"If you want to ruin a kid from the countryside, then just give him a cellphone." Recently, a media report on rural children being addicted to cellphones raised attention. A statistical report shows 90.3% of Chinese rural minors have Internet access, and 93.4% of rural minors use cellphone to get online. Cellphone has become the main medium for rural children to communicate with the outside world, and it is also a window for people to observe the lives of Chinese rural teenagers.
A major issue in the management of rural schools is students' addiction to cellphones. Short video platforms have been implanted into the lives of rural teenagers, some girls would use this opportunity to learn to make up and dress themselves, and some boys cannot resist the temptation of online games. To use cellphones, students and teachers would go through all kinds of "hide and chase". To solve this issue, certain schools brought in equipment that can detect cellphones to keep them off-campus. However, students can always find ways to bring cellphones in, whether in their shoes, underwear, or spend money to place them in the school's convenience store.
Why are rural students obsessed with their cellphones to this extent? Evidently, cellphones carry many functions in modern life. However, this is not the central differences between how urban and rural children treat their cellphones. Needless to say, how parents and teachers guide students to use cellphones appropriately reflects the difference in educational resources in urban and rural areas. City children also face the problem of cellphone addition, but in comparison, having better guidance from parents and schools can lead them to use their cellphones more rationally.
In the internet age, people tend to have the illusion that the world is flat and everyone has equal access to the world. However, there are still many invisible boundaries in the internet world which is reflective of the real world. While urban and rural children both use cellphones, they are exposed to different online contents that shape their growth differently. Parents of rural children often work away from home or participate in heavy physical labor, they do not have enough leisure time to accompany their children, let alone spending quality time with them. Hence, they are unable to guide their children to use cellphones in a more rational way. Through field research, we discovered that rural children tend to rely more on cellphones in everyday life. They rely on cellphones to get in touch with the outside world, which is more diverse and complex, to relieve them from the emotional loss and academic frustrations in their lives. Hence, they are more likely to be tempted by inappropriate contents.
When we talk about rural children’s cellphone addiction, what we need to consider is, besides cellphones, what else can they play? Do rural children have other options to fill up their free time? Who accompany their growth and in what ways? Can their psychological and emotional needs be satisfied? How do they solve the frustrations during adolescence? Are there people who can realize these problems in a timely manner and provide guidance? In a sense, cellphone addiction is the symptom that reflects realistic problems of the imbalance in urban-rural socio-economic development, and the lack of quality educational resources and cultural resources in rural regions.
For the time being, we need to pay attention to the academic impacts of rural children’s cellphone addictions. In controlling cellphone usage, teachers or parents need to rationally communicate with children to make up rules on how to use their cellphones, to guide children to use their cellphones more rationally. The process of rational negotiation is also a process of building trust, which can help students gain confidence, so that they will no longer be passive receivers of the negative side of social media and the internet.
As the main users of cellphones in rural areas, rural children have creativity and take their own initiatives. We cannot simply see them as individuals who need to be “managed”, as they have the ability to properly use this medium under proper guidance. We need to believe in their abilities and judgments. This calls for more humanized, innovative ways for rural schools and teachers to guide students in their self-management, to make mediums like cellphone become a channel of learning that will bring more possibilities to rural students’ personal growth.
Contributed by: Cheng Meng, Lecturer at the Faculty of Education, Beijing Normal University