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Global communication sample essay

The explosion of the internet has improved global communication and created a significant impact in our lives. With the advent of broadband wireless internet access in Singapore, our adolescents are spending intensive hours in cyberspace everyday and everywhere to meet their educational, entertainment, social and emotional needs. While they are going through this transitional stage of their life in seeking the ‘Who am I’ answers, this article reviews and seeks to understand what they do on the internet. It was discovered that both U.S. and Singapore adolescents enjoy interactive cyber communication with their peers and sharing common interest such as on-line games and audio/video downloading. An action research on a group of 35 adolescents in Singapore has revealed some interesting patterns in their internet engagement. This emerging engagement cannot be ignored by parents and teachers as we discuss our roles in protecting and nurturing our adolescents.

Literature Review

Introduction

The Singapore Government is systematically and strongly promoting the use of information technology. One of its strategies is to make it compulsory that 30% of the school curriculum to have an information technology component and to be computer-based by 2002 (Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore, 2000). Naturally, the advocacy of Internet use is part of this omnipresent attempt. Young Singaporeans are placed right in the midst of all these changes and soon Internet use will be commonplace given the Government’s ubiquitous promotion. As an academic staff in the Polytechnic, my objective is to study what our adolescent students do on the internet. By having a better understanding of their engagement on the internet, it would help us as facilitators to identify their interests, needs and to understand what motivates them. This literature review covers some surveys on adolescents conducted in the United States, studies on the impact of the internet on adolescents’ behaviour and a regional governmental conference on cyber endangerment.

United States Adolescents’ Engagement on the Internet

As the U.S. adolescent internet usage grew exponentially in the last decade, a number of correspondent expectations have emerged (Gross, 2000). Gross performed a research to identify the activities that adolescents in suburban California engaged in on the internet and why they perform them. She discovered the following: (1) that gender predicts usage, i.e., boys spend more time online, surfing the web and playing violent games, while girls chat or shop online; (2) that internet use causes social isolation and depression, especially for teens; and (3) that adolescents use the internet for anonymous identity experimentation.

By means of highly detailed daily reports of adolescents’ home internet usage and peer-related adjustment, the present research sought to compare these expectations with the actual experiences of early and mid-adolescents in 2000 and 2001. For the most part, adolescent boys’ and girls’ online activities have become more similar than different. On average, boys and girls alike described their online social interaction as (1) occurring in private settings such as e-mail and instant messages, (2) with friends who are also part of their daily, offline lives, and (3) devoted to fairly ordinary yet intimate topics such as gossiping with friends (Gross, 2000).

This is an interesting article that relates the conflicts faced by adolescents. According to Erikson, adolescents are experiencing a transitional stage of their life between childhood and adulthood where they need to deal with the conflict between identity attainment and identity diffusion (Berk, 2002). Gross(2000) discovered that adolescents need to explore their identity through identity play and role experimentation. Apparently, the internet serves as an ideal platform for them to play an anonymous role in their email and instant messaging (IM) communications. They tend to take on a role of an older character in attempt to explore their future self and identity (Gross, 2000). Another of their interest at this stage is to relate to their peers more than their parents or teachers. They could engage in intimate and private relationship with their peers on the internet interactively and instantly.

Escober-Chaves, Tortolero, Markham, Low, Eitel and Thickstun (2005) attempted to study the effects of the internet on adolescent sexual behaviours. It was triggered by the fact that adolescents in the United States were engaging in sexual activity at early ages and with multiple partners. The mass media have been shown to affect a broad range of adolescent health-related attitudes and behaviours including violence, eating disorders, and tobacco and alcohol use. The authors wanted to explore the factors that contribute to adolescents’ sexual activity. It was found that the mass media plays a very influential role in shaping adolescents’ attitudes and behaviour towards violence, eating disorders, tobacco, alcohol and sex.

Based on their survey, the internet is a significant media that the U.S. adolescents engage in (Escober-Chaves, Tortolero, Markham, Low, Eitel & Thickstun, 2005). In 2003, 60.8% of the U.S. household have at least one desktop computer at home. The adolescents spend 2 hours online each time for 4 days per week. Of the contact time on the internet, 61% of it is spent on surfing the internet. It is interesting to note that the adolescents consider 14% of what they do in the internet as activities they would not want their parents to know.

