Kalmus, V. (2007). Estonian Adolescents' Expertise in the Internet in Comparative Perspective. Cyberpsychology: Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace, 1(1), article 3. Retrieved from https://cyberpsychology.eu/article/view/4200/3241
Estonian Adolescents' Expertise in the Internet in Comparative Perspective

Estonian Adolescents' Expertise in the Internet in Comparative Perspective

Veronika Kalmus
Institute of Journalism and Communication, University of Tartu, Tartu, Estonia

Abstract

This paper proceeds from a theoretical assumption that developments of the emerging information and consumer society influence the processes of socialisation in a specific way. Opportunities and freedom of the young generation as consumers of the media and information increase; also, they become more active as producers of information and texts. This, in turn, decreases the authority of (socialising) texts and, indirectly, the authority of the older generation. Moreover, youngsters’ expertise in information technology increases their authority in the eyes of their parents and teachers and facilitates reverse socialisation in this sphere. In transitional societies, relationships between generations are even more complicated due to extremely different experiences of socialisation. To test a part of these assumptions empirically, the paper explores data from two questionnaire surveys of pupils aged 12-18: (1) an international survey MEDIAPPRO, including 8 European countries (2005, N=4776); (2) a survey of Estonian pupils “Youth and the Media 2005” (N=735). The analysis shows that Estonian adolescents are among the most self-confident and independent young Internet users in Europe; however, they are relatively less critical towards the information they retrieve. Several crucial differences from Polish adolescents suggest that socialisation processes do not follow the same pattern in all transitional societies.

1. Introduction

The concepts of the “information society”, the “digital age”, etc. and the concept of “socialisation” seem to belong into different discourses or even paradigms. The practices of socialisation, however, have not ceased taking place in the conditions of increasingly digital information environment and hyperreality. Acquisition of digital skills and communicative competence, and media appropriation in general are a part and parcel of socialisation in contemporary society. Nevertheless, the practices of socialisation are changing.

This paper proceeds from an assumption that developments of the emerging information and consumer society influence the processes of socialisation in several crucial ways (Kalmus 2006, 2007). Firstly, opportunities and freedom of the young generation as consumers of the media and information (and as consumers in general) increase. As youngsters access increasingly more media from their bedrooms, they no longer have to follow the channels that their parents choose (Buckingham 2003). Secondly, young people become more active as producers of information and texts. Due to the new media technologies, authorship is no longer rare, which brings about a lessening in the author’s and the text’s authority. This allows Kress (2003) to argue that there is no longer an unquestioned acceptance of textual power (that means, adults’ power), not even in schools. Thirdly, children are gaining social status in the family and at school through their expertise in information technology. In some instances, this facilitates reverse socialisation (Livingstone & Bober 2005) as children help their parents and even teachers to use computers and the Internet. The latter standpoint is in line with and partly goes beyond a perspective widely recognised in contemporary social psychology: the idea of a unidirectional conveyance of ideas and values from parents to children needs to be deserted in favour of acknowledging bidirectional socialisation, i.e. the reciprocity of parental and child influences (Schaffer 1999).

We assume that these developments vary, to some extent, between countries as several powerful cultural factors such as religion, traditions, school system, etc. intervene with the processes outlined above. For instance, in East European transitional societies, relationships between generations are probably even more complicated due to extremely different experiences of socialisation; in order to overcome cultural trauma, the older generation is forced to resocialise (cf. Sztompka 2004).   
 
The aim of this paper is to test some of these theoretical assumptions empirically. We will focus on adolescents’ use of the Internet and their knowledge and communication about it. The analysis is carried out in comparative European perspective, with an emphasis on Estonian youth.

2. Methods and data

The analysis draws mainly on the database of the MEDIAPPRO survey of 12-18 year old pupils in eight European countries (N=6534). The MEDIAPPRO team elaborated a common questionnaire that was distributed in schools from September to October 2005 (see MEDIAPPRO 2006). In most countries, the sample consists of two sub-samples: sample A that represents typical schools in the country and covers the whole nation or region, and sample B that represents specific populations (different cultures, rural areas, low income areas, schools specialising on ICT or media education, etc.). In Estonia, for instance, samples A and B were determined by language of instruction: sample A was made of schools where Estonian, the national language, is used as the language of instruction (N=589); in sample B, the language of instruction is Russian, the biggest minority language in Estonia (N=279).

For the comparative European analysis, only A-samples are used (N=4776).

Simultaneously with the MEDIAPPRO survey, Estonian team conducted the questionnaire survey “Youth and the Media 2005” in the same schools (N=948). In this paper, we draw on the data gathered from Estonian-language schools (N=735), i.e. the schools included in sample A in the MEDIAPPRO survey.

3. Main results

3.1. General characteristics of adolescents’ Internet use

Table 1 reveals that Internet use is almost universal among 12-18 year olds across eight European countries in the MEDIAPPRO survey. Small proportions of non-users remain, varying in size across the countries. The proportion of young Internet users is highest in Estonia, followed by Denmark and the UK; the share of non-users is highest in Greece.

