On January 1, 2022, China officially implemented the "Law of the People's Republic of China on the Promotion of Family Education," which provides supports, gives guidelines and instructions for family education and puts forward requirements on parents' educational capabilities. The purpose is to make sure that education and inheritance of values and qualities such as self-development, social skills, lifelong learning, family values and patriotism can be passed on to the next generation in a family context. Family education and inheritance for children sit on a foundation, which depends on what educational information and basic knowledge parents have in their current family education.
Therefore, researchers need to conduct prospecting searches to determine more appropriate concepts, paths, and methods that can support family education. According to WeChat platform data, in 2021, about 360 million users read articles on official accounts every day, and more than 100 million users read articles on official accounts on parenting. Some WeChat official accounts on parenting have had a readership of over 100,000 for their articles, some even exceeding 1 million. Articles updated with high frequency, with broad coverage and a large readership have become important carriers for disseminating information on family education, and have also projected the scope of parental knowledge of family education. Obviously, the extensive data of WeChat official accounts can be used by researchers to conduct prospecting searches on the information that parents have access to in family education. Therefore, this paper has chosen to conduct an overall examination and content analysis on articles with large readerships published by WeChat official accounts on parenting in the year 2021.
1. Design of research1.1 Subject of research
Three keywords, "education," "parent-child" and "parenting" were used to search on the data management platform of WeChat official accounts. Based on the ranking index (Wechat Communication Index) of the official account platforms, the overall influence of the WeChat official account, articles' average influence, the impact of headlines and the peak impact were taken as the first-level indicators. There were 12 second-level indicators, which were given respective weighting. Based on the weekly ranking index from high to low, a total of 15 WeChat official accounts on parenting with higher dissemination influence were selected. Later, the researcher selected 1,282 sample articles from the 15 WeChat official accounts with a page-view of over 100,000 times each in the past year as the subject of this study.1.2 Research methodology
Content analysis is a research method that objectively, systematically, and quantitatively describes the explicit content of dissemination. This study conducts research with the method of content analysis. The first step is to define the analysis unit: This study will consider each article as a separate analysis unit. The second step is to analyze the published content of the samples, including basic information of the samples, sample classification, and specific content of each type of sample. The third step is to perform three-level coding analysis on the 1,282 samples, based on the classification system. The first-level code is a free node and the topics involved in the articles are entered word by word and sentence by sentence. The second-level code is to further classify similar topics. The third-level code is a hierarchy structure, which ultimately determines the classification of the information involved in the samples.
2. Research results and analysis2.1 Basic information of the samples: founder's identity, source of knowledge, and propensity of dissemination
Among the selected samples, 628 articles were written by "mothers with babies"; 429 were educational articles written by individuals with professional knowledge (such as child psychology, medicine, nutrition, etc.) and 223 articles were written by "fathers with babies." Only 2 articles were written by people with other identities (neither "mothers with babies" nor "fathers with babies," nor with a related professional background in childcare). It can be seen that 'other identities' are not very competitive in maintaining readers' favor and attention. In terms of the knowledge sources of the samples, 618 case-sharing articles ranked first and 417 educational articles ranked second, which proves that these two types of articles have the highest compatibility with readers' needs and also that parents place more value on the intuitiveness, universality, and scientific nature of the cases. In terms of propensity of dissemination, simple advocacy is the most preferred means of knowledge dissemination among writers, accounting for 58%. For example, they tend to use declarative statements such as "please pay attention to children's emotional education" to directly and clearly convey information to readers. While 25.2% of the articles fall into the category of giving warnings, such as "do not engage in this dangerous activity," only 16.8% of the articles introduce successful role models to disseminate messages, indicating that the warning effect of "negative examples" has more significance. Of course, regardless of positive role models or failure warnings, characters and plots are only replaceable functional units, and the underlying logic is the educational philosophy carried by the articles.2.2 Classification of samples
Through bottom-up extraction and induction of the topics involved in 1,282 samples, a topic classification and category structure were formed. The results are shown in Table 1. Overall, parents pay the most attention to scientific educational knowledge and pay the least attention to family-kindergarten cooperation knowledge.
