Spring 2004


  'On-Line' Teenagers Neither Anti-Social Nor Porno-Seekers,
Say Sociologists Gustavo Mesch and Ilan Talmud

Teenagers who connect regularly to the Internet have just as many friends as do teens who don't access the World Wide Web.  They even tend to be more active socially than their non-connected peers.  And pornography is a lot less on the minds of these "on-line" teenagers than is information seeking and music listening.

These conclusions, emanating from a scholarly survey of nearly 1,000 Israeli youths, contradict prevailing opinion about the use and what some say is the abuse of the Internet by teenagers.  Dr. Gustavo Mesch and Dr. Ilan Talmud of the Dept. of Sociology conducted the wide-ranging study to explore changes in social relations among adolescents in the age of the Internet.

        The 987 Israeli teens surveyed divided nearly equally between boys and girls, age 12-17.  Their sample consisted of 72.8% Jews, 15.2% Muslims, 5.3% Christians, and 4.1% Druzes.  Some 358 of these teens, or less than 40%, reported being connected to the Internet.

Of those who accessed the Internet, 42.3% said they did so on a daily basis.  Boys were more regular users than girls, 45.1% as against 27.3%, and surfed for a longer time, over 4 hours daily vs. almost 3 hours.  The girls were found to use the Internet more for social and entertainment purposes, the boys for looking up information and downloading programs.  One quarter of the teen boys did admit to surfing for pornography, but less than 8% of the girls did so. 

Overall, pornography proved the least popular use of the Internet.   The most frequent use (60%) was to search for information.  This was followed by listening to music and watching films (57.5%).  Chat rooms captured the participation of slightly more than half of the adolescent Internet users (51%), and downloading programs nearly half (48.3%) of them.  On the other hand, they were less likely to play games with friends over the Internet (27.1%).  Finally even learning computer skills held a greater attraction for Israeli teens than did pornography sites (21.7% vs. 17%).

So far as breaking social boundaries, the Internet has allowed those connected to have friends over a wider geographical range.  But, Mesch and Talmud point out, the teens they studied have less faith in friends they acquired over the Internet than those they have made in school or from the neighborhood.  The finding raises the question whether computer technology actually reduces and restricts social distances the way it does geographical distances.


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