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Reality Check for Net-savvy Youth
Internet usage is gaining in popularity among Shanghai youth. But experts warn they shouldn't get so immersed in cyberspace that they neglect basic communication skills.

In a survey conducted by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, 500 questionnaires were sent to local students aged between 10 and 17 years, in an attempt to gauge how the Internet affects their life.

About 87 percent said they had surfed the Internet. About 30 percent surfed, on average, about 90 minutes to six hours weekly.

Getting information was the top priority, according to 59 percent of those polled. Chatting and communication, learning, reading news, expressing opinions and playing video games followed.

"You can find whatever you want on the Internet -- games, music, flashes, news and friends," said Xiao Jian, 14, who is allowed by his parents to go online four hours every weekend.

Many parents, however, did not allow their children to surf the Internet frequently. The questionnaire asked about parents' attitudes and only 18 percent totally supported adolescents' online activities.

"There is too much rubbish online, such as pornographic and violent pictures. Besides, long-time online surfing will adversely affect youths' eyesight and their learning," said He Yuming, a mother of a 12-year-old.

Notably, the survey also found that some students who had "cyber friends" had difficulty in finding real friends.

The poll showed some 11 percent could not make friends easily. Worse, 37 students had nobody to talk to and 41 were poor in teamwork to finish a task.

"When I come across difficulties, I prefer to chat with 'friends' online. I do not know who to turn to in reality," said Xiao Hao, a 14-year-old at Nanyang Model High School. About 28 percent surveyed said they had at least one "close" online pal.

"The Internet broadens the youths' horizon, but they should not neglect interpersonal skills. This is very important for their future development," said Lu Jiamei, a psychology professor at Shanghai Teachers University.

"They should know how to communicate with people in real life."

(eastday.com July 1, 2003)

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