Adolescent Mental Health and Online Safety by Dr. Damanjit Sandhu

Lee Justin Rondina

In this age where the advent of technology surges through all spheres of life, everyone should be aware of how cybersafety is a prime concern to our current contemporary world, especially when it comes to all the adolescents, the population known to be the most engaged and involved in the culture of technology.

Adolescence is one of the most important phases in life, may it be for social, biological, and pyschological reasons, and is also known to be a state of “storm and stress”. It is an importante stage of identity formation where many delicate questions arise such as “Who am I? What is the real me? What is the direction or purpose of my life?”. Various biopsychosocial changes occur in this stage which create a kind of internal civil war in adolescents. Exploration of sexual identities, challenges to development due to overconformity to peer pressure, and hightened risk taking due to personal fables, while half of all known mental health conditions emerge by the age of 14. All these issues and many others happen in adolescence. Thus, it is important for us that we may shift more attention to this particular population.

Psychologically speaking, adolescence is an extremely delicate stage. Many factors pose threats to the mental healths of adolescents like quality problems of home life where there are relationship issues between family members. Exposure to violence wether in home or school can be high-risk factors that may create a fertile ground for an adolescent to develop various psychosomatic issues. Other threats include: fluctuation of self-esteem, relationship issues with peers, socio-economic problems especially poverty, and lastly but the focal point of this article, increased access to the use of technology.

Capabality of social interactions even with physical distance, communications and easy access to a wide variety of knowledge are just some of the numerous merits of online technology. However, the online world is a big world, and can be as ugly and dangerous as the real word. That is why it is important that we ensure online safety especially for adolescents who are still naive and lacking of cognitive capacites to think and make rational decisions for themselves when entering the online world.

An excellent presentation of one dark side of the online world is the famous adage “On the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.”. It shows a cartoon picture of a dog using a computer speaking the quote to another dog. Simply put, there is a lot of anonymity in the Internet. You might have no idea that the person you’re taking to through a screen is hiding behind a pseudoidentity and is a actually a sociopath, a psychopath, a pedophile, or a greedy man with fraudulent economic causes. Of course that is not always the case, but no one can ever deny it is a possibility. This leads to many possible evil actions that can be done with online tech. The most common example would be cyberbullying.

For an action to be considered bullying, it needs three conditions: imbalance of power, repetition, and intent to harm. However, cyberbullying distinguishes itself from the traditional form of bullying because it utilizes gadgets and devices where the imbalance of powere is due to the fact that the bully can hide his identity behind a simple screen. The cyberbully doesn’t even have to repeat a one time activity himself for it to be considered bullying, since countless other online users can replicate that same activity over and over again. Needlees to say, cyberbullying imposes a lot of harm to its victims socially and psychologically. It can trouble, threaten, tease, or embarass its victims that may even reach to a point of a pyschological breakdown.

Aside from the anonymity issue, one of the pressing concerns of cyberbullying is that it can be a 24/7 occurence with an “infinite” audience against the victim. This bring an incredible large amount of psychological pressure and stress on the victim. The act itself can be considered a disinhibited behavior due to the cockpit effect of cyberbullying. Like the person in a fighter jet dropping bombs and killing people without even seeing the pain and anguish felt by his victims, the cyberbully seems to not be affected by any post-traumatic disorders since he/she nevers sees how the victim reacts behind the other side of the screen.

Another serious issue with online tech is this “stranger-on-the-train” effect. Most adolescents are in vulnerable states and tend to share their private life online the same way how some people seem to freely talk wiith strangers on a train. However, this is dangerous! Such people may fall victim to cyberpredators. Private information about yourself that is shared online can and may be used against you and potentially lead to cyberbullying.

Not just cyberbullying but all other cyber issues are an ever-growing worlwide problem especially in these times where technology is continuously and rapidly improving. It should be emphasized that cybersafety is a public health concern! A risk and needs assessment approach is needed to identify children at risk and design better interventions. And as it should go without saying, think before you click!