Youth Studies Net (城大青年研究室)
 
 
        Theoretical Frame Work
 
        Systems Perspective
 
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Theoretical Frame Work
 
Theoretical Framework of YSNet
by Dr. T. Wing Lo, Director of YSNet
November 2000


Introduction

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

Youth 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 () that can facilitate interdisciplinary collaboration ()

  1. P1sycho-Social Systems

    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 interest.

    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.

  2. Technology, 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 proposed:


    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-consumers' Behaviour

    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.

  3. Socio-Political Systems

    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 (Tung, 2000).

    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 et al.,1997b).

    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).
References

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