The first survey of its kind in Israel about teens playing online games presents a worrisome picture of exposure to unsuitable content, violence, obscenities, and dangerous offers.
More than 40% of the youth playing online games were exposed to very inappropriate content. About 66% of them complained to a parent or somebody else about how they were harmed. The main reason for not reporting was: “I didn’t think it was a crime.”
The survey was released by the National Child Protection Headquarters and the Office of the Chief Scientist of the Ministry of National Security.
The survey was carried out during the last three months of 2022 by a professional polling company among 435 interviewees aged 12 to 18 from a representative sample of the population in Israel, excluding the ultra-orthodox (haredi) population who are much less likely to play games online.
The survey showed that of the 70% of Israeli youth who play online, 84% are boys and 57% are girls. Online gaming is significantly more popular among Arab youths with 82% playing compared to 66% of Jewish counterparts who play.
What action can parents take?
Around 86% of online game players use chat services and voice calls, mainly via “Discord”, an application in which users assemble friends together in a group text or voice chat, running it while playing or using the voice channels to plan things or make silly noises.
During the game, over 50% of Israeli teens admitted to going to a private virtual room with a player they didn’t know, and 18% of the players went to a private chat with a person they never met. While most of these were secular, 25% of modern Orthodox teens admitted to this. The survey showed that even teenagers who were warned by friends and parents about the dangers of the Internet acted in the same way.
An average of 43% of teens play between one and two hours a day on weekends and 12% do so more than three hours a day. On weekends and holidays, the figures rise to 66% of teenagers who play for more than two hours.
The most popular are team sports games such as FIFA soccer and NBA basketball. A third of teens who play online gave their user account details to another person at least once. The vast majority gave them to a relative or friend. A third also received user account details from others. About a quarter reported that they were asked for personal details in the first match with someone they did not know.
Over 40% of the youth were exposed to bullying and harassment, sexual content, and even obscene offers. Particularly high rates of exposure to inappropriate content were recorded among girls (47%).
According to Dr. Gadi Frishman, the ministry’s chief scientist: “This is the first survey of its kind in Israel. The findings of the survey indicate that the rate of playing online games among teenagers is high and keeps them busy for many hours a day, especially on weekends. It is important to increase the discourse on the dangers of the Internet both on the part of the parents and in the school, emphasizing the variety of vulnerabilities that should be reported.”
According to Dr. Nava Cohen-Avigdor, head of the civil division at the ministry’s National Headquarters for the Protection of Children Online, “the fact that over 40% of the youth were exposed to inappropriate content in online games, including bullying and harassment, sexual content and even obscene offers should bother us all. Parents must be very involved and consistent in their children’s surfing habits.”
“Get to know the apps, arenas and gaming platforms they use, talk with them about the importance of maintaining privacy and guide them to share any harm they experience. As the survey shows, the children do not always understand what harm is, and this leads to a lack of complaints about it.”
Parents are advised to be involved in their children’s lives online. Pay attention to where they surf, who they talk to, be alert to changes in your children’s behavior, habits, and uses of the phone.
“If your daughter or son has been harmed online, take a screenshot, document and save the information. Block the abuser on the various platforms, but do not delete the account. Any information saved can help track down the offender. Support your child and always remember – your child is the victim. He is not to blame for the injury,” the ministry said.
“Never respond to extortion demands; don’t pay money or send additional content. In most cases, cooperation with the abuser does not stop the extortion and harassment.”
Complaints and queries can be made by calling 105, the National Headquarters for the Protection of Children Online. Its partners are the Israel Police (Lahav 433), the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Welfare, the Health Ministry, and the Justice Ministry.
One can also contact the hotline using an online form in Hebrew and Arabic on the website of the National Child Protection Headquarters at https://www.gov.il/he/departments/units/105_call_center.