Chinese children are surfing the web earlier in life, with almost 75 percent saying they first used the internet before the age of 10, up from 55.9 percent in 2010, a study has found.
The Annual Report on Internet Use and Reading Practice of Chinese Minors (2017-18), released on Monday, said 98.1 percent of students under the age of 18 have browsed the internet, much higher than the national internet user rate of 57.7 percent.
The study, carried out by several organizations led by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences' Media Research Center, shows children from urban areas start using the internet earlier than their rural peers.
Those from single-parent households and those whose parents do not hold college degrees all tend to use the internet at a younger age, the report said.
The findings were based on a survey of more than 6,000 students between the ages of 7 and 18 that lasted from October until February. Forty-five percent of respondents were male and 67 percent were from urban areas. More than 40 percent were primary school students and 41 percent were their family's only child.
The report said 75 percent of urban students owned cellphones, compared with 67 percent in rural areas. Sixty-four percent of primary school students owned such devices, while the rate for middle and high school students was 71.3 percent and 86.9 percent respectively.
WeChat, the messaging app, has become the most popular platform for children to access information, with 49 percent saying they use it as their primary source for news. Television was next, with 45 percent saying it is their first choice to find out what's going on in the world.
Though more than half of the respondents said the internet had helped them with their studies, almost 30 percent said they surf the internet for unrelated content while studying, which they said distracts them from their schoolwork, the report said.
The report also found that students are concerned more about the internet's negative impact on physical health, such as damaging their eyesight, than they are about addiction or distraction.
Zhong Fuhai, a teacher at a rural primary school in Macheng, Hubei province, said early exposure to the internet is common at his school.
"The 7-to 8-year-olds are mostly left-behind children whose parents work far away in big cities. Buying what their children want has been a simple way for them to express love," he said to explain the high usage of smartphones.
Despite the learning opportunities brought about by the internet, the teacher voiced his concerns over its negative effects, including addiction to games and inappropriate content for minors.
"I don't regard mobile phones as being necessary for kids, even for middle school students. Parents can get in contact with their kids through other means," he said, adding internet use without parental control does more harm than good.