The other pandemic: Doomscrolling

by Chan Wern Shen
  • Doomscrolling doesn’t only happen to adults; an increasing amount of children are being affected too.
  • Research shows that it triggers anxiety, and worsens depression.
  • Fighting back isn’t easy, but it is achievable with the mix of discipline, common sense and a strong desire to change.

Stepping through your front door after a long day in the office, you half expect to hear your daughter’s running feet to greet you home. But as the door closes shut behind you, all you hear is the sound of the TV playing in the background.

Peering through to the hall as you put your shoes away, you notice your daughter curled up on the sofa, furiously running her finger up and down the screen of her iPad.

“At least she’s not dancing or bouncing around like those other children do on TikTok,” you tell yourself, in a self-assured inner voice. “No sound coming out of her iPad either. Maybe she’s reading something online.” 

You chuckle at that last thought, and continue to walk by. She hasn’t acknowledged your return home, and is engrossed with her screen. But you pay little attention to it, and continue walking past her. 

You drop a light pat on her shoulder, and head in to wash up. It’s been a long day after all.

Later over dinner, few words are exchanged at the table. She’s quick to finish up and hops back on the sofa before you can even finish examining her plate – she’s eaten all her vegetables and rice, so you don’t have any reason to get upset. But deep down you feel that something’s off.

Shrugging off the uneasy feeling for the second time this evening, you finish up the dishes and pull out your laptop. There are a couple of emails left to reply to, before you can call it a night.

Before you know it, it’s already midnight – you’ve been so engrossed in finishing up work that you didn’t notice that your daughter is still curled up on the sofa in the same position as she was 3 hours ago. 

As you motion towards her, she jolts up, quickly wishes you good night, and retreats to her room. You can’t help but to wonder what she’s been doing for the past few hours – who knows how long she’s been stuck to her screen before you reached home?

Curious, worried, you do a Google search – “what are the signs of internet addiction”.

The search results are scary. The headlines, shocking, and clicking into them reveal even scarier statistics. Line by line, you read and try to relate the written scenarios to what you’ve just witnessed today. 

You don’t even realize that you’re now curled up on the sofa yourself – assuming the vacant spot left by your daughter. That’s not important right now, because you need to read all you can – you need to find out what the problem could be.

An alert pops up at the top of your screen and forces you to look up – “Low battery warning: 5% left”.

Cursing yourself for not plugging into a charger earlier, you notice that it’s eerily quiet around you. A quick glimpse at the clock reveals why – it’s 4.30am. 

Am I doomed?

The term doomscrolling itself is relatively new. Merriam-Webster attributes its origins to early 2020, around the time that the COVID-19 pandemic changed the world as we knew it, when turning to our digital devices for solace was one of the few pleasurable options available to us from the confines of our homes.

Whether it was to check on the latest pandemic updates, to be on top of any updates relating to your friends or family, or simply to catch a hopeful glimpse of the world outside your four walls, doomscrolling spread and infected more people than the COVID-19 virus itself. 

Before you laugh it off though, be warned that doomscrolling effects the best of us. If you haven’t already been diagnosed as a doomscroller, chances are it’s because you just don’t recognize the symptoms. 

Think about the casual social media binges that you go on while waiting for the water to boil, for the lift to arrive, or to keep you from falling asleep on the MRT? Those binges are time sensitive because the moment that the train doors open, you’ll be dashing out of the train while unceremoniously jamming your phone back into your pocket or handbag. Whether you like it or not, those sessions face forced endings.

Now compare that to how you consume social media just before you go to sleep – when you’re comfortably tucked in under your blanket, wanting to sleep, but just not able to yet. 

Your first instinct drives you to pick up your phone and pop open your social media app of choice – it could be Facebook, it could be Instagram. Maybe it’s Twitter? Or if you’re a real junkie, it could be Reddit. But whatever it is, it doesn’t matter, because you’ll start to scroll.

Occasionally, you’ll arrive on a thumb stopper. Whether it’s an article to read, a picture to critique or a video to laugh along to, something will stop you from scrolling. But once that’s over, you’ll find yourself back to your social timeline and scrolling again.

How long do these sessions take? Does all this scrolling help you go to sleep earlier? Or does it keep you up way beyond your designated 7-hours-of-sleep-a-night cut off time?

The other pandemic

Kevin Roose from The New York Times describes his early doomscrolling experiences as, “falling into deep, morbid rabbit holes filled with coronavirus content, agitating myself to the point of physical discomfort, erasing any hope of a good night’s sleep.”

Although not exclusively a lockdown phenomenon,the proliferation of doomscrolling was undoubtedly accelerated by the situation. 2020 had no shortage of attention grabbing headlines – from the Aussie bushfires in January to the assortment of foreign and local political turmoil that followed, and the seemingly endless laundry list of disasters that were to come – it almost felt like something new was happening every time you refreshed your timeline.

That, coupled with infinite scrolling timelines and algorithm updates that just knew what to serve you to keep your attention glued to the screen was just too much to resist. But just don’t take our word for it, because the numbers don’t lie – Twitter’s daily use numbers have jumped 24 percent since the start of the pandemic, while Facebook’s numbers are up 27 percent, data analysis shows.

Our kids weren’t spared either. Music factories like Super Simple Songs, edutainment clips from Blippi and the adventures of the Octonauts and the Paw Patrol kept them glued to their  screens for hours. And when they weren’t watching cartoons, they would either be watching the latest dances from TikTok or convincing you to appear in one.

How it all begins

Although not strictly classified as obsessive compulsive behavior (OCD), doomscrolling does share a lot of similarities. American Psychologist Dr. Susan Albers tells us that, “when your brain continues to loop around on a particular topic similar to endless scrolling, it is not really about finding news, it’s about reducing anxiety.”

She explains, “If you’re depressed, you often look for information that can confirm how you feel. If you’re feeling negative, then reading negative news reconfirms how you feel. It’s the same mindset.” 

An unsatisfying addiction at its core, the continuous scrolling can quickly evolve into a mindless habit, where most of the time you’re not even aware that you’re doing it.

Dr. Leela R. Magavi, a psychiatrist and regional medical director at Community Psychiatry adds that even when you’ve reached the end of your timeline, “the vicious feedback loop draws people back to news and scrolling yet again.” And like any addiction, the transient assurance gained by reading the news loses its satisfying value, and worsens anxiety over time.

In the long term, doomscrolling increases levels of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. Research routinely shows that chronic levels of elevated stress hormones are associated with many physical health issues, including heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. Given that mental health is connected to physical health, it’s no surprise that it eventually affect the physical body too, from interfering with sleep to creating a craving for comfort food and overeating.

Fighting back

Fortunately, it’s not all doom and gloom from here on. Fighting against the urges will inevitably be a difficult task, but a little behavioral shaping and a whole load of conviction should get you out of the rut.