The authors have summarised some pre-studies of the effects of media on adolescents. They have collected some useful statistics that describe the breakdown of adolescents’ exposure to the media, from radio, television, internet to magazines. The statistics in adolescents’ sexual behaviours have supported their linkages to adolescents’ exposure to sexuality in the media. Regardless of the measure of the correlation, one thing that is apparent is that the media does pose a significant impact on adolescents’ attitude and behaviour in various areas, including violence, eating disorder, tobacco, alcohol and sex (Escober-Chaves, Tortolero, Markham, Low, Eitel & Thickstun, 2005).

How the adolescents were influenced by the media were also analysed in this article. Adolescents learn their behaviour through imitating a character they aspire to be (Bandura’s social learning theory). Other supporting theories include arousal, motivation and super-peer theory. In the latter, adolescents have a tendency to model people older than themselves. This resonates with the earlier findings by Gross (2000) that adolescents like to explore their self and future identity.

Singapore Adolescents’ Engagement on the Internet

The above studies have surfaced couple of gaps that I could address in my research. Firstly, we need to do a study in Singapore’s context. Secondly, I can learn from the challenges that the authors have shared. It would be an upstream task to measure the specific effects of the media on adolescents. Hence, the key objective of my research would be focusing on finding out and understanding adolescents’ usage of the internet.

Moving closer to this region, Singapore’s Senior Minister of State and chairman of the Inter-Ministry Committee on Youth Crime, Associate Professor Ho Peng Kee talked about the internet and its impact on Asia (Ho, 2005). He suggested that as nations and governments become increasingly ‘wired’, its youths naturally become more in tune with the cyber world and its hosts of activities. Our youths surf the Internet for information and resources for their schoolwork. They play online games with faceless opponents for their leisure; or to enhance their social life, they may enter chat rooms and journal their thoughts in blogs and make new friends in cyberspace. These are creative and healthy online activities – if done with the right motivations and values, and in moderation. But, as our youths become increasingly cyber-savvy, they are also becoming increasingly cyber-endangered.

Hence we need to be cautious of the dark side of internet (Ho, 2005). Besides cyber addiction, we need to be aware that exposure to unhealthy materials on the internet such as violence imageries may lead to increasing violence and anti-social behaviour amongst youths. Apart from preparing our youths to be cyber-savvy and protecting them from becoming victims, we should also be mindful that they are susceptible to the temptations of cyber vices and may end up committing cyber crimes themselves. Once online, a whole new cyber world greets them. Therefore, proper education and programmes need to be in place in society in order to help our youths cope with making informed online decisions, and learning to surf the internet safely and moderately.

Professor Ho has started a discussion on the double-edged impact of the internet on our youths. While the internet is a valuable resource basin for their learning and development, it could also pose a threat to their safety, social, emotional and moral developments. There is a need to protect and educate our youth on how they could use the internet safely and responsibly. He shared an important statistic in our youths’ usage of internet. 68% of Singapore youths have frequent access to the internet; that is 18% higher than the regional average of 50% (Ho, 2005). Hence it is critical that we take the leadership role in understanding our youths’ engagement in the internet and taking proactive measures to promote cyber wellness.

Research Question

The Research Question:

What do Singapore adolescents do on the internet?

Purpose

Why do I want to understand adolescent usage on the internet?

Firstly, it is the desire of adults including parents, teachers and mentors, to improve our communication with adolescents. By understanding what they do on the internet, we would be able to identify their interest and needs. According to Ho (2005), it is important that we understand the potential threat based on the activities they engage on the internet. Besides promoting their cyber wellness, it is also our desire as adults to determine effective channels to influence them positively and to support their
development.

Benefits

The results of this survey would be useful for me as an academic staff whose primary role is to facilitate their learning and development in the polytechnic. By understanding their interest and internet activities, it would help me to improve my communications with them and strengthen facilitator-student bonding. I believe that this would in turn increase my effectiveness in preparing them for the industry as they graduate from the polytechnic.

The second group of adults that would benefit much from this research are their parents. In the same way, by understanding the paradigm that their children live in, parents could better connect with them and improve family bond.

Methodology

Research Paradigm

Our nation has arrived at this era where youths are playing a more critical role in leading our country. That is why our Ministry of Community Development has added in Youth as an additional portfolio that deserves increased focus and attention. In the recent general election in 2006, the incumbent People’s Action Party has recruited significant number of young leaders who were born after our independence in 1965 (Balakrishnan, 2004). The key reason is to equip the party with leaders who are closer to our youths and adolescents in communication and understanding of their needs and ideology. This group of citizens plays a pivotal role in shaping our future nation as they would be exercising their voting power in future elections, getting involved in national policies and ultimately replacing our current aging population in the long term.

