Singapore

Webchat channel aims to help youths overcome cyber-addiction

Webchat channel aims to help youths overcome cyber-addiction
Help123 is launched at the biennial symposium Conversations on Youth yesterday. A study last year found that some 12-year-olds in Singapore spend more than six and a half hours a day online. Photo: Esther Leong
Published: 4:00 AM, July 13, 2017

SINGAPORE — With young people facing cyber-addiction problems usually reluctant to seek help through face-to-face talks, a new webchat help channel was launched yesterday as an alternative counselling option.

Help123 (www.help123.sg), an initiative of the National Council of Social Service (NCSS), is a cyber-wellness support platform that offers online chat, phone and email support services via trained counsellors for youths and their family members.

Launched at the Conversations on Youth symposium at Singapore Expo, it aims to help them cope with things like harmful and illegal online behaviour that comes about from using the Internet.

Ms Andrea Pak-Chan, 30, a senior counsellor at Touch Community Services, recalled how a 17-year-old boy addicted to porn had called the non-profit organisation earlier this year to seek help.

He turned down the offer of a face-to-face consultation with a male counsellor because — having been cloaked in anonymity in cyberspace for so long — he was feeling embarrassed and was not prepared to be identified.

For Help123, Touch Community Services is operating the phone line and email platforms, while another charity, Fei Yue Community Services, manages the webchat.

The chat is available between 2pm and 10pm, and the phone service (1800-6123123), from 10am to 6pm. Those who prefer email counselling can contact hello@help123.sg.

Excessive Internet use is a challenge for parents and educators when it comes to monitoring young people’s online behaviour and preventing instances of cyberbullying.

Last year, a study by Nanyang Technological University found that 12-year-olds in Singapore spend at least six and a half hours a day on the Internet, mainly using social media and chat apps.

Mr Derrick Lau, 42, an assistant senior social worker at Reach Community Services Society, said that having an online therapy outlet would “take the edge off” and youths would be more willing to share their problems anonymously.

“If you use the traditional way of counselling, many (of the young) do not show up. They don’t have a good impression of (face-to-face) counselling — some feel that it’s a form of punishment,” he said.

Mrs Anita Low-Lim, 48, senior director of Touch Youth at Touch Community Services, said that the webchat in particular would appeal to younger people, while parents are likely to call in. This is why different platforms for different target groups have been created.

“What we’re using is technology to interest the young people. It’s just like shopping online. You can chat or call immediately,” she added.