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Two-thirds of Israeli youngsters use the Internet without any parental supervision, even though young people are at high risk of exposure to dangerous elements and influences on the Web.
This worrying statistic was revealed in a survey conducted by the Education Ministry in advance of National Internet Safety Day, which was marked across the country on Tuesday.
Nearly three-quarters of those interviewed said that surfing the Web was a preferred pastime. Nearly half of the pupils, or 45 percent, spend between six and 12 hours a week doing so, and up to 20% of the pupils said they spend even more time than that on-line.
Some 16,700 fifth, eighth and 11th grade pupils from 234 schools around the country took part in the survey, which was overseen by Dorit Behar, the Education Ministry's national supervisor of information, science and Internet ethics.
Behar said she was particularly disturbed by the fact that 67% of parents allow their children to surf the Internet with no time restrictions, and that there seemed to be a high level of parental negligence when it came to supervising the content their children might be viewing on-line.
"It is of the utmost importance that parents supervise their children," Behar said. "They have to get involved.
"Just as parents tell their children how to cross the road and not to talk to strangers, they need to talk to their children about the dangers of things like on-line gambling, exchanging information with strangers in chatrooms and pornography.
"This is no longer the virtual world," Behar continued. "This is real life, and I encourage parents to do more, don't be technophobes. You might be able to close the doors of your home to the dangers outside, but parents must know that the Internet opens other doors to the entire world."
Behar's statement echoed the slogan of 2009's National Internet Safety Day - "The Virtual World Isn't There, It's here - It's Reality."
"Many parents are also unaware that children can now use their cell phones to go on-line," Behar continued. "They can make purchases using their parents' credit cards and cause a lot of damage."
The survey also found that 62% of the pupils do not discuss what they find on the Internet with their parents. This, together with the fact that 78% of the homes do not have Internet filters, points to a potentially volatile environment for Israeli youth within the confines of their own homes.
Two-thirds of the children said that they use the Internet for chatting, instant messaging, forums and e-mail. Over 70% said they do not use their real names and are aware that the Internet is "not a safe place to find new friends."
However, the Education Ministry report states that, "It is known that even when nicknames are chosen, they are liable to be ones that invite danger."
Moreover, one-seventh of the young surfers said that they enter sites designed for adults only.
The Education Ministry runs many programs throughout the school year, including lectures from soldiers of the IDF's C4I (Command, Control, Computers, Communications and Information) Corps, workshops for teachers, activity kits for safe surfing, among others.
The entire week surrounding National Internet Safety Day will include an array of activities sponsored by the Education Ministry to promote safe surfing. More information can be found at the ministry's Web site, www.education.gov.il.