With the emergence of information technology and the internet, the learning curve of our adolescents has risen exponentially. As far as communication and information exchange is concerned, the size of our globe has shrunk and distances between countries have become irrelevant with the click of the computer mouse. The internet has emerged to be a major channel of media, especially among the adolescents. The researches done in the U.S. as discussed above have shown that internet pose a significant impact on adolescents. Considering the higher internet penetration in Singapore compared to the U.S. per household, we would not expect the impact of the internet on our adolescent to be any lower.

Scope

As discussed in the review of Article, it is important that I set a realistic scope of study considering the limited time and resources. As this is the first research, I would be focusing on finding out the activities that adolescents engage in on the internet. I have designed a survey that captures what adolescents use the internet for, the activities they engage in, how much time they spend on them. There were some qualitative question to understand their preferences, interest and reasons for engaging in the internet activities.

Subjects and Materials

The stakeholders were adolescents. I managed to survey 35 adolescents in my network, of which most of them are polytechnic students between 18 to 19 years old.

The materials required for this survey were basically printed copies of the survey questionnaires. They spent about ten minutes each to complete the survey forms.

Procedures

As this is my first research on the adolescents, it would be practical for me capture a broad span of their activities as a foundation for future or follow-up focused activities. The model of action research used must support continuous improvement and leverage on past findings with an interpretive approach. Hence, the model which I choose to adopt is the Zuber-Skerritt’s spiral model.

The steps of Zuber-Skerritt’s spiral model are:

(1) develop a plan of critically informed action to improve current practice. The plan must be flexible to allow adaptation for unforeseen effects or constraints;

(2) the group members act to implement the plan which must be deliberate and controlled;

(3) this action is observed to collect evidence which allows thorough evaluation. The observation must be planned and the action process and its effects within the context of the situation should be observed individually or collectively;

(4) reflection of the action recorded during observation is usually aided by collaborative discussion among the group members.

Group reflection can lead to a reconstruction of the meaning of the social situation and provides a basis for further planning of critically informed action, thereby continuing the cycle.

I designed a survey questionnaire and printed out multiple copies to the adolescents. Participation was purely based on voluntary basis and their identities were all anonymous. I explained the objectives of my survey clearly to them through both direct verbal communication and highlighting them on the survey form in print.

Results and Discussions

The Survey forms were given to adolescents in my network as planned. They responded positively and completed the survey with ease. The feedback was that the questions were clear. There were total 35 adolescents who participated in the survey. The gender groups were well represented with 16 males and 19 females. There were some triangulations of the reflection stage of this research as I spent some time after the survey to talk to some of the adolescents to clarify certain information pertaining to some websites or online games which I was not familiar with. It was a meaningful session as they were very open to share with me their interest such as why the males like to play challenging online games like Dota and Warcraft.

I then compiled that information gathered into a spreadsheet and studied the pattern of their engagement in the internet.

Activities on the Internet

It is interesting to note that the adolescents spend more than one-third (an average of 9 hours per day) of their time on the internet. This is supported by the fact that internet access is highly available both at school and at home. First of all, the Polytechnic provides the infrastructure to support the use of Information Technology (IT) in learning. Every student is required to own a notebook computer for administration, curriculum-related communication, research, performing on-line tutorials and submissions of assignments. The entire campus is enabled to provide wireless broadband access.

In line with the national adoption of internet access, all the students here have internet access at home. Internet access and cost of IT equipment have become so affordable that most of them (26 out of 35) have wireless broadband access in their homes.

[pic]
Note:
IM : Internet Messaging
Games: On-line games on the internet
Blog : blogging on the internet
Surf : Internet search for information
Music : Downloading of audio files
Video : Downloading of video files and watching video on-line

Chart 1 : Adolescent Internet Usage

It is apparent that the adolescents spend most of their time on the internet messaging and chatting. Comparing with the adolescents in the U.S. (Gross, 2000) who spend about 40 minutes in IM per day, Singapore adolescents spend 4.75 hours per day. That is an astounding seven times more. Next in line would be surfing the internet, followed by entertainment such as video and music downloads.