  • Set a time limit

Whether it’s for your kids or yourself, set a time limit to all digital media consumption sessions. Turn on a timer, set an alarm, or go one step further by using Audra HomeShield’s time limit function that allows you to go on your favorite social media site for a fixed amount of hours a day.

  • Set social media free days

Choose certain days in a week to be decreed social media free days, where all social media usage on that particular day is banned throughout the household. Remember, children learn from what they see, so if you want them to adhere to these rules, you have to lead by example! You can easily block access to social media sites on specific days through the Category Block feature on Audra HomeShield.

  • Practice gratitude

Doomscrolling triggers anxiety or depression when you keep getting served negative or distressing headlines.Therefore, a simple “fix” would be to make a daily list of things that you’re grateful for. For example, if you read a new rumor that a full lockdown might be coming, be thankful that your job allows you to work from home without any restrictions and that your nearest and closest are in the pink of health.

  • Create digital safe zones around the home

If you know that doomscrolling usually hits you hardest when you’re lying in bed, then ban the use of mobile devices the moment you put your feet up. Although you’re probably the only one who can enforce this rule, a little will power goes a long way. In the beginning, setting Bed Time rules in Audra HomeShield will completely cut off internet access to your device at a certain time. Once you grow out of the habit of having a 5-minute browse before you sleep, you can turn that feature off.

  • Commoditize casual internet access

Going online for work or school is exempt from this exercise since those tasks are unavoidable, but beyond that, any other casual internet form of access should be chargeable. Give members in your household a set amount of free daily internet time through the Audra HomeShield Set Daily Limit panel, and let them manage how they use it themselves. Once Audra tracks that they’ve used up their daily quota, charge them for additional hours in exchange for household chores like mopping or doing the ironing.

  • Create a list of go-to alternatives

Have a few minutes of downtime while you wait for the kettle to boil? Don’t pull out your phone – instead, start a 3 minute meditation exercise. Is the elevator taking too long to reach your floor? Pull out a small notebook and write down a list of tasks you need to complete today, instead of opening Twitter. As long as you’re not pulling out your phone, any quick and simple activity will help!

  • Talk it out

Setting up Category Blocks, Bed Time and Daily Limits will kick off a gradual healing process, but it won’t fix the problem 100%. Through the Audra HomeShield monitoring screen, you’ll be able to see if anyone in your household is having problems adjusting. Is your daughter still trying to access social media even on blocked days? Have a chat with her instead of rushing to discipline her. Notice that your significant other is still trying to get a social media fix before bed? Check in with them to see if there’s any looming anxiety that’s keeping them from falling asleep. Use this opportunity to identify root issues, and try to work them out together.

Starting 2021 on the right foot: Ensure your digital wellbeing in the year ahead

By Chan Wern Shen
  • The first step to achieving better digital wellness is to be aware of your own current digital habits
  • Include your children in the process of setting up new rules – they’re more likely to follow them when they’ve had a say
  • Revisit old non-tech habits like reading books to give your eyes a rest from digital screens

Over the course of the last decade, our lives have changed significantly thanks to advances in technology. Terms like “hyper-connectivity” and “digital wellbeing” were seemingly non-existent, and daily tasks like paying for hawker food with your mobile phone or ordering groceries directly from your fridge were merely scenes from sci-fi movies.

But here we are in 2021, where all of these things are very real, and very intertwined with our daily lives. 

All in a day’s work

These days, you wake up to messages from your friends and family, browse through global news on your smartphone at breakfast, and watch your children dial into their online classes with their laptops. You get dressed and choose the fastest route to the office with your in-car GPS head unit, and listen to an audiobook while you wade through traffic. 

At the office, you quickly check up on the situation at home via the IP-connected CCTV, and pay for your parking with the council app. While you’re at it, you notice that some utility bills haven’t been paid, and quickly run through the usage details.

“That’s odd. This month’s bill is much higher,” you think to yourself as you hit the PAY NOW button. “I’ll have a chat with the kids later,” you remind yourself as you sip on your coffee while dialing into a conference call with your colleagues in Shanghai. 

At lunch hour, you decide to order in and browse through the endless delivery options on your phone. You can never be too sure these days with the rising number of daily COVID cases, and pull up the app to check on the latest updates in your area. Even though you’re not working in a red zone, you can never be too safe.

A little after four, you get a reminder telling you that your parents are coming over for dinner. Quickly you open up your condo management app, and pre-register them as visitors – “this will save them a lot of hassle,” you tell yourself with a slight nod while sending them the QR code over WhatsApp.

Just before you head home, you receive the notification that you’ve been waiting for all day – your new toy, an internet-connected smart vacuum robot has been delivered, and you can’t wait to get home to set it up.

When you get home, you notice your daughter looking a little upset. She had an exam today, so you log in to the school’s parent portal app, and see that she didn’t get the grades that she was expecting. “Maybe it’s because she’s been spending too much time online,” you ask yourself before you start with your pep talk.

Dinner is a pleasure, but you don’t want your parents driving so late at night – their vision isn’t what it used to be – so you call them a car to fetch them home. You pay for it with your e-wallet, and set a note to the driver, telling him to take the quickest route back.

As you get ready for bed, you catch up with the current events in the news. You reply to a few messages that you missed, and jot down a quick to-do for tomorrow. With the lights turned off, you rest your head down and close your eyes.

But just as you start drifting asleep, you hear the faint sounds of speaking in the background. Your daughter must be online even after she’s supposed to be asleep…

The Quest for Digital Wellness

The whole notion of “Digital Wellness” was borne from days like the one that we just described. As Google themselves once said, “when technology becomes integral to almost everything that we do, it would eventually distract us from the things that matter the most”.

We couldn’t have said it better ourselves, and increasingly, see this becoming more apparent. So much so, that one of the driving forces behind the creation of Audra HomeShield was to provide parents like yourself with easy access to the cornerstones of digital wellness.

With Audra HomeShield, you’ll be able to:

  • Manage the amount of screen time being used in your household
  • Manage the type of content that can be accessed 
  • Understand the usage habits of people in your household
  • Protect your internet connected devices from external threats

But what really is “digital wellness” and why is it so important?

Simply put, digital wellness refers to the state of your physical and mental health in today’s digital age. Because we’re so wired, research shows that our digital lifestyle makes us more susceptible to issues like anxiety, addiction and depression.

What we see as time saving or convenient on the surface could trigger dependency issues, an impedance to our critical and creative thinking, and also introduce a host of physical ailments like damaged vision, spinal problems, and carpal tunnel syndrome.

Worst still, these issues do not exclusively affect adults. An alarming number of children are also showing symptoms of internet addiction, gadget dependency and the accompanying physical repercussions that come with them.

Being digitally well doesn’t just revolve around knowing how to identify what’s bad for you. It’s about adapting and overcoming digital dependence, making technology work for you, and ultimately, about finding the right balance for you and your family between the real world and the digital one.