|Category||Classification of topics||Sample size|
|Scientific child care knowledge||1. Daily healthcare, nutrition and diet|
2. Disease prevention and care
3. Safety protection and first aid knowledge
|Scientific educational knowledge||1. Education regulations and policies|
2. Moral and habit cultivation
3. Characteristics and patterns of development
4. Knowledge and skills
5. Perception regarding children and assessment standard
|Family-kindergarten cooperation knowledge||1. Awareness of participation|
2. Parent-teacher relationship
|Self-education knowledge||1. Family atmosphere|
2. Emotional management
3. Scientific information on giving childbirth
4. Health management
5. Responsibility of education
|Parent-child knowledge||1. Awareness of participation|
2. Communication skills
3. Ways of parenting
2.3 Contents of samples
2.3.1. Scientific childcare knowledge
Scientific childcare knowledge includes three types of knowledge, accounting for a total of 25.8%, characterized with immediacy and everyday relevance. The articles on safety protection and first-aid knowledge cover every detail, including daily child care such as preventing mosquito bites and avoiding contact with dangerous substances, emergency situations such as food poisoning and first aid for trauma, as well as miscellaneous items such as sports protection, epidemic prevention & protection and insurance. Reading articles on safety protection and first aid knowledge can help parents take immediate action if their children are injured in accidents, as well as helping parents accumulate daily knowledge and raising awareness. However, the overall number of articles read in this category is still relatively low (35 articles). It can be seen that first aid and prevention & protection at home have not received broad attention from parents and awareness of safety education has not penetrated deeply. Parents have read more articles on disease prevention and care (132 articles), covering common diseases such as influenza, skin allergies, bacterial infections, as well as vaccination, gastrointestinal healthcare and vision protection. In particular, in the context of young children being quarantined at home due to the pandemic, these articles play the role of "family doctor" to a certain extent in disease prevention and treatment, becoming a convenient resource for parents to obtain solutions. Knowledge of daily healthcare and nutritional diet receives the most attention from parents (164 articles). Fragmented knowledge about the family such as development and physical check-ups, dietary structure and eating habits has played an important role in improving the quality of family child-care.2.3.2. Scientific educational knowledge
Articles of scientific educational knowledge cover a wide range of contents, including five types of knowledge, accounting for a total of 26.8%. In terms of knowledge and skills (109 articles), parents have read articles on how to cultivate children's mathematical logic, bilingual expression ability, etc. and also paid attention to the knowledge related to the transition of kindergarten to primary school and adaptation for young children, as well as a small amount of sexual education knowledge. Articles on developmental characteristics and patterns (119 articles) have educated parents on the patterns, ability differences, speed differences, and gender differences in early childhood development. They have also provided parents with suggestions on paying attention to their children's sensitive period of development, respecting children's interest and creating a suitable environment for children's development. Parents' preference for reading articles on moral and habit cultivation (74 articles) reflects their tendency for their children to develop personality traits such as bravery, inclusiveness, confidence, self-discipline, and generosity in family education and forming good habits such as independence, making reasonable use of time, being hygienic, and taking regular exercise. Parents are also aware of the position of children and the value of childhood and are happy to read articles on perception regarding children and evaluation standards (38 articles), the contents concerning respect for children, not just focusing on their shortcomings, reasonable evaluation standards and expectations for the education of children. In three articles on education regulations and policies, parents have shown some interest in the "Opinions on Further Reducing the Homework burden and Off-campus Training Burden of Students in Compulsory Education" and the connection between kindergarten and primary school. Overall, parents prefer to read articles related to knowledge and skills, quality & habits, and pattern of children development, while not paying much attention to those on perception regarding children or educational policies.2.3.3. Knowledge of home-school cooperation
Early childhood education is not just about kindergarten education; family education is not just the education carried out in cooperation with institutions. Early childhood education requires collaborative education among family, kindergarten, and society. Parents' reading preferences also include articles on family-kindergarten collaboration. How to enhance awareness of participation and improve parent-teacher relationships is the focus for parents when they read articles on family-kindergarten cooperation. In the articles on awareness of participation (42 articles), most of the WeChat official accounts suggest that parents should take the initiative to shift from mere "cooperators" to "collaborators." In 26 articles on parent-teacher relationships, parents can catch a glimpse of the professional nature, priorities, and vocational pressure of kindergarten teachers, which contribute to better mutual understanding between parents and teachers. Some official accounts also recommend efficient communication techniques to parents. However, generally speaking, there are not many articles (68) on family-kindergarten collaboration that have garnered a large readership.2.3.4. Self-education knowledge
