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Teenagers’ cognition, internet use should be better guided

NIU TIAN | 2018-08-23 | Hits:
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)

In the internet era, teenagers’ lives and study cannot bypass the web, so they should be properly guided to better use the new tools to be innovative and creative. Photo: FILE

Early in March, the State Administration for Radio, Film and Television (SARFT) issued a guideline that ordered network programs to eliminate vulgar and overly entertaining material and reduce low-taste references to violence, organized crime, family conflict and even humor in historical dramas. The guideline aims to shape a benign cyber environment, in particular for minors in their formative years.

According to the 41st Statistical Report on China’s Internet Development published in January by the China Internet Network Information Centre (CNNIC), as of December 2017, China has 772 million Internet users, among whom underage users account for 19.6 percent. Therefore, exploring teenagers’ understanding of and attitude toward the internet can promote the healthy development of their cognition, emotion, personality and behavior, and it can help put forward targeted suggestions to guide their internet use, so that the internet can better accompany their growth.

This article is based on a nationwide survey carried out by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and the China Teenagers and Children Development Service Centre from October to December 2017. The respondents were mainly students from 10 to 17 years old, and a total of 7,200 questionnaires were issued, with 6,156 valid questionnaires collected.


Main findings
To start with, for teenagers, the main purpose of surfing the internet is relaxation and entertainment, while “passive” access to information is secondary. According to the survey, nearly 60 percent of the students surf the internet to relax and have fun, accounting for 57.1 percent, followed by “completing homework and searching for information,” accounting for 50.1 percent. Only 0.1 percent of the surveyed say that they are not clear about the purpose of using the internet.

The above data indicate that teens in their formative years have obtained the ability to make independent choices and have relatively clear purposes and preferences in their use of the internet. They not only consider the internet as an important source of fun in their life, but also believe that the internet can help them study.

However, it can be seen that most teenagers conduct data queries to complete their studies. Their obtaining of information online tends to be “passive.” They have relatively low demands for “active” information such as expanding their knowledge pool, keeping up with current affairs or taking online classes.

Second, main destinations that teens browse are schools and well-known websites, whilst social media is not that favorable. Despite diverse choices of information sources, school websites still take up the largest proportion, 54.6 percent, followed by well-known websites, 46.4 percent. In general, teenagers report low level of trust toward social media.

On the whole, the selection of information channels depends more on the circle they are in contact with. School is without a doubt the center of students’ study and life, and parents are also concerned about their children’s performance in school. As official platforms, schools release information that is closely related to students, and it will release authentic and reliable information in line with the principle of education responsibility. Therefore, for teenagers, the reliability of network channels and the density of actual contacts are positively correlated.

For social networking, the level of trust is relatively low. On the one hand, it may be related to limited information available for their needs, while on the other hand, their view of those platforms may be influenced by school and parents.

Third, though vulnerable to bad information, teens show confidence in telling what is right or wrong. Nearly 60 percent of teenagers are affected by bad information on the internet. So-called bad information mainly refers to that in violation of the law and morality. According to the survey, some teenagers received bad information such as pornography, violence and terror from other internet users. In particular, fake news is worthy of attention. Compared with other types of bad information, nearly 30 percent of teenagers are exposed to fake news.

Online information is complicated. Nevertheless, teens show confidence in detecting false information. On a scale of 1 to 10, more than 30 percent of students selected 8, demonstrating that this generation of teenagers has a certain degree of self-confidence and holds a positive attitude toward their cognitive capacity in the virtual world.

Last, the internet culture has great influence on teenagers. The spirit of freedom, independence, questioning and criticism in the internet culture cannot be ignored as a factor in the creative development of the underage group. According to the survey, the influence of internet culture on the behavior of minors is divided into network language and network behavior, among which 57.2 percent of respondents say that the influence of network songs and speech patterns on their daily life is the most evident, indicating that the penetration rate of network language into real life is higher than that of network behavior.

Different from the traditional written language, network language is more concise. In this language, some numbers or graphics are endowed with special significance. Condensed network language has a potential impact on students’ quick-wittedness. In computer-mediated interpersonal communication, networked language plays a more significant role in the development of teenagers’ ways of thinking.


Policy advice
According to the survey, teenagers have their own cognition of and attitude toward the internet, but in the process of their growing-up, parents, schools, society and other external factors also weigh in. Therefore, in order to better understand and guide their use of the internet and to create a clean and positive cyber environment, parents, schools and society should provide proper education and guidance.

First, parents need to improve their own information literacy and acquire ways of internet thinking. Our survey found that most parents have laid down both specified time and content requirements for their children to surf the web. About 70 percent of parents teach their children knowledge and skills for using the internet, and more than 80 percent of parents also consult their children on how to surf the internet, indicating a good interaction between parents and children.

In this light, parents should first improve their own information literacy, including cultural literacy and information awareness. Parents should not only provide guidance for teenagers on how to use the internet, but also cultivate their teenagers’ internet thinking and innovation ability and help them use modern tools to solve real-life problems. In addition, parents could resort to content filtering systems on home computers to minimize the chance of children’s exposure to bad information.

School websites should better live up to their role in online education. They should make full use of school resources to provide students with more high-quality content and to broaden their horizons.

Given the advancement of technology, future courses need to strengthen network literacy education, such as by cultivating correct moral values and worldviews, so that students can identify and stay away from false information, rumors, frauds or other content that contains potential harm to their mental and physical health. Some content distorts and misinterprets historical classics, leaving schools and teachers bound to shoulder the responsibility of offering correct guidance and value orientation.

At the same time, we should tap into the full potential of network resources to actively build an online educational platform suitable for teenagers. According to the survey, teens are deeply impacted by network language and songs, which could become a new vehicle for enhancing teens’ cognition and ways of thinking. However, it is worth noting that early exposure to network language and symbols can lead to weakening of understanding and thought, so schools should pay attention to the mixing of internet and traditional language. In practice, it is advisable to blend traditional language learning with popular network expressions.

Throughout the development of the network audio-visual industry in recent years, the policy for encouraging innovation and creativity has been clearly established, but the effort should be tasteful and healthy with a clear bottom line.

To this end, the government should improve network regulations and establish a network classification system. At present, China’s law on the internet is insufficient, and network governance laws and policies need to stay ahead of industry norms.

As for rule of law, supervision technology and mechanisms should be improved to provide early threat-detection and better monitoring of the internet, such as strengthening the identification process of a real-name system. Live-streaming hosts should go through a detailed authentication channel before producing content on public platforms.

More importantly, a network classification system should be put in place to filter and screen vast pools of online data. Children and teenagers should be shielded from pornography, violence, and illegal, extremist groups and cults. For the underage group, it is advisable to set up online training schools or courses to teach them how to identify pitfalls and avoid possible harm on the internet.


Niu Tian is from the Institute of Journalism and Communication at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

(edited by YANG XUE)