Steps to ensure digital wellness in 2021

  • Be aware of your own habits

Before you can fix an issue, you first need to understand what you’re up against. Although it may not seem like it, your children are very aware of how much time you spend on your screens. As children do, they will gauge your screen dependency as the “acceptable amount”, and will often challenge you when you try to discipline them for overuse.

In fact, up to 27% of children say that their parents have double standards when it comes to how much screen time they’re allowed to have.

From checking our phones for messages the moment we wake up, to sneaking a peek at the dinner table during meals, not to mention, the fact that we would binge watch an entire Netflix for eight hours straight – these are some of the notable cues that children will pick up on and use them against you. More importantly, they may turn out to be the cracks showing in the relationship between the parent and the child.

“Children are not stupid, children are brilliant amazing little creatures that pick up on your nonverbal cues, more than verbal cues, and they will do what they see 100% of the time,” says child and family development specialist, Rachael Kwacz

“Not only that, your kids will call you out on lots of stuff, when you’re using your phone or the Internet when you shouldn’t, and as parents, we often proclaim ourselves an exception to the rule because we were the ones who set it.”

It starts with you, and the values that you instill into their minds. 

  • Create the rules together

After almost a year of e-learning, your children probably have their own devices and have formed their own set of usage patterns. Whether you like it or not, 2020 has allowed them to be more exposed to the internet than you probably know. But now that school is scheduled to reopen, we’re pretty sure that you’re thinking of restricting their internet usage.

In situations like this, it’s important that you include them into the process of creating the new rules. By giving them a say in how long they should be allowed every day, they are more likely to feel that their opinion is appreciated, and in turn, more inclined to follow the law of the house.

However, we understand that it’s not always that easy, and created the Daily Limit by Hours feature on Audra HomeShield to help you enforce these agreed limits.

To set this feature up through the Audra Management App:

  1. Navigate to the Set Internet Limit menu
  2. Scroll down to Daily Limit by Hours and set the amount of hours with the slider
  3. Activate the feature and tap Save
  4. Audra will automatically track your child’s internet usage and enforce the daily limit once it is reached
  5. Be intentional with your daily proceedings

As the country gets back into gear in 2021, our children will start going back to school, and we will see ourselves start venturing out from our home offices more and more. This would mean that the daily routines (or lack of) that we had set up over the better part of 2020 are in for a sudden change.

Use this opportunity positively to rebuild your daily habits. While you don’t need to have a detailed plan for each day of the week, ensure that you’re aware of what you need to achieve in any given day, so that you can keep your digital activity accountable.

For example, if you need to be out of the house by 7.30am in order to get your children to school on time but can’t forgo your daily ritual of reading the news headlines over coffee, then block out the necessary time on a daily basis in order to achieve both of these tasks.

This might mean cutting short your usual TV time at night, or stopping yourself from doomscrolling your social feed in bed to get enough sleep to operate properly the next day.

In cases like this, features like Bed Time in Audra HomeShield might be just as effective in helping you as it would be for your children.

To set this feature up through the Audra Management App:

  1. Navigate to the Set Internet Limit menu
  2. Tap on the Bed Time feature as set the time which internet connectivity should cut off and reactivate
  3. Activate the feature and tap Save
  4. Audra will automatically enforce Bed Time at the set hours and resume internet connectivity after they have passed

  • Revisit your forgotten no-tech habits

When’s the last time you actually flipped the pages of a book as opposed to swiping across a screen, or hitting play for the next chapter of an audio book? Do you remember the last time you picked up on a headline that wasn’t on the wrapper of your nasi lemak? 

While these may be “old school” habits, they provide you with a short escape from the clutches of your digital devices. Besides that, a return to the analog versions of your favorite hobbies also give you a chance to actually concentrate and relax – free from annoying notifications, pop-ups or alarms.

Reading a book also has the fringe benefit of keeping your vision in check. Jeff Taylor, Medical Director for YourSightMatters.com tells us in this article that, “Normally, we blink about 15 times per minute, but this rate decreases by half when we are staring at our smartphone. As we squint to read these miniature screens, our facial, neck and shoulder muscles tighten, eyes become fatigued and vision can be blurred or strained.”

  • Rekindle human connections

Although social distancing is still going to be a big part of 2021’s culture, this doesn’t mean that your human connections need to continue suffering. For starters, think about the human connections between you and your children – are they as strong as they were pre-lockdown? 

Have the extended hours in close proximity enriched the relationship with your family members? Or has this forced time together simply made you more comfortable with zone out into your own world in front of them?

If it’s the latter, then your household is in danger of falling into disarray. Rachael Kwacz tells us that, “if your children don’t feel seen or heard at home, they’re going to look for this stimulus in other places, such as their peer groups or online. But if they feel connected at home, he or she is able to have a healthy conversation with the parents, and work together as a team to keep the whole family safe.”

Do what works for you

To tell you that this isn’t a definitive list of must-do’s would be an understatement. The simple fact is that we’re all programmed differently, have different habits and have different tolerances to our digital devices. This makes the need to understand digital wellness all the more important, and we hope that this blog post can help you to realize the importance of embracing a digital balanced lifestyle.

If you have any suggestions or tips on how we can all achieve better balance in our lives, please do let us know your thoughts on Facebook.

Stay tuned to the Audra blog to learn more about digital wellness, internet addiction, gadget dependency, and also how Audra HomeShield can find a place in your home.

Cyberbullying: How Parents Can Approach Their Child About it

Cyberbullying: How Parents Can Approach Their Child About it

Words by Celeste Goh
  • Malaysia has one of the highest levels of social media cyberbullying in the world at 71%
  • One in four Malaysian parents have revealed that their children had experienced cyberbullying
  • Most victims or parents do not escalate these cases to the police, even though the effects of cyberbullying are comparable to physical bullying
  • However the bigger problem is that up tp 70% of parents struggle to approach the topic with their children in a meaningful way

When it comes to cyber crimes, the Malaysian government is rather hands-on about preventing them escalating any further. While Malaysia may be one of the countries in the world with the highest level of social media bullying at 71%, in terms of awareness, the country also counters with a high degree of awareness at 85% globally. 

Besides that, cyberbullying is considered an offence under the Malaysia Communications and Multimedia Act 1998, and in 2018 and 2019 alone, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) has received close to 3,800 complaints of cyber harassment.

However, many more cyber crime cases have gone unreported: “Most victims do not come forward to lodge a police report, as they think cyberbullying is supposed to happen in the virtual world, and they feel that they cannot complain about it, as compared to being bullied physically,” says Supt R Chelvam, the Commercial Crime Deputy Chief in Penang.

source

Managing Director of Ipsos in Malaysia, Arun Menon says: “Cyberbullying can be as real as bullying in person. Our youth are growing up in a time, when there is little distinction between the digital and the physical, as their lives are heavily intertwined with social media. It is important for parents to help their children recognise the abuse when it happens, and from a very young age.”

