The proportion of Chinese children under 10 years old who use the internet - which was only 56 per cent in 2010 - reached 68 per cent last year, according to the Bluebook of Teenagers published by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS).
More than 90 per cent of Chinese minors, those aged up to 18, can now access the internet through mobile phone and over 64 per cent of primary school kids have their own smartphones, according to the report which was released on Monday.
Although “some” teens use the internet for education, the most popular websites and apps they use are music streaming sites and QQ, a messaging tool developed by Tencent Holdings in 1999. The report also found that almost one third of school children said they even use their mobile phones during classes and while doing homework.
For Chinese minors, Tencent’s super app WeChat is the main way they obtain news, the bluebook found. However, adults prefer broadcast channels as their primary source of news, according a separate report by the China Public Opinion Investigation Lab, a unit under CASS.
Nearly 85 per cent of Chinese minors use WeChat, compared to only 48 per cent five years ago, but Chinese juveniles are still more fond of QQ, while Chinese adults prefer WeChat as a social app, the bluebook report said.
The CASS teenager survey also found a correlation between family relationships and mobile phone usage. Of the children who said they have a bad relationship with their parents, 48 per cent used their phones to access the internet, whereas the figure for those who said they have a close relationship was 39 per cent.
A separate study of the online habits of US teenagers found that the time they spend on social media has increased significantly, but their favoured platforms are Snapchat and Instagram, both banned in China.
The percentage of American teens who engage with social media multiple times a day has gone from 34 per cent in 2012 to 70 per cent this year, according to a recent survey by non profit group Common Sense, based on a national sample of 1,141 teens aged from 13 to 17.
“Whereas Facebook once played a commanding role, with 68 per cent of teens in 2012 turning to the platform as their main social media outlet, today’s [American] teens have moved on to newer platforms,” James Steyer, the founder and chief executive of Common Sense, wrote in the report.
“Teens feel social media strengthens their relationships with friends and family, provides them with an important avenue for self-expression, and makes them feel less lonely and more connected,” he said.
The increased time spent online has also detracted from the appeal of face to face communications, which was favoured by 49 per cent of US teens in 2012 but only 32 per cent today.
A 2016 study by the Journal of Adolescence found that higher emotional investment in social media was strongly correlated with higher levels of anxiety. However, the Common Sense report said it was still uncertain whether social media had a negative effect on children or whether children with mental health issues are more likely to resort to social media to try and feel better.
“When I speak to parents and educators, I urge them to recognise that social media is not going anywhere, and stopping your child from using social media is not the answer,” Aija Mayrock, author of The Survival Guide to Bullying, writes in the Common Sense report. “Parents and educators have the space and opportunity to have conversations with kids about social media, their behaviour on it, and the pros and cons of a digital footprint.”
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