With their focus on parents' personal growth and challenges, articles on self-education knowledge include five main aspects and have received high attention (267 articles). Articles on scientific information on giving childbirth (16 articles) cover topics such as pregnancy preparation, prenatal examination, and dietary tips. Articles on physical health (32 articles) can help parents cope with various complex physiological conditions. As the importance of family education becomes increasingly recognized, parents are paying closer attention to articles related to educational responsibilities (71 articles), such as cultivating a sense of responsibility and increasing fathers' involvement. In addition to articles on emotional management (106 articles), they also pay a lot of attention to articles on the atmosphere of families (42 articles), such as the importance of the marital relationship and their impact on children's growth. These types of article usually introduce parents to effective ways to improve the atmosphere at home. In addition to the more salient physiological crisis, parents also empathize with the less perceptible emotional crisis presented in articles on official accounts. For example, articles about postpartum depression of mothers, parenting burnout, negative parenting experience of full-time dads etc. have acquired remarkable readership. Such articles related to emotional stress may guide parents to consciously perceive their own parenting emotional state, which helps parents care for themselves and promote self-growth. However, there is also a risk of exacerbating parental fatigue or burnout.2.3.5. Knowledge of parent-child relationships
Parents are aware of the important value of family education, and have gradually realized that true interaction between people may be a key element in promoting children's development. Therefore, more than one fifth of the high-readership articles on official accounts are about how to build an ideal parent-child relationship, including advocacy articles (13 articles), emphasizing parents' awareness of participation with a focus on the value of proactive participation and fathers' participation, and articles that introduce communication skills between parents and children (87 articles), such as how to communicate with children of different genders, how to promote children's language expression and communication capability development through parent-child communication, etc.. Articles on WeChat official accounts provide numerous reference cases (173 articles) on enriching the style of parenting. Parents take the initiative to read articles on parent-child relationships, which can not only make sufficient practical preparations for enriching their parent-child time, but also reflect the increasing amount of attention given to family education.
3. Issues and Discussions
Based on the analysis of the contents of the sample articles, we can find that articles on WeChat official accounts comprehensively encompass the knowledge and skills that parents need to have as caregivers, which means a lot of parents have obtained richer parenting knowledge reserve than those in the period when the WeChat official account had not been popularized and did not play an important role in people's lives. First of all, this is due to the convenience and rapidity of WeChat official accounts on individual parenting. When parents encounter various unexpected troubles in raising their children, they do not need to turn to books and classes. The useful information from WeChat official accounts is just at their fingertips. Secondly, the advantage of articles on official accounts lies in the fact that they cover rich and comprehensive childcare knowledge. Childcare articles can not only answer common questions in family education, but also cover all kinds of easily overlooked childcare and parenting knowledge so that parents have answers or advice to follow for every small issue in family education. Thirdly, WeChat official accounts have expanded the scope of dissemination of parenting knowledge. The common foundation of products in the information age is "speed" and "sharing." Articles on WeChat official accounts are updated more frequently and forwarded rather quickly, no longer limited by time and space. It is not rare for articles on WeChat official accounts to have over 100,000 views and clicks. Pieces of cultural information are quoted and covered through mutual referencing, and their reach becomes further expanded through forwarding. In addition, articles on WeChat official accounts on individual parenting have also generated a lot of social values. Some articles in the category of scientific childcare knowledge are summaries of the authors' own experience, such as those by the "babies' mothers." "Babies' fathers" tap into their own childrearing experience to share tips on how to handle children's health issues. Authors write about solving their personal tedious parenting problems, which gives parents confidence in parenting and helps alleviate parenting anxieties. In addition, as an open discourse space, the official accounts can demonstrate the multiple experiences of parenting in great detail, which helps to bring the hidden negative emotions and parenting dilemmas of parents into the public view so that there is a better chance of solving the problems. It can be seen that the contribution of articles on WeChat official accounts on individual parenting has far exceeded their advantages or judged values, generating multiple social values. Of course, there are inevitably two sides to the process of articles on WeChat official accounts on individual parenting disseminating family education knowledge. It is necessary and urgent to reflect on and solve the existing problems.3.1 Lack of balance in article types
