by Dr. T. Wing Lo, Director of YSNet
In Hong Kong, youth accounts for a large proportion of the
territory's population. The Census and Statistics Department stated in 1997
that the population group of 10-24 numbered 1,241,000, representing 20.2% of
the total population (Hong Kong 1997). In the future, young people will continue
to be a sizable group especially with an increase in young immigrants from China.
In his Policy Address 2000, the Chief Executive, Tung Chee Hwa, deviated from
his past practice and used substantial space to outline his policy towards youth
welfare and development in the millennium (Tung, 2000), indicating that issues
related to young people have now been put on the priority of the government's
agenda. This echoes with the formation of the Chinese and HKSAR Government-supported
Dragon Fund earlier this year (in which the President of CityU is a member),
which promotes cultural exchange and development of Chinese youth in Hong Kong,
Mainland China and overseas countries under the leadership of youth educators
in Hong Kong.
The CityU has an established reputation in youth research
in Hong Kong. Some of them are responsive to developments within the social
science disciplines. Some are responsive to the concerns of government. As an
indication of the latter, our fellows have successfully competed for several
large-scale research grants awarded by the government. Consequently, the profile
of CityU in the area of youth research has been considerably enhanced in the
community. Given an established reputation, youth studies scholars in CityU
attempt to further the development of youth research through the formation of
the YSNet in March 2000, first with colleagues from SS and DSS and later from
SLW, CS and EN as members. And it will continue to expand to recruit interested
scholars from different departments within CityU.
Theoretical Framework: A Systems Perspective
is a time of life for the "search o f
self-identity, establishment of personal values and development of potential
and a sense of commitment to the society" (Working Party on Review of Children
and Youth Centre Services, 1994:12). As future leaders of society, they play
a pivotal role in the socio-economic development of the territory. Young people
together with their families are living in a cyber era where economic, political
and social dimensions are changing rapidly. Such rapid development exerts tremendous
pressure and new demands on them. As a major international centre for commerce,
finance and telecommunications, Hong Kong's increased prosperity has given young
people a more affluent and sophisticated society. Many of them are now well
educated, ambitious and financially better off, but are weaker than their previous
generation in handling emotion and solving problem.
Youth cannot be considered in isolation. Their lives are in constant interaction
with various institutional systems that make up their world. The family, school,
peers, employment and technological advancement all shape the development of
young people. In particular, the technology, media and telecommunications (T.M.T.)
systems have made a great impact on modern life. The invention of the Internet
has forever changed our society. Young people are using the Internet to make
their lives more convenient, changing the way they communicate with friends,
the way they spend their leisure, the way they work, and the way they learn.
They are not only the consumers but also the inventors of T.M.T. products. Thus,
young people are influenced by what happens around them and vice versa. These
influences and counter-influences shape their thoughts and actions at any juncture.
Recognizing the influence of different systems on human behaviour (Twain, 1983;
Yanoov, 1992), the YSNet has incorporated various research interests within
a systems perspective, which is adopted on the assumption that issues confronting
youth are interactional in nature. It requires researchers to be multifaceted,
to broaden their focus and to re-define priorities to assess conditions affecting
youth as well as the social, political and cyber environments which create youth
needs and problems (Levine et al.,1987; Clancy, 1995; Chow, 1999). Thus, a systems
approach emphasizes youth in interaction with the environment in the cyber world,
and scholars of YSNet adopt a holistic view of youth in their analysis. Based
on a systems perspective, we use a threefold categorization to identify core
areas of research (see
Figure ) that can facilitate interdisciplinary collaboration (see
Earlier scholars of systems theory (Germain, 1979; Germain & Gitterman,
1980) referred to a hierarchy of systems from personality and small groups
to societal arrangements. Personality systems involve intra-personality and
psycho-biological realities while small group systems include natural groups
such as families and organizations formed for particular purposes. The social
environment is characterized by several levels of social organization. Some
of the most immediate levels being the family, friends, neighbours, natural
helpers and self-help groups. On this level, we have identified three areas
of research, namely child and adolescent development, family and peer groups,
and learning and career.