But how can parents go about having a conversation with their children about cyberbullying, when reports have shown that around 70% of parents struggle to communicate meaningfully with their kids? With “the former saddled with the stress of adult responsibilities, and the latter the trials of growing up,” 82% of parents feel like their kid avoids talking to them if they don’t have to, with 78% of them feeling shut out of their child’s life.

“Why do I think most Asian parents don’t have talks with their children? It’s just because we weren’t raised that way. It’s not what we’re accustomed to, it’s not what we’ve been exposed to, and more so than anything, it’s scary to do the other way,” says Racheal Kwacz, a mother to a five-year-old, and a child and family development specialist in “Respectful Parenting”.

She adds: “Children don’t feel like they can explain to their parents, why they’re doing what they’re doing; and because they don’t feel like we can explain, they don’t think that the parents would understand. This, in turn, does not provide parents the mutual platform to explain their concern and love towards the children for doing what they do to protect them.”

This week, we seek guidance from Racheal, on how parents can approach a conversation with their children when faced with cyberbullying: how parents can not only make a safe and validated space for them to talk about it at home, but also empower them to face harassments in the future – whether it be online or offline, at the playground, in school or at work.

“It’s not realistic to say that nobody’s ever going to be cyberbullied; even as adults, we have been cyberbullied in some way or another. I don’t think it’s realistic to say it’s never going to happen, or to say that we can prevent it 100%. Instead, the bigger question to ask is, what can we do to address it when it happens?” Racheal says.

“We can spend all day fixing a problem, but it’s just gonna happen again, and again, and again, and again – until we address the bigger problem. We want to be able to meet them before they are withdrawn, or suicidal, or when they are hurting other people. We want to be able to address it at the root, not when the symptoms start showing,” she adds. “We want to be able to have connected relationships that are stronger and healthier, where the kids and the parents meet in the middle.”

Trust Your Child

First and foremost, Racheal advises parents to create a safe zone for your children to come to you, even when the problem is little in the adult’s eye, but may not be in your children’s; this is by trusting your child, whenever he or she tells you that something is wrong.

“Say, you’re at the playground, and your child comes up to you, and says that he or she doesn’t want to play with a certain kid anymore. Kids are not going to go in-depth about what happened; they’re just gonna say things like, ‘there was this person at the playground, and something was just off about it, and I don’t want to play with them,’” Racheal comments.

She also notes that parents would disregard such as mere playground politics, when in the child’s mind, he or she may already feel invalidated: “Usually, we’d brush them off, and tell them that we have to be nice to everybody, and we have to be polite to everybody, so just go back and play with them – but in reality, we don’t know what’s actually going on.

“Learning cannot happen, unless we feel safe or loved, and children feel safe or loved, if they feel seen and validated, when they feel hurt. Do they feel safe enough to come to you? Do they feel like you’re going to hear them, if they say something is wrong?” she says. 

“It’s so important to make them feel safe, and make them feel validated, and it starts with something as small as that. When the cyberbullying or social media bullying happens, or any other bigger problems happen, they know that they can come to you.”

Notice the Subtle Cues

Besides trusting your children when they tell you something is off, trust your motherly or fatherly instincts as well. When you get the gut feeling that something is off, but you can’t quite put your finger on it; when you start noticing that they are not acting like themselves, or doing things they don’t normally do, either they are a lot quieter and withdrawn, or rebelling and screaming a lot more – it is always a good time to look into what’s going on. 

Chairman of MCMC, Datuk Mohamed Sharil Tarmizi states: “For a while, all you hear from your eight-year-old daughter is about her new Internet friend ‘Ben’. Every day, it’s ‘Ben this’, ‘Ben that’. Then, all of a sudden, the ‘Ben-talk’ stops. In fact, all talk from your child stops. Once bubbly and chatty, your daughter is now quiet and morose. Be very worried if this happens to your child.”

“If they’re having trouble on social media, it has nothing to do with social media; it has to do with the internal makeup of the child,” Racheal concurs. “They will tell you in small subtle ways. While you may notice, and you may not actually know what is wrong, but you get the feeling that it’s wrong – it’s just whether you’re listening to those small subtle cues, and doing something about them.

Other than acting besides themselves, parents may want to take note of offhand comments their children make, including those that may not fit into the context at that precise moment. The family could very much be talking about a character that they like in the TV show they are watching, when they would say: “Nobody really likes me, like that character.”

“It’s that subtle, and it’s that quiet, but that’s usually a big clue to ask what’s wrong,” Racheal says.

Get Curious, Not Critical

Now that you have caught these cues your children have been sending your way, what then? This is probably the most important and delicate part in having a constructive conversation with your children, as Racheal advises parents to “just listen to their stories, [because] it’s so important to acknowledge, to validate, and to say: ‘I hear you’.”

“A big part of what we want to do, is to see the world through our child’s eyes, but respond as a parent,” she adds. “When you reply immediately with: ‘that’s wrong’, ‘that’s not true’, or ‘don’t do that’, what you’ve done is that you’ve shut down the conversation. You may think that you’re making it better by ‘reassuring’ them, but you’ve shut down the conversation for them to let you see what’s really going on through their eyes.”

In fact, the same not only applies to toddlers, but teenagers also, even adults. Racheal says: “Think about yourself as an adult: when you fight with your friends, or your spouse, or your partner, you want someone to ask you why you react the way you react, because there’s a reason why you did what you did.” 

For the 21% (13-15 years) and  the 16% (16-17 years) teenagers that have experienced cyberbullying – among them, 60% of them girls, whereas 59% of them boys, how can parents make them feel safe, not only in trudging through adolescence gracefully, but also when faced with cyber harassments?

“We validate their feelings, and let them understand that they have a right to what they’re feeling,” Racheal advises. “Growing up, we’ve all felt lonely and misunderstood, while trying to navigate our way as an adult and as a child, and trying to figure out independence as human beings.”

She continues: “Teenagers may not want the parents to baby them like toddlers, but at the same time, they also need the parents in some way, wishing they would understand what the teenagers are going through. So, we explore together, and understand why they’re feeling like that – we get curious, before we get critical.”

Let Them Come to You

More often than not, when children give out the subtle cues for parents to catch them, they are testing the waters to see if it is indeed safe for them to express themselves to you. When parents have proved that they are genuinely curious of what’s going on, instead of being critical towards their feelings and experiences, most intimate conversations don’t take place immediately either. 

Here is when the right kind of “reassurance” should take place from the parents. Racheal suggests parents to “not force the issue, because very frequently, that’s what we’re going to do”: “When they comment offhandedly that ‘nobody really likes me,’ and when you get curious and ask: ‘Why do you think that?’, the kid might just shrug and say: ‘Just because.’ 

“It’s always good to reassure them that ‘anytime you want to talk to me about it, I’m right here,’ because what they’ve done in that moment is testing whether it is safe,” she adds. “When you show them that it is safe, they’ll come back to you again, and have the bigger, proper conversation about what’s troubling them.”

