EDITORIAL: One cure for brooding teens: keep them offline

BANGKOK (The Nation/ ANN) - ‘Isolation’ is prevalent in today’s increasingly connected society where a snub can linger for days in social media

A recent survey has revealed a startling finding, showing that today’s teenagers are more fragile than ever, ironically as they tend to be more “isolated” in the tightly-connected modern world. In the past, if a girl was not invited to a party, she might be sad or brood over it for a day or two. Now, with the likes of Facebook and Instagram, pictures from the party will keep popping up for several days, if not weeks, repeatedly snubbing those left out.

It’s the drawback of being connected “too well”. Teenagers can suffer from depression because of that, and depression can lead to worse things. It is recommended that, as hard as it is, parents must try to keep their children offline occasionally. Interaction with real people can ease the effects of the “party pictures” and, in the long run, teach children what genuine self-esteem is.

Maybe contrary to what many people think, today’s teens are dating and drinking less, according to the survey, conducted by a psychology professor at San Diego State University. The people covered by the research were also “less likely to be sexually active”. The researcher linked that to the amount of time kids spend staring at screens – whether on smartphones, computer tablets or laptops. She is worried about what she perceives as an increased risk of depression and even suicide.

For all their power to link children day and night, social media has also exacerbated “the age-old teen concern about being left out”. While adults can effectively handle isolation or being left out, teenagers cannot, she said. The researcher noted that although today’s teenagers may go to fewer parties and spend less time together in person, “when they do congregate, they document their hangouts relentlessly”. 

Those left out see it repeatedly on Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook.

“The number of teens who feel left out has reached all-time highs across age groups,” the researcher said. Her solution is simple but difficult to implement. 

Today’s teenagers don’t know about the world before the Internet, whereas their parents have no idea what it is like to be a teenager in the era of Facebook, Instagram and smartphones. 

While adults can handle one hour without wi-fi, it is very different for the teens. Much of the youngsters’ world is online, no matter how painful it can get sometimes.

Feeling left out is just part of the problematic big picture. Many online activities involve written language and, as we all know, text communications can be misinterpreted and are not as effective as verbal dialogues. In addition, teen politics plays out very powerfully online, sometimes to devastating or tragic effects.

Although it is very difficult to keep teenagers offline, parents must try, especially when “vulnerable” ones are concerned, the study concluded. One good option is sports, because, unlike camping or watching TV for example, people don’t need to “get connected” while swimming or playing tennis. Sports can also improve health and raise self-esteem. A good game of tennis can ease negative feelings associated with “party pictures”.

The way to do it is not to be forceful. Children can rebel if the family’s router is suddenly unplugged or their smartphones are taken away. Parents need to be gentle but they also need to be determined. 

The survey, after all, makes a compelling case against youngsters spending too much time in cyberspace, which can prove more cruel than the real world.

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