Israel’s Education Ministry on Monday issued an advisory imploring parents to forbid children under the age of 13 from using social networks – like Facebook.
Limor Harari, who heads the ministry’s "ethics and the protection online" initiative, wrote: "Experience teaches us that children at grade school level still lack awareness of the consequences of distributing pictures and personal data on the internet.
"For the most part, they generally approve anyone asking to befriend them online without any filter or supervision and so can cause themselves a great deal of damage."
"We call on all parents to become their children’s ‘friends’ and surf the web and the social networks with them in order to have a first-hand view of the content their children are exposed to on these sites.
"Yes it’s hard, there is a lot of social pressure on the kids to visit social networks, but parents must be vigilant."
Harari said parents need to be aware that young children have a harder time understanding the consequences of cyber communication which exposes them to potential harassment, extortion, impersonation and being ostracized by other social groups.
She added that parents need to make themselves aware of their children’s Internet usage in general, not just their time spent on social networks.
According to the Internet World Usage website, at least 71.6 percent of the population in Israel was connected to the Internet as of 2010, and has one of the highest household broadband penetration rates in the world.
There is fierce competition to deliver gaming services as well as social networking offerings, "creating a tempting array of new experiences for the eager young mind," according to Hana Levi Julian, a clinical social worker with a psychotherapy practice who works with children and teens in Jerusalem and southern Israel.
"Most families are not really aware of just how enticing — and addictive — the Internet can be to young people," she said, "or for that matter, even to the adults themselves. The parents stay online reading their email and scanning the news sometimes for hours, never realizing their kids are watching all the while, and picking up the behaviors they model.
"As they grow up, they emulate their parents. When it’s their turn and they get in front of the monitor, they don’t necessarily just focus on researching the homework of the day. Parents don’t have time to constantly watch them, and it is easy to de-fang many of the filtering programs with a bit of creativity and effort — and most smart kids have a lot of both."
Julian warned that a high IQ does not necessarily translate into wisdom, however, explaining that parents need to be on the lookout for predators hunting for potential new targets.
"The problem is, even teens don’t always realize that the new person on the other end of the chat room or the "friend" they’ve just hooked up with on their social networking site may not be who they say they are," Julian pointed out. "That can be dangerous."