The purpose of this study was to investigate gender differences in adolescent Internet accessibility, motives for use, and online activities in Taiwan; 629 5th and 6th graders were surveyed. Some studies have indicated that while males tend to emphasize the value of using the Internet, females tend to express more negative attitudes toward computers and the Internet. (e. g. , Durndell & Haag, 2002; Kadijevich, 2000; Whitely, 1997). Because of such findings, computers and the Internet may be considered a masculine activity. Two factors may help explain this phenomenon.
One, is the ability to master computers and the Internet; it is undeniable that males have more opportunities to use technological products such as the Internet. The result is that males have used the Internet more often and for a longer time than females have (Clemente, 1998; Kraut et al. , 1998; Bruce, 1988). The other factor could be due to the contents of the Internet, much of which was not targeted at females when the Internet first gained prominence. Clemente pointed out that, at least in the mid 1990’s, the Internet simply did not have what most females wanted or needed.
Since its content did not satisfy the needs of women, they tended to view the Internet as less important and used it less often than did males. Recently, some researchers (Schumacher & Morahan-Martin, 2001) have argued that the gap has narrowed now that females have acquired more experience with the Internet, and more of the content that is related to women’s interests has become available. Hunley et al. (2005) reported that the amount of time spent on the computer was similar across genders. Some findings support the idea that searching for information and playing games are the most common online activities for adolescents.
For example, Hunley et al. (2005) pointed out that girls most often used the computer for homework. Surveying 6 to 11 year-old children, eMarketer (2005) found that game playing (42. 6%) and searching for homework information (23. 1%) were the most popular online activities for adolescents. However one report indicated that boys (28. 9%) were more likely to play games than were girls (11. 1%). Tsai and Lin (2004) found that while males tend to consider the Internet more as a “toy“, females tend to view it as a tool or as technology with which to accomplish a task.
These findings may indicate that females tend to hold a more pragmatic view of the internet, while males tend to focus more on enjoyment. A greater focus on socializing may be another cause for gender differences. Conducting a survey of Internet users over 15 years of age in the United States, Hoffman, Kalsbeek and Novak (1996) found that females were more likely to use the Internet for e-mailing, while males were more likely to download software. It is possible that female adolescents tend to use e-mail to fulfill their need for social contact with friends.
As to why males more often download software, online games may be behind this behavior. Some games, especially those on children’s websites, require the player to download software. Since male adolescents tend to spend more time playing online games, this may lead to their spending more time downloading materials. In one final point of difference, girls more frequently “surf” for information about idols (Valkenburg & Soeters, 2001). It is interesting to note that gender differences appeared in the categories of weekly online time and the Internet access locations.
Most subjects’ weekly online time fell either into the category of less than an hour (boys: 39. 5%; girls: 47. 5%) or 1 to 5 hours (boys: 41. 2%; girls: 38. 7%). 10. 7% of the boys reported spending over 10 hours surfing the Internet weekly compared with only 5. 0% of the girls; this percentage indicates that boys tend to spend more time than girls on the Internet. Furthermore, while girls tend to go online mostly at home and in school, boys visit Internet coffee shops with greater frequency than girls do. In summary, the results show that girls as well as boys had equivalent access to the Internet at home.
There was no discernable difference in their experience in and opportunities for using the Internet. Only the amount of time spent on the Internet and Internet access locations showed gender differences. This implies that the gap between genders in Internet use has decreased in our generation. The major motive for girls was to go online for information acquisition, followed by socializing and boredom avoidance. Though boys also reported that searching for information was their main motivation for going online, socializing and boredom avoidance tied as their second ranked motive.
As expected, searching for information for homework and playing games were among the top three online activities for both boys and girls. While the percentage of time girls spent searching for homework information was higher than that of boys, boys reported playing more games than did girls. Furthermore, survey results showed that girls spent a higher percentage of their time using e-mail than did boys. The percentage of time downloading software among boys was almost double that of girls. It is also interesting to note that girls tend to visit their idols’ websites more often than boys do.
The purpose of this study was to explore gender difference in adolescent Internet usage in Taiwan, with a focus on Internet accessibility, motives and online activities. The results support the view that the gap in gender differences in Internet use has decreased in our generation. Both genders appear now to have equivalent resources and experience in accessing the Internet. The ranking of the relative importance of motives for adolescents going online was searching for information, followed by socializing, and boredom avoidance for both boys and girls.
However, some gender differences in online activities among adolescents seem to have persisted. Searching for homework information and playing games were the two most popular online activities for all adolescents. While girls view the Internet more as a tool for searching for information and e-mailing friends, boys tend to use it for entertainment purposes, i. e. playing games and downloading software. However, the findings here seem to raise other, more serious issues. The results of this study reveal that adolescents today use the Internet almost daily.
Unfortunately, the high frequency of Internet usage may increase the number of adolescents exposed to harassment (British Broadcasting Corporation, 2002) and pornography (Cameron et al. , 2005; Valkenburg & Soeters, 2001). Finkelhor, Mitchell, and Wolak (2000) found that youth were exposed to unwanted sexual material (25%), sexual solicitation (19%), and harassment (6%). Finkelhor et al. (2000) found that some youths are taking risks on the Internet, such as engaging in sexual conversations, seeking out X-rated sites, posting their own pictures, or harassing other Internet users.
As the number of adolescents online continues to increase, so does the need for appropriate guidance (Dorman, 1997). However, until now research regarding parental mediation has focused only on television (Atkin, Greenberg, & Baldwin, 1991; Krcmar, 1996; Nathanson, 1999), and parental mediation patterns concerning adolescent Internet usage still remain unknown. There is a need to provide guidance for parents in teaching their children how to take advantage of the Internet without becoming a victim of it.
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