But if in those small moments, the parents shut down the potential conversations by being critical of their feelings and experiences, or by just simply using the “wrong” words, the children will clam up, because they can’t feel safe with their parents, or even loved for who they are, and what they are going through.

“The thing is, words can have long lasting effects, especially on your children. The words you use with your children can either build them up, or destroy their self esteem,” says Joy Burgess, a 28-year-old wife and stepmother. “What you say to your kids is important, because your kids look up to you. Your approval or disapproval really means something to them. Your words have the ability to easily hurt your children, even if you don’t realise it.”

Don’t Jump the Gun

Lastly, Racheal mentions that some of the common mistakes parents make is intervening too early. When it comes to bullying – whether on social media platforms or at school, the parents may want to step in and protect their children, and the next day following the heartfelt confession, the parents may want to call up the teachers or the bully’s parents. In the case of cyberbullying, the natural parental instinct may be to leave a defensive comment on the bully’s social media, or head straight to the police to lodge a report.

“What that ultimately tells the children is that they are not able to protect themselves, and they will always need the parents to protect them. If the parents come in too soon, and fix everything, this child is always going to think, ‘I need my parents to fix everything for me, and without my parents, I’m useless’,” Racheal warns. “When the truth of the matter is, the parents never actually have a conversation with the child on a more important question: how can we make you feel safe again?”

Instead, Racheal advises parents to take a beat, and see what the children will do next. Yes, even after the heart-to-heart you have just pried out of your children after going through all of the abovementioned steps.

Racheal says: “It’s the hardest thing for a parent to do, but it is crucial to sit in the moment, and see what your child’s going to do, because this is the make-or-break part of respectful parenting: Can I trust that they are able and competent from here on out in the face of cyberbullying? Have I empowered them enough to speak up about it, even when I’m not around?”

The Norton Online Family Report in 2010 has stated that only 4 out of 10 Malaysian parents know what their children are doing online, when they are spending an average of 19 hours online per week, with their parents under the impression that they only spend 11 hours online.

As the old saying goes: give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.

What more can a parent ask for, when their children are armed with the intellectual and emotional smarts to protect themselves for the rest of their lives?

“Observe how they are going to react, and then talk to them about it, and debrief your child afterwards,” Racheal adds.

4 Calmer Ways to Take A Break From the Everyday Hustle

4 Calmer Ways to Take A Break From the Everyday Hustle

Words by Celeste Goh
  • A recent survey shows that 1-in-10 Malaysian employees are going through anxiety or depression
  • The always-on, always-connected lifestyle is the main contributor to this high number
  • Breathing exercises and yoga can help detach from the digital world
  • Meditation and enough sleep are proven restorative methods for mental health

As the year 2020 draws to a close in the next few weeks, we would say that it is perfectly normal if you feel a little heavy in the head; modern urban life is stressful as it is, even without the ongoing pandemic that has so rashly entered our lives this year.

Last year, Malaysia’s Healthiest Workplace by AIA Vitality, the first science-backed survey commissioned by AIA, has shown that out of the 17,595 employees polled, with the bulk of them aged 18 to 40: 51% of them suffer from work-related stress, whereas 53% of them get less than seven hours of sleep each night. On top of that, 7% of them experience moderate to high levels of anxiety or depressive symptoms – that’s one out of 10 Malaysian employees going through anxiety or depression, with most of them being millennials (those born between 1981 and 1996).

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The American Psychological Association has revealed in their annual survey that millennials in the US were the most stressed-out generation, as CEO of SuperFriend Margo Lydon confirms: “Traditionally, work-related challenges for young people were often about building careers, and this is no different from any other generation. Except that, in 2020, we have a more globally connected world that is moving at a much faster pace, with greater levels of social, political and economic uncertainty, plus increased expectations of productivity, which often mean longer hours and increased work stress.”

Not only that, Dato’ Dr Andrew Mohanraj, President of the Malaysian Mental Health Association concurs that millennials are also synonymous with the digital boom: “Being more connected and, ironically, more isolated from the real world, being exposed to cyber bullying, with little opportunity for real interaction, or having limited actual interactions – all these have a negative impact on one’s ability to handle stressful situations.” 

“What is ordinarily not deemed to be stressful may seem like a psychologically overwhelming situation to millennials, who are immersed in the digital world,” he adds. “Burnout and depressive symptoms are not issues that can be taken lightly, as they may lead to more serious issues, such as suicidal behaviour.”

“We need to check in with ourselves periodically to find out how we are doing,” says April Kuan, yoga instructor and wellness practitioner. “We don’t pause enough. We’re always so busy constantly, and we’re always up in our heads thinking: what we need to do the next day, or in the next hour; what we haven’t done yet, or what we’re falling behind on; or what we did yesterday that we shouldn’t have done… We’re always constantly thinking, thinking, thinking – and when you’re thinking too much, that’s when you get stressed.”

That’s why this week, we’re checking in with April again, to find out the subtler ways to take a break from the everyday hustle – to stop whatever we are doing even just for a minute or two, to #lookup and enjoy where you are, and be conscious of where you are, even if it’s within the confines of your own home!

“While it is sometimes daunting to have to always constantly work at trying to be happy, it’s a practice that we have to just keep doing it every day diligently, and understand that this is part and parcel of taking care of ourselves,” April adds. 

“It’s like what the late Micheal Jackson said: look into the man in the mirror first, before you can change. If you’re not good in here, your life outwards will never be good, and the easiest way to change your life is to change yourself, because you know yourself the best.”

Breathe

That’s it, folks – just breathe! While it’s an everyday, autonomous occurrence to us, we don’t actually pay attention to our breathing – mainly because it’s automatic to any living being. In fact, even though it’s the easiest thing to do, not a lot of people want to do just that, putting aside some time to just breathe.

“When we actually sit down, close our eyes, and really just focus on breathing, it actually makes a whole lot of difference,” April says. “Just that pause at the end of the day is enough – take a few breaths, and not think about work for a while. When you come back to it, you will find that you are calmer.”

India Times have reported that “breathing correctly is important for your overall well being, and by taking just a few moments each day to practise some deep breathing exercises can decrease stress, relax your mind, body and can help you sleep better.”

From improving your blood flow, body immunity and digestion; to reducing inflammation, stimulating the lymphatic system, and detoxifying the body – deep breathing relaxes the mind and body, as well as calms down anxiety: “When you are angry, tensed or scared, your muscles are tightened and your breathing becomes shallow. Your breathing constricts, and your body cannot get the amount of oxygen it requires,” India Times says. “Deep breathing reverses this process, and it slows down your heart rate, allowing the body to take in more oxygen, and ultimately signals the brain to wind down.”

Practise Restorative Yoga

Besides the physical benefits of practising yoga, which April has shown us last week, she also mentions that “the real reason for practising yoga is to prepare the body for meditation.”

