which may not be noticed immediately, but become evident as children grow up and become more involved in life,” Sabanekh said.
Outlying the extent of damage violent images cause to sensitive viewers, especially children, Sa­banekh said. “If we watch TV news in the presence of children and we hear about the violence in Iraq, Syria and Yemen, one would be wrong to think this will not have a negative impact on kids.”
“Safer Internet Day 2015” was marked globally on February 10th by the Britain-based UK Safer Inter­net Centre — a partnership of Child­net International, the South West Grid for Learning and the Internet Watch Foundation. The slogan was Let’s Create a Better Internet To­gether. That was accompanied by a call for a safe, responsible and positive use of digital technology for children and young people.
There were no recent independ­ent figures for the Middle East but an independent study in Britain showed that 44% of children aged 5-10 and 96% of children aged 11-16 owned a cellphone. At least 59% of all children with a mobile phone sometimes use it to access the in­ternet, while 63% of 9-16 year olds who use the internet reported hav­ing a profile on Facebook. And, 36% of 9-12 year olds said they also have a Facebook page.
Jordanian IT specialist Feras Farhan, 35, said that YouTube was one of the safest sites because of an option that would block unsuitable material. “But that relies on users to flag inappropriate videos for the safety mode to work,” Farhan said.
Amman housewife Rania Bar­houmeh, a mother of three, said she keeps her children under check. “I monitor everything they see or read, especially on the inter­net because the world out there is not safe,” she said.
Worldwide, there are more than 1.49 billion monthly active Face­book users, WhatsApp has 500 million, Twitter 284 million and Instagram 200 million. The Arab world accounts for an average of one-third of those figures.