A young girl using her mobile device. (Photographer: Wynne Leung)
In the age of binge media, cutting-edge devices are ubiquitous. People gazing at the screen of a smartphone or a tablet can easily be found everywhere in Hong Kong. While the potential health risks resulted from the excessive use of digital products, such as getting cataracts and tenosynovitis, are always in our focus, its adverse influences on youngsters’ mental health should also be put into the limelight.
At the most awkward ages of their lives, self-conscious youngsters are facing identity crisis. They are eager to explore a role which can be easily accepted by their peers and make them feel comfortable and safe. However, with the soaring popularity of social networking sites in recent years, such as Facebook and Instagram, youngsters can no longer simply be themselves anymore. Because those who are more outgoing and optimistic tend to have more “likes” for their posts and photos. To avoid being isolated and snubbed, teenagers begin to package themselves. They create an impressive online profile for themselves, while concealing their anxieties, doubts and fears on the Internet. The over-emphasis on looking good on the outside often lead to depression on the inside, as they have no one to share their bother with.
Spending too much time socializing online also undermines youngsters’ interpersonal skills and places their real-life relationships in peril. For example, once they get used to interacting with others via Facebook or other online chat rooms, they may find it hard to talk to others when it comes to face-to-face conversations. Moreover, arguments are likely to occur when some of our friends don’t get prompt reply from us in WhatsApp. A confusing emoticon can also trigger a quarrel, shaking the cornerstone of a precious friendship.
To stop devices from ruling youngsters’ lives, their parents have a crucial role to play. They should first refrain themselves from reaching for the phone immediately every day after they wake up to set a good example for their children. They should also have hearty chat with their children at the foot of their beds every night. In the process, they can encourage them to speak up and share with them their gloom. So emotionally fragile youngsters will understand that they are not left to their own devices. They can always have a shoulder to cry on in times of troubles.
After all, technology is a double-edged sword. It can hang people together or separately. So we should use it wisely. Just remember, if you want to make new friends, you should let your coating drop, make yourself heard and keep knocking down the mental roadblock of wanting to be liked – genuine friends will like you because of who you really are. If you miss your friends, try to contact them neither through texting nor voicemail – but scintillating conversation. Because laughter is far more effective than a smiling emoticon in maintaining irreplaceable friendship.