Why do they spend almost 5 hours per day internet messaging? Based on the survey, the adolescent revealed that IM is the most convenient and fastest way for them to communicate with their classmates and friends. Besides, it is interactive and free. This is in line with Gross’s analyses of the rationale for adolescents’ affinity to IM (Gross, 2002). Adolescents like to move fast and do not have much patience to wait for response especially when they want to relate to their peers. IM is real-time. They could instantly chat with their peers online and express their emotions immediately. Similar to adolescents in the U.S. as studied by Gross (2000), I also discovered that the adolescent here do not use their real names in their IM image. They like to use emotive roles such as “I am so scared…test is coming”. This also reflects Erikson’s theory on adolescent anonymous identity which teenagers enjoy relating their emotions to their peers in role experimentation (Suler, 2005).

The second most common activity the adolescents engage in is in surfing the internet for information. This is not surprising as they are required to research for information as part of the requirement in projects and assignment in class.

[pic]

Chart 2 : Favourite Website

With reference to Chart 2, it is not difficult to explain the frequent usage of Google and Yahoo as search engines for their studies. However, it is unanimous that Friendster is the most popular website that the adolescent visit. The reasons quoted for visiting this website are to connect with their friends and to update each other of their latest profile. This is in line with Suler’s findings on peer intimacy (Suler, 2005). During adolescence, humans experiment intensely with new intimate relationships, especially opposite sex relationships. They look for comrades and new groups where they can feel a sense of belonging. All these relationships become a big part of exploring one’s own identity. Through communication website like Friendster and Livejournal, there is an almost limitless array of people and groups to interact with – all kinds of people and groups with all kinds of personalities, backgrounds, values, and interests.

The adolescents here are curious in discovering both their identity and that of their peers. To reinforce adolescents’ interest, Blogspot and Blogger take up 13.4% of the total favourite websites count. Of the 35 adolescents surveyed, 7 of them have their own blog site and 10 of them are active blogger. They enjoy expressing their emotions and sharing their social life with their peers. One popular site they like to visit, especially among the females is that of a flamboyant 21-year old female XiaXue. The girls like to her blog because it is funny and she shares her social life openly. This confirms that adolescents prefer to interact with people they can identify with (Berk, 2002). Another interest that is significant is that of video watching on the Youtube website. The adolescents’ favourite videos are humorous and entertaining like those of XiaXue and Mr. Brown who is famous for his local political jokes.

Gender Comparison

[pic]

Chart 3: Gender Comparison of Internet Usage

Chart 3 above is essentially a breakdown of Chart 1 by gender. It is interesting to note that males spend more time than females in IM. This is also related to their indulgence in on-line games and video downloading. Because of these common interests among their peers, the males derive a sense of achievement as they share information of the latest on-line games and videos using IM. In fact, the more knowledgeable or competent males would co-teach their peers on how they could excel in the on-line game. This phenomenon was highlighted by Suler(2005) in his study. He suggested that adolescents love the sense of mastery and accomplishment as they engage in peer teaching.

While females prefer fantasy on-line games like Maple Story and Audition, males indulge in war, strategy and shooting games like Warcraft and Dota. The key reasons are that the males enjoy challenge and like to take risk. Besides, they are also intrigued in connecting with and challenging people in other parts of the world.

Males spend substantial time in downloading video over the internet. Their favourites are comedy movies. For females, their favourite are MTVs of their idols. This resonates with the study done by Gross (2000) on adolescents’ tendency in pretending to be someone else. By idolising an older person such as a superstar, they are exploring their future identity (Gross, 2000).

Recommendation

First of all, as part of the Zuber-Skerritt’s spiral model in action research, I would recommend a follow-up to the above research. We have achieved our objective of gaining a general understanding of what adolescent do on the internet. Of the various activities they engage on the internet, the most significant is in IM. Hence, I would propose to do a further action research on why and how they use IM. In doing so, adults could understand them better and even use IM in improving adult-adolescent relationship.

Secondly, I would recommend to adults including parents and teachers of our adolescents to be aware of the above findings and take proactive actions to build strong bonding with our adolescents and to protect them from the potential cyber danger. As is true of all adolescent activities, they need at least some supervision to stay on track and avoid trouble (Suler, 2005). Getting involved doesn’t just mean supervising in order to avert trouble. The world of computers also can become an excellent way for parents and adolescents to have fun together, to get to know each other better. There will be a part of the adolescent – maybe even a part that they try to hide – that will love this. Suler suggested a few anecdotes which I think could be applied in Singapore. First, adults could get knowledgeable of the internet and join in with the adolescents.

