#SESSION 2 - The Digital World – Friend or Foe?

STEP into the sun, deep clean your house, get support from friends and family — these are just some suggestions that pop up when a user keys in “suicide” on TikTok, the video-sharing app wildly popular among youth

At the second Temasek Shophouse Conversations session, The Digital World – Friend or Foe, panellist Ms Olivia Chong, TikTok’s Issue Policy Manager (Suicide, Self-harm and Dangerous Acts), said the social media platform collaborates with content creators, civil society and healthcare professionals to create in-app resources for youth at risk of self-harm.

It even has a toolkit to help young content creators share their mental health stories and struggles in a safe manner, without the use of triggering language and content.

Measures such as the responsible curation of digital content to limit harm to youth mental health seem to be the way to go, as such “digital tools are here to stay”, said Dr Tan Weng Mooi, Director and Co-lead of Integrated Health Promotion at the Ministry of Health’s Office for Healthcare Transformation.

Another way is to limit excessive screen time, noted moderator Dr Vicknesan Marimuttu, Senior Consultant Psychiatrist and Head of Child and Adolescent Mental Wellness Service at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital’s Department of Psychological Medicine.

Excessive time spent online, in place of real life interactions, may contribute to the struggles youth face. “If you are not doing the stuff you do as kids, going out and having sleepovers, being outdoors, and forming closer relationships, you’re not having the same development, the same opportunities to go through some of the difficulties in life and learn from it. Then when something happens, all that gets magnified.”

Also on the panel was Professor Susan Sawyer, Director of the Centre for Adolescent Health at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne. She suggested adults take a more active role in establishing the correct balance between protecting and empowering youth. The digital world can be very dark, but it also has many bright spots with lots of opportunity for support, acceptance and validation, she said.

“We need, as adult communities, to be thinking about how we both care and protect young people while equally supporting their engagement and empowerment in the utilisation of digital media and social networking.”

The onus is on parents to set the culture. “In terms of the risks they face in their social environments, on digital media, and social networking platforms, [young people] are desperately needing families and schools not to abrogate those responsibilities to students themselves, but to be engaging with young people. One of the ways they can perhaps best do that is to just be curious and to ask questions.”

Professor Sonja March, Director at the University of Southern Queensland’s Centre for Health Research, agreed, adding that adults need to be aware of their own behaviours.

“It's all very well and good to be attempting to set limits with our children around what they are doing or explore what they're doing. But if we are not also understanding how social media and how other social networking are used and impacting adults then we might continue modelling that behaviour which will make it difficult for young people to change.”