Meghan Johnston of Yoga Medicine has also said that “restorative yoga not only allows us to relearn the art of relaxation, while developing the skills and abilities to self-soothe, but also enhances our healing capacity through helping us regulate the stress response and re-balance the nervous system.”

Johnston states that restorative yoga can help strengthen our ability to move between states of stress and rest with more ease, by reconnecting with our parasympathetic nervous system – a branch of our autonomic nervous system that controls involuntary functions in the body, like our heart rate. 

She adds: “When we are in states of stress, or what is often termed “fight or flight,” we are in an elevated sympathetic state. In contrast, during periods of rest and recovery, we are in an elevated parasympathetic state.”

One of the restorative yoga poses you may look into is the Legs Up the Wall Pose (Viparita Karani), which as the name implies, you lie on the ground with your legs up on the wall for about 10 to 15 minutes. You may have a pillow underneath your lower body for additional support, or open up the hips by opening and closing your legs.

“If you just have too much in your head, and you just need to calm down, anything that gets your legs higher than your head is recommended for anyone feeling overwhelmed with stress,” April says. 

On the other hand, the Child’s Pose (Balasana) is another restorative yoga pose you may try out: from a kneeling position, bring the forehead to the floor, and relax the arms alongside the body, with the palms facing upwards.

“When you feel overwhelmed or stressed, anything that brings your head down to the floor and falls you forward to your body is very restorative, and very grounding,” April says. “It’s like you’re bringing yourself inwards, almost into a fetal position, where you’re getting in touch with yourself, and connecting back with yourself.”

Meditate

While we’re not talking about achieving monk-like nirvana, April states that meditation is the simple act of observing your thoughts: “When you observe your thoughts, you get to sift through the mental haze. You’d then get more clarity, and you’d feel more grounded.”

“Our brains are capable of thinking all kinds of things, and we are human beings that feel. We can’t escape from feeling, and we need to understand that it’s all part of the human condition, and we should not beat ourselves up about it,” she says. “What we can do is to accept these thoughts and feelings as clouds; we just need to go through them when they come, and then let them go.”

Mayo Clinic has also stated that “meditation is considered a type of mind-body complementary medicine. During meditation, you focus your attention and eliminate the stream of jumbled thoughts that may be crowding your mind and causing stress. This process may result in enhanced physical and emotional wellbeing.”

Sounds like a bunch of new age mumbo jumbo thus far? Well, Gaëlle Desbordes, an instructor in radiology at Harvard Medical School (HMS), and a neuroscientist at the Massachusetts General Hospital’s Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging has looked into the science of mindfulness-based meditation, and in 2012 Desbordes has discovered “changes in brain activity in subjects who have learned to meditate hold steady even when they’re not meditating.”

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The functional MRI scan reveals the activation in the amygdala – a collection of cells near the base of the brain that is key to how we process strong emotions like fear and pleasure. The imagery on the left is when participants were watching images with emotional content before learning meditation; whereas the imagery on the right shows the amygdala is less activated after eight weeks of meditation training.

Not only that, meditation may also help manage symptoms of certain medical conditions, such as asthma, cancer, chronic pain, heart disease, high blood pressure, irritable bowel syndrome and tension headaches. The National Library of Medicine has found that meditation is associated with decreased pain, helps reduce blood pressure, and even helps with alcohol addiction and other treatments for alcohol use disorder.

If All Else Fails, Nap

Now that most of us are working from home, it can be rather convenient to slip in some nap time, when the going gets tough during the daily grind. 

“Napping is a form of recharging. If you’re tired or mentally drained, and your body’s telling you that it’s too much now, and you need to shut down everything – napping is obviously good, and when you wake up, you feel recharged, because your body heals when it’s in a resting state,” April says. 

“When we’re in our waking consciousness, we’re in the Beta stage, whereas when we’re in a very relaxed state, we’re in the Alpha stage, and that’s when the body heals best,” she continues. “That’s why when we go on a holiday, we feel rejuvenated, and we feel great again, because we’re in a relaxed state. We want to always stay in this stage as much as possible, even in our everyday life.”

While it is known that adults should have 7-9 hours of sleep each night, (8-10 hours for teenagers, 9-11 hours for 6 to 13-year-olds, and 10-13 hours for preschoolers), The Sleep Foundation has also found that napping during the day diminishes homeostatic sleep drive, the technical term for “the feeling of pressure to sleep”.

They explain: “It is synonymous with the hunger we feel for food the longer it is after our last meal. When we wake up from a good night’s sleep, your homeostatic sleep drive is low. The pressure slowly increases throughout the day until bedtime, when we feel sleepy. Sleeping at night decreases sleep pressure, and then the cycle begins again the next day.”

That being said, we should also be careful not to “overnap”, as we might be prone to sleep inertia (the feeling of grogginess and disorientation after waking up from a nap), and sleeping problems at night, especially for those experiencing insomnia or poor sleep quality at night. Not to mention, missing out on an important video meeting with the higher-ups!

So, if you’re planning to take a break from the everyday hustle by napping, make sure you keep them to only 10 to 20 minutes, and before 3PM; napping any longer or later than the aforementioned may interfere with nighttime sleep. As we all know, insufficient sleep at night can lead to more serious repercussions, such as short attention lapses, reduced cognition, delayed reactions and mood shifts.

3 Simple Yoga Poses to Help Counter the Sedentary Lifestyle in the Digital Age

3 Simple Yoga Poses to Help Counter the Sedentary Lifestyle in the Digital Age

Words by Celeste Goh

Malaysia is currently in the midst of its second imposed Conditional Movement Control Order (CMCO), in its effort to combat the rising COVID-19 cases during the second wave of the pandemic. Most schools and offices remain closed to encourage students and employees to practise social distancing and stop the potential spread of the virus, as recreational parks and sports centres have shut down under governmental order to have people stay at home. 

After close to nine months of self-quarantine at home, you may begin to feel aches and pains on your body that you may not experience before. Once, we were allowed the time for lunch breaks and recess outside of the office and classrooms, as well as the weekly workout sessions at the gym and strolls in the neighbourhood park. Now, they are replaced with unchecked long hours in front of your computer, whether it’s for work, for school, or for leisure – part and parcel of the “new normal” we are forced into, although not one that we should get used to.

“When I was in publishing, I would work long hours. I’d be in front of the computer working 12 hours a day, go home, and then come back the next day, and do the same thing – there was zero work life balance,” shares April Kuan, a yoga instructor who was a magazine editor in her past life. “At that time, you didn’t think about anything else: this is part and parcel of life, and that was it, just chasing the career and the money.”

“Nowadays, I can’t even look at my phone too long, never mind sitting in front of my computer for too long. While I’m on Facebook and Instagram, I only post very rarely, maybe once or twice a week, at most, twice a week,” she adds. “Any more than that, my body will reject the screen time, and I’ll start to get aches and brain fog with sudden headaches.”

