Sometimes, it takes a former gaming addict to know one.
Reggie Tan, 20, who was obsessed with gaming when he was in his teens, now volunteers as a youth advisory panel member at Help123: Cyber Wellness Community Support, a new platform for children and youth facing cyber issues, such as Internet addiction and cyberbullying.
Such a platform could have benefited Reggie, who has just graduated from the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) College East. The volunteer at A.P.T.I.T.U.D.E Centre run by Touch Youth at the ITE is awaiting national service.
He recalls: “In Secondary 1, I would wake up at 5am just to play online games such as Poptropica and Club Penguin. And when I got home from school, I’d continue playing the entire day. My parents had to implement password locks on all the computers at home to control my game time.”
Excessive Internet use among youth here is a cause of concern. In a 2016 study by think-tank DQ Institute and the Nanyang Technological University, which defined more than five hours daily use of the Internet as excessive, 12-year-olds here were found to spend over 61/2 hours on the Internet daily; even nine-year-olds clocked in 31/2 hours.
Studies have shown that young pathological gamers and victims of cyberbullying have a greater likelihood of developing psychosocial problems — such as depression and anxiety.
While there are ongoing cyber wellness initiatives by schools, community partners and the Government, a concerted effort is needed to address the issues in a more impactful way, observes Mr Joel Neo, a senior executive at Fei Yue Community Services.
The idea for Help123, a one-stop community resource, was initiated by the National Council of Social Service and Singtel, which runs cyber wellness programmes in mainstream and special education schools, in consultation with key stakeholders in cyber wellness.
On the Help123 website, youth, family members and educators in need of help or seeking information can speak to counsellors via webchat, e-mail or the hotline. They can also browse an up-to-date catalogue of cyber wellness articles, get a referral to a relevant service provider, or request to meet a counsellor face-to-face.
“Youth are often hesitant about seeking help for cyber issues. Through Help123’s webchat, e-mail and hotline, we hope to make the prospect less intimidating,” Mr Neo says.
The Help123 platform is jointly run by Fei Yue and Touch Community Services. These two agencies have experience in cyber-counselling and operating helplines respectively.
Mrs Anita Low, senior director of Touch Youth, says: “Both Touch and Fei Yue have been serving the community for many years. We share a common vision to serve and develop youth.
“I believe that we can marry our expertise to better support the various platforms made available to the public at Help123.”
The Help123 programme was made possible by a $900,000 contribution by Singtel to Community Chest with a dollar-for-dollar matching grant by the Care & Share Movement, launched in 2013 to celebrate Singapore’s Golden Jubilee.
Under the Movement, eligible donations raised by Community Chest and 240 participating social service organisations between December 1, 2013, and March 31, 2016, were matched dollar-for-dollar by the Government. The matched amounts go towards building the capabilities and capacities of the social service sector to meet rising needs in the future.
A united front
To make Help123 more relevant to young people, youth advisory panel members like Reggie provided feedback on the concept during the development phase and tested out the system subsequently.
Reggie also got to put his gaming skills to good use when panel members were tasked with playing games to understand how youth with addictions feel.
He says: “After the session, we brainstormed ways to tackle excessive gaming. I felt honoured that I could use my experience to help others facing cyber issues.”
Fellow panel member and A.P.T.I.T.U.D.E Centre volunteer Lum Kok Heng, 19, also a graduate of ITE College East who is awaiting national service, felt compelled to volunteer as he knows of youth who are suffering from cyberbullying.
He says: “Cyberbullying is a big issue — just look at how hate comments can drive some youth to commit suicide.
“There will always be ‘trolls’ online. Youth with low self-esteem will be more emotionally affected by them.”
Kok Heng feels that there is still a lack of public awareness on how cyber issues can affect children, youth and their families. It is crucial for parents to be educated on how to look out for signs of distress and care for their child’s emotional needs better.
“During my journey with Help123, I was very heartened to see so many youth like myself coming together in support of those suffering from cyber issues, and to find ways to help them manage it,” he says.