Although the articles on official accounts read by parents involve numerous aspects, they obviously focus more on areas such as parenting style, daily healthcare and diet, characteristics and patterns of child development, knowledge and skills, and parents' emotional management. From the perspective of data analysis, there are relatively fewer articles related to safety & first aid, educational policies, and family-kindergarten cooperation. On the one hand, the choice of which types of article to read is subjective for parents, and the proportion of contents of specific areas precisely proves the interest of family education. For example, in terms of knowledge related to family-kindergarten collaboration, although both parents and teachers are collaborative partners with equal responsibilities in family-kindergarten co-education, there is a dearth of such articles among the samples with wide readership, reflecting that some parents are reluctant to take the initiative to seek high-quality family-kindergarten collaboration. On the other hand, there may be objective reasons why WeChat official accounts cover a limited range of topics. Take educational policy articles as an example. There are just a small number of such articles in the official accounts. When two policies and regulations that generated heated debates in the society after the announcement of Opinions on Further Reducing the Homework burden and Off-campus Training Burden of Students in Compulsory Education and the Law of the People's Republic of China on the Promotion of Family Education, some WeChat official accounts on individual parenting published their interpretation of the two regulations, while there was simply zero interpretation of other relevant policies. There is a clear trend that WeChat official accounts closely follow the hot topics. A high similarity of published articles directly compromises the readability of articles on educational policies.3.2 Lack of credibility in the viewpoints of articles
Regarding the identity of the founders of the official accounts and the source of knowledge, only 33.5% of them are researchers in fields related to education, medicine and other professional disciplines, and only 32.5% of the articles are scientific educational articles. The research results of some articles are not from standard scientific research, with weak arguments, low credibility and poor accuracy. Although some articles may mention certain types of scientific research in their conclusions, their authenticity and credibility are greatly reduced due to the lack of bibliography and source of viewpoints. Disparity in the understanding of education, strong personal preference, messages disseminated to family education without considering the universality of experience and other influencing factors easily cause confusion among readers. In addition, most of the WeChat official accounts on individual parenting do not have professional reviews in their operation mechanism. Apart from some medical education articles published by pediatricians that are reviewed by professional teams with their real names in the source of references attached, most of the articles on official accounts do not show the identity of the reviewer. Lack of screening and supervision by professionals is one of the important reasons for inconsistency in the quality of articles and the lack of credibility in the viewpoints of the articles.3.3 The articles coerced by business logic
Unlike other WeChat official accounts, which are the education publicity platforms for kindergartens and communities, WeChat official accounts on individual parenting are mostly profit-oriented commercial carriers. Investors need to assess their commercial value based on indicators such as user coverage, interactivity, user stickiness etc., which determines the economic gain of the official accounts. Therefore, WeChat official accounts on individual parenting need to attract a wide range of audience, improve user retention and get long-term attention from users. The research shows that the popularity and commercial value of WeChat official accounts are highly correlated with its themes, timing and headline features. It is hard for articles with a huge number of followers to avoid producing "clickbaits." They go out of their way to cater to the curiosity of readers by means of eye-catching titles, while devaluing the scientificity and accuracy of the contents. To a certain extent, the family education knowledge published on WeChat official accounts on individual parenting falls short of serving as a positive guidance for parents' awareness about family education, but rather shows the business logic of "catering to the audience" where the quality and rationality of articles are sacrificed in favor of quantity and profitability. This kind of ingratiation is not conducive to maximizing the educational function of official accounts on childcare, nor to the improvement of family education.3.4 The articles imposing more pressure on parents
On the one hand, some writers for WeChat official accounts demonstrate an ideal form of family childcare, inevitably leading to parent readers making comparisons between their own family education and others', thus resulting in anxiety. While it may stimulate the improvement of family education to some extent, it may exacerbate parental worries about childcare. On the other hand, a new media communication platform such as the WeChat official account has created a "hub" of parental emotions for childcare. The result of the research on emotion dispersing online suggests that emotions are transmitted in the field of new media through identity recognition, emotional belonging and other pathways and undergo five main stages of development, ie, awakening, stimulation, aggregating, settling, and exploding. The "weak emotion" hidden in family and individual childcare is influenced and awakened by the "strong emotion" in the articles on WeChat official accounts. The spread of emotions becomes faster and faster, the intensity stronger and stronger, the emotional shock and impact becoming further enhanced - finally, becoming visible to the public openly through the articles on WeChat official accounts. When parents cannot receive equivalent emotional feedback or absorb the nutrition of "true science," and the scientific childcare information fails to meet readers expectations, it may lead to a decrease in the fertility rate and disappearance of happiness derived from parenting. Articles on WeChat official accounts awaken, inspire and aggravate parental emotions, making them precipitate in parental perception and finally erupt. However, the failure to provide effective solutions that can alleviate parental childcare pressure and the condonement of the negative emotions have greatly threatened the physical and mental health of parents, the function of family education, and the growth and development of children.