To be most effective in supervising the adolescent’s cyberspace activities, the parent needs to know something about the topic. Parents could talk to their kids about cyberspace and join them in some of their online activities. They could even communicate occasionally with their adolescents through IM to keep in touch with them. It is encouraging to note that our government is supporting the formation of cyber wellness centre such as the PlanetCRuSH which was launched by TOUCH Community Services in August 2006 (Seow, 2006). During the official launch of the centre by Associate Professor Ho Peng Kee, some parents and their adolescents were playing on-line games together in the E-sports Carnival competition to promote family ties (Seow, 2006).

Secondly, adults need to acknowledge the merits and threats of the internet. We should not vilify cyberspace – that will only alienate the adolescent. Instead, we could talk to them openly about both the pros and cons. We should show an acceptance of their cyber life, but discuss some of the dangers and what steps they should take if they encounter unsavoury situations or people.

Thirdly, adults should advocate and encourage a balance in cyberspace time and other activities. If there’s something they really enjoy on the Internet, find a way to expand that activity into their in-person life. The idea is to integrate cyberspace into the rest of their life, and encourage them to develop non-Internet activities too.

Conclusion

Through the above article review and action research, I see Erikson’s psychosocial theory of adolescents’ behaviour in action. What adolescents do on the internet are manifestation of their identity experimentation and exploration, peer intimacy and belongings, separation from parents and venting frustrations.

The common activities that both U.S. and Singapore adolescents engage in are IM, emails, audio/video downloads and online games. However, in terms of the length of engagement, Singapore adolescents spend 7 times more than their counterparts, especially in IM. This could be due to the higher broadband internet access rate and availability in Singapore. A further study on how adolescent use the IM is recommended to understand this intense engagement of activity.

As parents and teachers, we need to be aware of the intensity of adolescent engagement in the internet and take proactive measures to protect them from cyber danger and be jointly involved in some of their internet activities such as IM and on-line games. By expressing our interest in their lives and communicating with them via their preferred platform, not only could we create a positive impact in their internet experience, we could also foster strong adult-adolescent bonding.

Reference List

Balakrishnan, V. (2004). Youth Mentoring Convention: Speech by Dr. Vivian Balakrishnan, Ag Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports. In MCYS [on-line]. Available WWW: http://app.mcys.gov.sg/web/corp_speech_story.asp?szMod=corp&szSubMod=speech&qid=863 [2006 November 15].

Berk, L. E. (2002). Infants, Children, and Adolescents (4th ed.). Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Escobar-Chaves, S. L., Tortolero, S. R., Markham, C. M., Low, B. J., Eitel,
P., & Thickstun, P. (2005). Impact of the Media on Adolescent Sexual Attitudes and Behaviors. In Pediatrics [on-line]. Available WWW: http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/cgi/content/full/116/1/S1/303#F1 [2006 Sep 29].

Gross, E. F. (2000). Adolescent Internet use : what we expect, what teens report. In UCLA Digital Media Centre [on-line]. Available WWW: http://www.cdmc.ucla.edu/downloads/Adolescent%20Internet%20usepdf.pdf [2006 Sep 29].

Gross, E. F., Juvonen, J., & Gable, S. L. (2002). Internet use and well-being in adolescence. Journal of Social Issues, 58, 75–90

Ho, P. K. (2005). The Youth.Net: Developing Cyber Wellness In Conjunction With Asean + 3 Seminar On Urban Youth Work III at Orchard Hotel – Speech by Associate Professor Ho Peng Kee, Senior Minister of State (Law And Home Affairs) And Chairman of the Inter-Ministry Committee on Youth Crime (IMYC), 26 July 2005. In News@Home [on-line]. Available WWW: http://www2.mha.gov.sg/mha/detailed.jsp?artid=1614&type=4&root=0&parent=0&cat=0 [2006 Sep 29].

Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (2000). Broad-based approach to make Singapore the location for infocomm manpower and savvy workforce. In IDA [on-line]. Available WWW:http://www.ida.gov.sg/Website/IDAContent.nsf/dd1521f1e79ecf3bc825682f0045a340/7f1eda7f3c633fd1c825689800580dc9?OpenDocument

Seow, E. (2006, September 30). Safe Fun and Games at New Cyber Wellness Centre. Keeping in Touch, p. 5.

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