Even before the pandemic, we are guilty of spending long hours in front of our computers and lazing on our couch strolling through our mobile devices, which contributes to the distasteful body postures Gerard Malanga, MD of Spine Universe calls the “sitting disease”. According to a 2012 study from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys, as many as 70% of people spend 6 or more hours each day sitting down; and the impact of this level of inactivity often leads to neck, shoulder and back pain, which about 1 in 4 adults has experienced at least for a day during a 3-month period.

Meanwhile, studies have shown that there is a 65.3% overall prevalence of incorrect posture in children and adolescents; with the girls and students over the age of 10 having a higher prevalence of incorrect posture than boys and students under the age of 10. Nearly 80% of children and adolescents were reported to have at least one sign of incorrect postures, with less than a fifth of them having a correct body posture.

April shares: “I teach private yoga classes with a friend of mine, and she has two kids. Her 14-year-old daughter has very bad Scoliosis; it’s the curvature of the spine, and it’s super rounded. She’s been like this since young, and when you’re always looking down at your phone, the next thing you know, your back is used to the roundedness, and it’s very tough to keep it straight anymore.”

“While the daughter is all about Instagram and Tik Tok, her 6-year-old son is about gaming, so he’s always on his iPad playing games,” she continues. “When we want to do family yoga with the children, the son just doesn’t want to. He’d start acting up, and throwing tantrums, because we’re pulling him away from his iPad.”

For adults, years of unchecked slouching can already wear away your spine, making it more fragile and prone to injury; imagine the long-term repercussions it will have for children and adolescents, whose physical bodies have yet to settle and are still growing!

Children and adolescents are susceptible to postural alignments that deviate from a good neutral posture, such as Kyphosis, Lordosis, sway back and flat back postures. If not straightened out, they will be more prone to cardiovascular disease, certain cancers (breast, colon, colorectal, endometrial, and epithelial ovarian), and type 2 diabetes later in life.

Moreover, an extremely hunched posture, or hyperkyphosis, affects up to two-thirds of senior women and half of senior men. Such postural alignment, if not treated, has been associated with back pain, weakness and trouble breathing; and more serious cases can limit everyday activities, like brushing your hair and dressing yourself.

“One way to improve your posture is to be aware of it in the first place. It’s important to take a look at your posture before it becomes a problem,” says Dr. Cris Zampieri, physical therapist at News in Health. “Yoga, tai chi and other types of classes that focus on body awareness and mindfulness can help you learn to feel what’s wrong in your own posture.”

So, we have sought after yoga instructor April Kuan’s advice for some simple yoga poses to help counter the sedentary lifestyle that is prone to the “sitting disease – especially at a time when we are not allowed to head to the gym and parks for our regular exercises, but also something that we can practise at home, even after the pandemic has passed.

what they recommend is six times a week, and then rest one day. But, I think for me, for normal people, three times a week is good enough to see changes in your body. Obviously, the more you practise something, the better you are at it. So, it’s the same with any kind of exercise. You see that changes faster.

“When you’re age 7 onwards is the best time to start yoga. It’s like when parents send their kids to ballet at a young age, and they’re flexible their whole life – it’s the same thing with yoga,” says April, who also thinks that practising yoga three times a week is already good enough to see changes in your body. “It’s also never too late to start yoga, even if you’re 55. I mean, I started when I was in my late 30s!”

Cat-Cow Pose (Chakravakasana)

“Spending much of your day in a seated position can leave your spine sore, stiff, and in pain,” notes Gerard Malanga, MD of Spine Universe. “That’s because too much sitting, while it may be relaxing, puts stress on the muscles and discs of your back and neck.”

April adds that “sitting up straight for long hours is not easy – it’s very tiring. You start to get a backache, and you start to round your spine after you feel tired holding your body up.”

Slouching can cause the spinal ligaments to stretch beyond their healthy limit, and poor posture can strain your spinal discs,” Malanga also adds. “This often results in increased strain of the outer annulus of the disc and can increase disc bulging and disc pressures.”

The Cat-Cow Pose is a very basic yoga pose regular yogi does for warm up. It’s a spinal articulation move that opens up the chest and gets the spine moving in all directions. Not only that, the Cat-Cow Pose builds confidence, which affects one’s mental health, as Drs Zampieri states that “someone with depression may appear more closed in, curved, and tend to look down.”

“The energy centre comes from the heart, and it releases dopamine that makes you feel happier,” April says. “So, any pose that opens up the chest will in turn open up the heart, creating a more joyful and positive feeling.”

Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarvāṅgāsana)

When we get tired of holding our body up while sitting, we may find ourselves leaning against the back of the chair, but before we know it, hours have passed as we stay in that presumably comfortable position, and we have slid further down the chair. We will have developed a posterior tilt unwittingly, whereby the front of the pelvis rises, and the back of the pelvis drops, creating a kind of scooped body posture.

“Such a body posture contributes to lower back pain, and a lot of people [with a desk job] suffer from that,” April says. “Lower back pain happens when we don’t have enough core strength to pull ourselves up and sit straight.”

The Bridge Pose is really good for lower back issues, as it helps lengthen the front body, and also the back body. Those who already suffer lower back issues, but may or not be aware of it, maye have trouble performing this pose. But April suggests a restorative pose in which the lower back is supported with piled up pillows while you stay in the Bridge Pose. Whereas for the ones with a healthier lower back may opt to move up and down while in the Bridge Pose.

Pigeon Pose (Kapotasana)

Another part of the body that has suffered due to the “sitting disease” is the hip flexors, the muscles near the top of your thighs that are key in the movement of the lower body. 

“The [sitting] position results in tightness of your hip flexors, such as the iliopsoas muscle, and pressure and ischemia (restricted blood flow) of your buttock muscles – the gluteus maximus. This muscle is an important supporter of the spine,” Malanga notes. 

In more layman terms, April mentions: “The front thigh muscles shorten and your hips start to get tight when you sit for long periods, and you want to counter that by doing yoga poses that stretch the legs to the back, so it lengthens the front thigh muscles, and also get the quads and hip flexors working.

The Pigeon Pose does just that, as it opens up the knees and hips, and helps lose the tightness in your hips, which contribute to lower back issues. 

5 Ways to Protect Your Mental Health with Social Media

5 Ways to Protect Your Mental Health with Social Media

Words by Celeste Goh

Even before the global pandemic had us on lockdown in April with nowhere else to turn to but our mobile devices, an estimated 3.81 billion people were already on social media. Unsurprisingly, it is widely believed that extended use of social media can cause negative effects, but the numbers could surprise you.

In a recent survey, 25% of surveyed adolescents agreed that social media had a mostly negative effect, with 13% of those aged between 12 and 17 reporting depression, and 32% reporting anxiety. In the 18 to 25 age range, 25% of them reported that they were suffering from some form of mental illness. To top it off, 72% of the surveyed respondents admitted that they have been cyberbullied at some point.