Greater variations across the countries exist with regard to the share of broadband connections at pupils’ homes: from 21% in Greece to 76% in Denmark (75% in Estonia, 65% in the UK). The pattern is very similar with regard to the frequency of Internet use at home: a great majority of adolescents in Denmark, Estonia and the UK report that they go on the Internet several times a week or often; in Greece 35% do so.
 

Table 1. General characteristics of adolescents’ Internet use (%)

  Estonia Poland Denmark Belgium The UK France Greece Portugal
N (Total 4776) 589 638 575 630 521 583 592 648
Uses the Internet 98.5 96.2 97.6 89.4 97.1 90.4 79.1 92.7
Has broadband connection at home 75.0 39.7 76.0 52.2 65.1 57.8 20.9 51.9
Goes on the Internet at home several times a week 82.9 66.0 89.4 64.6 78.7 63.9 35.0 60.5
Goes on the Internet at school several times a week 30.1 43.7 33.4 7.9 55.5 9.1 23.5 21.1

The situation is different in the context of school: pupils in the UK and Poland use the Internet at school most frequently; Estonia is close to the average; Belgium and France stand out as the countries where Internet use at school is relatively infrequent.

3.2. Adolescents’ expertise in the Internet

Young people in Europe are highly confident about their proficiency in the Internet: a great majority of pupils across all countries believe that they know well the way the Internet works (see Table 2). Variation is relatively small in this respect: from 66% in Greece to 89% in Belgium (Estonia stands at the average 78%).

Table 2. Adolescents’ expertise in the Internet (%)

  Estonia Poland Denmark Belgium The UK France Greece Portugal
Knows well the way the Internet works 78.3 85.6 79.1 88.5 88.0 83.8 66.3 78.5
Agrees with “We can trust the information on the Internet” 39.5 50.3 25.9 22.6 32.1 21.4 57.8 51.4
Has a personal web page 25.3 14.3 15.0 8.4 30.3 10.5 19.1 14.7
Has a blog 7.6 17.6 7.1 35.4 14.2 24.5 10.8 19.0

It seems, however, that adolescents over-estimate their competence: a great proportion lack criticism towards the information on the Internet. Youngsters in France, Belgium and Denmark tend to be more watchful, while their peers in Greece, Portugal and Poland are most trusting towards the Internet as a source of information. Estonian pupils are relatively uncritical towards this medium: 40% trust the information on the Internet. The survey “Youth and the Media 2005” revealed that Estonian adolescents trust the Internet as a source of information even more than radio, friends and newspapers. Still, they consider their family, reference literature, school textbooks, teachers and TV more trustworthy than the Internet.       

We assume that creating one’s own content and publishing it on the Internet is a good indicator of new media competence. The MEDIAPPRO survey revealed that creative online activities are, across all countries, much less widely-practiced than searching for information, communicating or entertainment. Some differences between countries, nevertheless, exist: making personal web pages is more wide-spread in the UK and Estonia, while blogging is more popular in Belgium and France.

3.3. Communicating and learning about the Internet

Table 3 reveals universal as well as culture-specific patterns of communicating and learning about the Internet. It is common to all countries that young people communicate about the Internet mostly with their peers: most often they find out new things to do with the Internet through their friends; also, they recommend good web sites predominantly to friends.
 

Table 3. Communicating and learning about the Internet (%)

  Estonia Poland Denmark Belgium The UK France Greece Portugal
Sometimes talks about the Internet with parents 35.1 31.8 38.9 39.9 40.9 50.1 26.2 39.3
Sometimes talks about the Internet with teachers or librarians 5.3 18.8 11.9 13.1 12.1 15.4 18.6 18.5
Advices are given at school on how to safely use the Internet 31.1 61.4 35.3 21.4 44.1 24.7 42.4 43.4
Agrees with “Teachers are familiar with the Internet” 29.0 54.9 33.9 31.6 49.3 37.6 36.1 48.5
Sometimes finds out new things to do with the Internet through…  
... friends 82.4 62.9 63.7 75.4 84.8 76.7 69.8 84.2
... parents 17.9 16.9 18.6 20.2 33.6 26.6 19.2 13.3
... teachers 26.2 38.4 20.8 25.6 45.8 27.0 32.7 39.9
Recommends good web sites to…  
... friends 93.4 90.0 83.8 85.4 91.3 81.8 85.0 81.9
... parents 42.9 38.4 35.1 38.0 38.0 32.9 28.2 23.7
... teachers 14.3 16.3 7.3 11.5 13.9 5.9 18.3 19.9


Communicating with parents is more varied across countries. Though in general, parents are not very much drawn in their children’s “Internet universe” (MEDIAPPRO 2006: 14), French parents seem to be more involved: half of adolescents in France talk about the Internet with their parents sometimes or often, and 27% learn about new things to do with the Internet through parents. In the UK, parents’ role is also relatively important: every third child learns new things about the Internet from their parents. Children-parents communication about the Internet is somewhat less common in Greece.

