According to a new World Health Organization report, Israeli children spend more time daily on the internet than those of any other country in the world. In the 11-15 year old age group, 28.5 percent of Israeli children surf the internet for four or more hours a day, a statistic that is especially eye-opening when compared with America’s 6.9 percentage in the same category. Israel’s TV-watching numbers are similarly high, listing second in the world behind only Armenia, in percentage of children who watch four or more hours of TV per day.
The high numbers concern parents and professionals because of the negative effects on childhood development that are endemic to technology overuse. Parents fear that unsupervised internet use, as well as copious time devoted to TV, has adverse effects on attention span and other cognitive developments, aside from providing access to potentially harmful content.
According to Dr. Yossi Harel-Fish, head of the WHO’s Israeli research and director of Bar Ilan’s International Reearch Program on Adolescent Health and Well-Being, the problem is in part due to parental naivete. “The adult population is not aware or skilled enough in the ways of the Internet, its advantages and dangers,” Harel-Fish told Yedioth Aharonoth. Because young people are more adaptable to technological innovations than older people, parents and children usually have vastly differing habits and understandings of technology, a phenomenon which is exacerbated by the constant inflow of new gadgets and websites.” Our ability to supervise and allow responsible, safe Internet usage is weakened as long as the technology accessible to young people increases” said Harel-Fish.
One example of this discrepancy manifests during the summer months, according to Dr Meyran Boniel-Nissim, in which many children spend a majority of their nights surfing the web. Boniel-Nissim, a Bar-Ilan colleague of Harel-Fish, stressed that children are often online when their parents think they are sleeping, and advised parents to talk to their children before the summer months to prevent internet overuse. Summer is also opportune for the internet because it “is full of expenses, noise, and irritation, and plopping kids down in front of the screen is an easy solution” Boneil-Nissim told Yedioth Aharonoth. “But it’s important that parents take note of the hours and the content” especially because “late night encourages conversations with strange ‘friends’ that quickly become sexual.”
“Negotiate, set clear limits early, think up activities to do together,” Boneil-Nissim advised. Says Harel-Fish: “Our goal as a mature society is to.. develop ways to direct, supervise, and allow our children and youth to enjoy these amazing technologies.. from a place of positive growth.”