4. Recommendations for future research
Based on the research findings and discussions, in order to effectively improve the quality of articles on WeChat official accounts on individual parenting and provide more accurate, comprehensive and targeted parenting knowledge for family education through online media, the author believes that efforts should be made as the following.4.1 Solid foundation: creators on WeChat official account platforms make efforts to improve the quality of their educational articles
The basis for the operation of WeChat official accounts on individual parenting is to disseminate family education knowledge for educational purposes. Trees simply will not flourish without deep roots in the soil. It is imperative to improve the scientificity of the articles and the scientific educational literacy of the creators on the official account platforms. It is undeniable that the active media consumption in the digital era is becoming more and more important. Virtual learning communities such as WeChat official accounts have become the main places for parents to learn about parenting. The widely read and forwarded articles on WeChat official accounts have strongly influenced and guided parental educational outlook. "The uniqueness of modern media is that it guides the way we see and understand things." These seemingly insignificant short articles have a profound impact, the quality of which contributes to children's development, parents' growth, educational and social development. Therefore, while gaining economic benefit from high readership and a large volume of forwarding, WeChat official accounts on individual parenting should bear corresponding social responsibility, solve the existing problems of unbalanced content and low content credibility, and develop themselves into an ecosystem of online learning platforms so that every parent in the era of group dissemination can freely participate in reading activities in a healthy online ecosystem. First of all, operators should fully understand the nature and function of WeChat official accounts on individual parenting, and be aware of their important value and influence as public educational platforms. Based on this understanding, they should establish the proper orientation of ideology and value, passing on knowledge content that will contribute to parental improvement in family education. Secondly, official account operators should enhance their capability of critical thinking, that is, the capability to select, explain and analyze, as well as the capability to ascertain and be immune to misinformation. They are supposed to provide parents with practical advice on education based on the actual situation of family education in China rather than prioritizing economic gains. Operators should also intentionally expand the scope of relevant knowledge based on extensive data to maximize the social value of WeChat official accounts on individual parenting. Finally, related government agencies should actively implement management policies and regulations for online media, strengthening supervision and review mechanisms. Implementation of self-supervision and external supervision will jointly contribute to a WeChat official account platform on individual parenting with higher scientific educational quality.4.2 Direction of improvement: Education professionals leading the journey of online scientific education
Articles on WeChat official accounts on individual parenting have obtained stable reader numbers, high levels of readership and sharing, reflecting the huge demand of parents for family education knowledge. Once parents have encountered any kinds of tough problems in family education, they first go to search articles on WeChat official accounts for help. However, this study has found that even articles on official account with a large readership are of mixed quality, and dubious authenticity. In addition, because of the operation mode of the official accounts, contents are just one-way output and decided by the operators themselves, making it difficult to meet readers' needs for interactivity, immediacy and customization. Therefore, more professionals in the fields of early childhood education, family education, adult education etc. should be involved to lead the path of scientific education on family education with their expertise. Professionals can make full use of such a convenient channel as the WeChat official account to make their voices heard, improve the efficiency of their knowledge dissemination, and accurately help parents who find childcare challenging on a long-term basis. For example, they may regularly give lectures, answer questions from parents, offer one-on-one case guidance at designated time slots. In addition to collecting information and addressing parents' confusion, they can also promote scientific research, jointly facilitating a two-way development.4.3 Focus on Parental Emotions: supporting parents in regulating emotions during parenting
During the analysis of articles on official accounts and the interviews in research, it was found that the main negative effect on parents caused by reading too many articles on official accounts is to make them feel confused and at a loss. Parents who should have been able to carry out family education in a confident and independent manner after they grow up now do not know how to play an active role as a caregiver and even suffer from negative mood swings. Educators need to be particularly alert to this phenomenon. Therefore, stakeholders concerned in the field of family education should support parents to improve their critical thinking on the contents of the articles on WeChat official accounts on parenting. Parents are supposed to make use of the educational information online based on their own needs and choose effective knowledge to serve the purpose of family education and self-development. In addition, parents should also strive to pursue their own values and enhance the awareness of growing together with their children. On the other hand, parents should consciously learn about methods of emotional management and seek more scientific and professional help if necessary. They should draw on public resources of community education, taking a proactive role in strengthening family-kindergarten cooperation making good use of the family education support platform of concerted family-school-community coeducation. Only through these efforts can family education become an self-sufficient, confident, and self-developing endeavor for parents.
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*This paper is one of the achievements of the national general project under the National Education Science "Fourteenth Five Year Plan"-- "Study on Emotions of parents of infants and young children aged 0-6 years and its supporting studies." The project number is (Yuan)BHA210149.