Child and Adolescent Development
Traditionally, child and adolescent development is a core research area of
psychology. Having a group of psychologists attached to the YSNet, we will
certainly involve ourselves in the development of research in this direction,
which focuses on the study of moral values, self-identity, self-esteem and
creativity (Rudowicz et al., 1993). Moreover, since Hong Kong children have
ample opportunity to use computers at home and in school, how far computer-aided
learning technologies assist the development of children is also our research
Family and Peer Groups
Hong Kong's nuclear family is the basic unit of society. The intellectual,
moral and social development of children is shaped by the family that raised
them. While parents take care of and sometimes discipline their children,
young people demand emotional support from their parents too. When the family
loses its equilibrium, youth problem may arise (HKFYG, 1993). When the children
grow up, they will be heavily influenced by their peers, who form a network
of social support. As such, in forming their attitudes, values and behaviour,
young people will be affected by their families and peer groups. Thus in this
area of research, we will examine the institutional context in which young
people develop and other related factors, such as parenting styles, methods
and distress, and the relationships between peer influences and youth development.
Learning and Career
Over the past decades, the economy of Hong Kong has undergone significant
changes. In particular, the economic restructuring brought about by the Asian
financial crisis has imposed tremendous pressure on our youth today. How to
increase the adaptability and employability of the less educated and inexperienced
youth is an area of concern for our research team. The government has taken
various measures to encourage life-long learning, develop new knowledge, skills
and creativity, strengthen pre-employment counselling and supportive programmes,
and build up positive work habits and attitudes (Wong, 1999). Efforts will
be made to examine the effects of these educational measures in assisting
young people to develop their career.
Media and Telecommunications (T.M.T.) Systems
Technology, media and telecommunications are changing the world today. The
persuasive power of IT is affecting all sectors of the community, and research
of this kind has become increasingly popular in the academic community. For
instance, on the local level, the Icon Medialab jointly run by the CUHK, HKU
and HKUST has conducted on-going research on Web-behaviour (e.g. E-Usability
Study). On the international level, the World Internet Project jointly coordinated
by UCLA of USA, NTU of Singapore and Bocconi University of Italy is the first
wide-scope, longitudinal exploration of how life is being transformed by the
Internet, with year to year comparisons of the social and cultural changes
produced. However, both projects are not specifically targeted for youth.
On this dimension, the goal of the YSNet is to understand the important technological
change that is occurring all around us. We will examine the effects of T.M.T.
Advancement on youth and their ibehaviour, and how the Internet integrates
into the lives of youth and their families. The following research areas are
Virtual Communication, Social Interaction and Identity
Social interaction and small group communication are essential topics in sociological
research. The YSNet will analyze critically different forms of interaction
among youth groups and examine clearly the important components of the interactional
or group process. In addition, how young people use IT and telecommunications
to create and enhance friendships is one of our priority research areas (Stamm
& Pearce, 1995). Our research will focus on the investigation of how young
people initiate social interaction in a virtual world and what patterns could
be inferred. We are also interested in examining the formation of identity
and its subsequent acceptance by young people within the virtual community
(Jones, 1997; Menon, 1998), and the failure and tension of social interaction
within the virtual environment (Kolko & Reid, 1998).
E-commerce is founded on the belief that technology is fundamental to empowering
consumers. Our research efforts in this area will greatly enhance the understanding
of youth consumers and their patterns of consumption, which would help companies
concerned to design and deliver products that enrich the lives of young people
and their families (Cole et al., 1999). Our recent study commissioned by Hutchison
Telecommunications, which explored WAP services provided by Orangeworld, is
an example of this kind of e-consumers' behaviour research (Lo et al., 2000).