Even greater differences between the countries exist with regard to communicating and learning about the Internet at school. Several indicators in Table 3 show that the role of the school and teachers is more important in Poland, the UK, Portugal and Greece, while it is relatively modest in Estonia, Denmark, Belgium and France. The sharpest differences in this respect appear between two East European transitional countries: Poland and Estonia. In Poland, teachers talk more frequently about the Internet and they seem to enjoy more widely acknowledged status as Internet experts in the eyes of pupils. The relationship between teachers-pupils communication about the Internet and teachers’ authority in the field is universal across countries: the more often teachers talk about the Internet and give advices on how to use it, the more probably pupils believe that teachers are familiar with the medium.
As regards learning about the Internet, Estonian adolescents are among the most independent ones in Europe. Data from the survey “Youth and the Media 2005” show that Estonian pupils mostly manage by themselves in dealing with computers and the Internet (see Table 4). Mutual learning and teaching practices between peers are also common. As regards communication about computers and the Internet in families, two thirds of children are never advised or helped by their parents, almost every second child often helps his or her mother and every third adolescent gives advices to his or her father. This is in line with one of the findings of the survey “UK Children Go Online”: adolescents tend to be the computer experts in the family (Livingstone & Bober 2005). Advice-giving practices between teachers and pupils are relatively rare: nearly two thirds of pupils are never helped by their teachers. Partly, this can be explained by the fact that the Internet is used far more at home than at school. Lack of symmetric communication between adults and children, in turn, provides some explanation to the fact that a great majority (77%) of Estonian adolescents agree with the statement “Adults do not understand very well what children and young people do on the Internet”.

Table 4. Estonian adolescents’ learning and teaching about computers and the Internet (%)

  Is advised or helped by Gives advices or help to
  Mostly Never Often Never
Manages by oneself 80.8 2.4 X X
Friend 35.7 10.5 30.9 4.8
Mother 7.3 67.6 46.6 10.3
Father 10.9 67.1 33.3 29.1
Teacher 6.0 62.4 1.2 90.3

4. Conclusions

Our results show that Internet use is almost universal among 12-18 year olds across eight European countries. Variations across the countries exist with regard to the share of broadband connections at pupils’ homes and the frequency of Internet use at home and at school. This implies that several powerful socio-economic and cultural factors intervene with the overall process of informatisation and children’s globalising media culture.
 
Secondly, our data reveal that young people in Europe are highly confident about their proficiency in the Internet. It is, however, likely that adolescents over-estimate their competence: a great proportion of pupils are unable to evaluate information on the Internet. In line with this, the survey “UK Children Go Online” indicated that many children and young people encounter difficulties with searching and critical evaluation of online information (Livingstone & Bober 2005). Estonian adolescents, also, are relatively uncritical towards the Internet as a source of information.

Moreover, our research suggests that creative online production of 12-18 year olds is relatively limited: a minority of young people develop their own websites or blogs. Thus, “Generation C” (where the letter “C” stands for “content creation” as well as for “creativity” more generally; see Bruns 2005), is not yet very numerous.

Our data hint that the importance of peer groups in the process of socialisation of the contemporary “media generation” is growing. As a universal trend across all countries shows, peers are the main partner for communicating and learning about the Internet. Also, it is clear that the Internet, electronic games and mobile technology bring continuous interaction with friends into the homes of teenagers (cf. MEDIAPPRO 2006: 59).
The results also suggest that parents are not frequently included in their children’s “Internet universe”. Youngsters are, indeed, “increasingly participating in cultural and social worlds that are inaccessible, even incomprehensible, to their parents” (Buckingham 2003: 32). However, adolescents’ expertise in new media technology may facilitate children-parents communication as well as reverse socialisation in the field of ICT: many children (especially in Estonia) help their parents to use computers and the Internet.

The biggest variation across the countries exists with regard to the role of the school in teaching about the Internet. It is noteworthy that the sharpest differences in this respect appear between two East European transitional countries: Poland and Estonia. In Poland, teachers seem to enjoy more widely acknowledged authority as Internet experts in the eyes of pupils. This suggests that changes in the role of the school as an agent of socialisation do not follow the same pattern in all societies in the informatising age. Instead, it is likely that the educational system and the socio-cultural context of schooling strongly influence how pupils and teachers interpret and enact their roles in the process of socialisation. In line with Mizera (2003) we may conclude that factors affecting the socialisation of children are numerous, varying from differences in societal structures to beliefs about children and their role in society. Finally, as Roopnarine and Carter (1992: 250) advise, to “assume that any one theory would account for the impact of culture on socialization, is foolhardy”.

Acknowledgement

The preparation of this article was supported by the research grants No. 5799 and No. 6968 financed by the Estonian Science Foundation. The data were gathered with the support of the European Commission / Safer Internet Action Plan.

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