This undoubtedly, led researchers to suggest that “this increase in mental illness is, at least in part, connected to the rise of social media use among adolescents and young adults.” 

“I work with a lot of teenagers, and they usually come in and talk about body image issues because of social media,” clinical psychologist Thong Shu Yi mentions. “There was a time when you just go to school and compare yourself to the few other people at school, but now the kids are faced with criticisms from the entire world, which can make you feel really bad about yourself.”

We speak with Shu Yi further on how parents and adults dealing with the younger generations can protect their mental health when it comes to interacting on social media.

Understand how social media works as a reflection of a projected world

Before parents or adults can protect the younger generations from the negativity of the internet, they must first minimise the gap between the generations, by learning to understand or perceive the internet world or social media the same way as the younger generations.

Shu Yi states that by the time we – the Gen-Xers and those before – are introduced to it, we are already older, and we have already had a taste of our own reality offline. Whereas for the younger generations, they exist in a world in which the internet and social media are very much present, and could very well be the reality to them.

“How we look at [the internet and social media] is very different to the younger generations, and it makes it harder for them to separate what is real and what is posted on social media. To them, what’s posted online equals reality,” she explains. “To us, it’s common sense that what’s online is not reality, but to these kids, they actually need to be shown and taught that it’s not reality. They need to be guided that there is another world beyond that.”

“By first having that understanding, it will allow us to empathise with the younger generations more,” she adds. “When we’re able to empathise with them, then they will feel like they can listen to us, rather than dismissing us by saying: ‘you don’t understand’.”

Be mindful of who you follow on social media

Part of the reason why we are so caught up in scrolling through social media mindlessly, is to do with validation. Shu Yi mentions that ironically, it’s a basic human instinct to not want to be wrong; and when we feel sad or anxious, we will always look for things to confirm what we are feeling, and people who feel the same what we are feeling to let us know we are not alone in all of this: “We take to the internet with the desire to seek understanding of ourselves, what we are going through.”

Thanks to the internet, children these days are more resourceful. When they have questions, they don’t go to their parents anymore; they go online. Therefore, it’s very important the kind of information they get, for the severity of how negative thoughts manifest themselves, really depends on what kind of resources they are getting to understand those thoughts.

“Rather than taking [social media] away from the children, it would be better to teach them how to screen profiles,” Shu Yi advises. “If someone wants to follow you, before you approve, you might want to check the person’s profile, and see if there are any red flags they should be mindful of.”

“At the end of the day, adolescents are looking for role models, especially at their age, and you don’t want to stop them from doing that by forbidding them from getting an Instagram account,” she continues. “We can instead help them identify which people they should follow to empower themselves.”

Comments from others are more of themselves than us

The more time we spend on social media being active and vocally involved in what we see, the more susceptible we are to negative comments from people out there who may not necessarily agree to our point of view on things. It is even more so for children and adolescents who have yet to come into themselves, and who are constantly seeking for relevance and understanding from the internet; due to their vulnerability, they are more open to attacks online.

According to Shu Yi, adults can educate kids and teenagers that whenever they hear someone say something negative to them, rather than very quickly absorbing that as the truth, they might stop and think that maybe what the commenters said isn’t really about them.

“When kids use certain vulgar words on purpose to hurt the other kids, they have to be victims of those words themselves,” she explains. “They are people who are wounded, and they have to carry within them all these emotions, and they don’t know how to express them so they become angry.”

“Bullying is a thread: if I’m bullied, then I will feel I want to bully another person, and that person will want to bully the next, so on and so forth,” Shu Yi adds. “If we can help the younger generations understand that when somebody says mean things to them, it just means that the ones saying them are hurting as well. This way, the bullying won’t continue on.”

Take ownership of your social media accounts

Countering these negative comments from strangers on social media is as easy as familiarising yourself with the privacy functions available on each platform. The functionalities of blocking, deleting and unfollowing certain profiles come in handy in situations like these, and everyone needs to be empowered to do so.

“The younger generations might think that if they unfollow or block certain friends, what would their friends think of them? This is where the adults come in – the parents, older siblings and teachers. We should teach them that it’s their right and prerogative,” Shu Yi says. “At the end of the day, it’s our social media account. If we think someone is being mean to us, and they are affecting how we feel, then it’s our prerogative to block or unfollow those people.”

Shu Yi also advises that for parents with children met with negativities online, especially from people they know, they should first and foremost pay attention to their own children: “Sometimes, out of wanting to protect their kids, parents may be quick to call on the school, or the other kid’s parents on how he/she is behaving. However, to the kids, it might translate as an embarrassment, rather than protection.” 

“Instead, the parents can focus on the child’s wellbeing: how they are impacted by the incident, how it makes them feel, how the parents should emphasise with their children, and what they can do to help their children begin the process of healing,” she adds.

Take a break once in a while to keep ourselves in check

Since the popularity of the internet grew in the 1980s and early 1990s, which eventually led to the creations of interactive computer-mediated technologies that we have come to know today as social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and many more, we have inadvertently developed a relationship with our gadgets. Pair that with the advances of mobile devices to make it more convenient for us to be constantly connected online, the gadgets have somehow become a friend that’s stuck onto our palms, and that we cannot put down.

While there’s nothing inherently wrong with being connected to what’s happening around us all the time, it is when we are not mindful of how much time we spend scrolling through our social media feeds, that we may gravitate to things that make us feel worse. This is what many these days may call “doomscrolling”, an act of consuming an endless procession of negative online news. It is also a word that has gained popularity and awareness during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, especially when countries go into lockdowns, and many have nothing else to turn their attention to at home but to the news feeds on our social media.

Shu Yi mentions that while it is very difficult to take some time off digitally, we may be able to sidestep the negativities online by enriching our life beyond the virtual one: “If you notice that when you’re busy, or if you’re having a very engaging conversation with a friend, you don’t actually think about your phone or wanting to scroll through your social media feeds. That’s because you are entertained by what is in front of you.”

“When we want to take some time off our gadgets, we need to make sure that we’re doing something that gives us joy,” she adds.

Whether it’s joining the “lockdown trends” of baking burnt cheesecakes or sourdough breads, joining Zoom yoga or workout sessions; or just simply reviving offline pastimes you have been putting off every time because of your busy schedule, such as reading, gardening or journaling – anything that brings you joy is helpful, because it takes your mind off the phone while you’re engaging in such activities.

“The worst thing a child imagines they can feel is to be bored, and parents need to teach their kids how to keep themselves occupied beyond the only world that they grew up knowing – the digital world,” Shu Yi says. “Creating activities for them is always very useful, even for the adults. It relaxes your mind, and your energy is focused on the activity.”

“I do think that once in a while, we need to come back to what’s in front of us, so that we don’t disappear into the virtual world,” she adds.