Deviance and Delinquency
The effects of rapid development of T.M.T., however, can be both constructive
and destructive. There is obvious inadequacy of traditional notions of individual
and cultural boundaries to address the needs of virtual communities (Kolko
& Reid, 1998). This is the reason why Al Gore, USA Vice President, stated
that although the Internet is a very powerful tool, we also need to ensure
that this new technology supports our oldest values (Cole et al., 1999). Today,
there are oversight or deliberate violation of social standards for online
communication, e.g. individual courtesy, honesty and integrity, accuracy of
documentation, protection of privacy, and protection of vulnerable populations
(Plaut, 1997). The spread of indecent materials and child pornography is another
issue of concern (Akdeniz, 1997; Choi et al., 2000).
Thus, in addition to the investigation of traditional forms of youth deviance,
such as gangs, school bullying, shoptheft and so forth, the YSNet will also
examine Web-based deviance and how to regulate the cyberspace so as to protect
young people from the adverse influences of T.M.T. (Edwards & Waelde,
1997; Waltermann & Machill, 1999). Moreover, how young people strike up
conversations under new or disguised identities and initiate conversations
on sexually explicit topics are also deviant issues worth exploring (Menon,
1998; Cheung, 2000).
Popular and Youth Culture
In Hong Kong, youth culture is a product of affluence. The expression of youth
needs does not become a distinct and integrated culture of its own until it
is commercially promoted alongside popular culture through the mass media.
Pop music, idol worship, illusory romance and vainglory are subjects of interest
(Cheung & Yue, 2000) in the study of youth and popular culture.
In the virtual world, youth can form themselves into communities that create
not only individual satisfaction for participants but also group strength.
We will also examine how the collective efforts in the virtual culture enable
young people to alter the old form of youth culture into a new kind of popular
culture (Watson, 1997). It is worthwhile to identify the differences and similarities
between the traditional and virtual forms of youth culture and to investigate
its process of transformation.
The larger social systems such as neighbourhoods, communities and society,
on the other hand, can be analyzed from a socio-political dimension. On this
level lies the layer of organizations and institutions that are designed to
provide services and allocate resources. This level includes the cultural
values systems, political, legal and economic structures, such as the judiciary,
legislature, government departments, NGOs, political parties and other community
groups. Both the social and political environments affect, and are also affected
by, cultural values, norms, knowledge and beliefs that pattern social interaction.
How young people, and particularly youth leaders, develop in and respond to
such environments is a major concern. Accordingly, we have identified three
areas of research, as follows:
Political Participation and Youth Leadership
Before 1997, the colonial style of youth development only emphasized on the
remedial side of youth problems and aimed at serving business interest. After
the takeover, youth policy has gradually evolved into an integrated and holistic
one, in which patriotic elements and national identity are given significant
weight. Our research in young people's political participation and leadership
development (Kwok, 1999; Lau, 2000) is in line with the Chief Executive's
recent policy address, which stressed on the need to enhance leadership training
for young people and to groom them for roles as future leaders of society
Youth Justice System
In the past five years, the YSNet has been very successful in obtaining government
research contracts in this specific area (e.g. Lo et al., 1997a). Research
will continue to focus on identifying the strengths and weaknesses of Hong
Kong's youth justice system as well as other factors relating to its success
and failure. They also include the assessment of the quality, effect and service
gaps of current rehabilitation programmes for young offenders and the exploration
of favourable and unfavourable conditions in the implementation of such programmes.
Youth Policy and Services
In Hong Kong, a wide variety of government subvented youth services has been
developed to meet the youth's educational, recreational and developmental
needs. The services are carried out by means of school social work, outreach
social work, children and youth centre and integrated team. Research has been
and will continue to be conducted by the YSNet to improve the coordination,
quality and effectiveness of different modes of services for young people
and to highlight the direction for future development of youth policy (Lo
Increasingly, computer-mediated communication technologies are used by and
for disadvantaged and marginal groups (Kolko & Reid, 1998), such as new
immigrants and youth-at-risk. Apart from our awareness of the psycho-social-legal
impacts of T.M.T. on young people, we are also concerned about how to use
IT to improve the patterns and quality of care-giving to and learning of young
people (Stamm & Pearce, 1995) through Web-based counselling provided by
youth organizations and Web-based teaching (Cole, 2000).
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