Lives of youth matter more

DEAR "bro" Syed Saddiq, first and foremost congratulations for the well-deserved appointment. We are privileged to have the youngest minister in the Cabinet (throughout its history) to act as a constant reminder that our youth has arrived and it matters. More so for the portfolio accorded to you and your deputy "bro" Sim. The combination is formidable but there is a caveat to it, viz, provided we are able to address three major concerns as discussed below. The reasons are simple, namely, each issue is in itself a "black hole" that sucks our youth away from the rightful role or place in our society where they are expected to contribute as citizens of this beloved country.

While we are sure you are planning to take them forward over the next five years (if not more), much of the aspirations will fall on the wayside if these concerns are not effectively dealt with once and for all. Overall, the threat it has on youth cannot be overstated.

The first "black hole" is the "worsening" state of drug abuse in our society. This is an overdue social time bomb that seems to be intractable since about 50 years ago. You were not born yet, but it is still very much alive with no apparent solution in sight. It only means that many young lives have been lost over the five decades, and many more will be wasted in the future if the issue is left to "grow" like a multi-headed hydra. For example, not too long ago we saw the incursion of e-cigarettes in our midst playing "havoc" with very lethargic public policy decisions. It creates yet another gateway for youth, enticing them to be hooked on other hard drugs. In the near future Malaysia will be facing another incursion, specifically cannabis or ganja if the global trend to decriminalise it continues as we have seen in some countries recently. In short, the prevailing drug abuse problem can get worse; distracting the youth from your plans to take them forward to the next level. Thus far, no youth and sports minister has prioritised drug abuse as part of their immediate concern, if at all, which in part explains the dire situation today. We do hope you will make the difference this time.

The second is an emerging issue generally related to mental health problems, with depression coming up very strongly as the case in point. While it could be seen as another "health" problem like that of drug abuse, the fact remains that youth are said to be at the centre of it all. Worse still, many are not even aware that they are involved or know how to cope with it. This can be life-threatening when they are subjected to stressful ways of life with suicidal tendencies taking precedence. Otherwise, due to pressures brought about by fast changing global scenarios ranging from the deterioration of the ecological environment to geopolitical ones, resulting in prolonged uncertainties. All these culminated in the youth becoming more vulnerable in the search for identity and support in quality living. Failing which they sink into the world of depression that is fast expanding into an even darker "black hole" when associated with the first. Depression no doubt can drag some into the world of drug abuse in the quest for escapism making the condition even more life-threatening. That is to say drug abuse will continue to be on demand creating an endless, addictive vicious cycle.

The third, by no means the last, is the "new" threat of digital addiction, more specifically termed as "screen" addiction. Of late, the World Health Organisation has recognised "gaming (behavioural) disorder" as a form of mental health aberration mostly interfaced through devices with a "screen" attached. More and more of such devices are shaping our lifestyles. Needless to say the youth community is/will be the most affected given their way of life that is virtually screen-related. Consequently new types and range of addictions are expected to be on the rise as seen today when the population are hard-wired with information and communication technology. Most unfortunately this is prevalent among youth (especially boys) who are more deprived socio-economically, seeking ways to escape the hard reality. It is no wonder many countries, of late France, decided to disallow e-devices to be used during school hours in an effort to bring back face-to-face interactions among them. Others provide "hotels" for such devices – to be checked in when attending school and checked out when leaving. The overall aspiration is not just to develop a disciplined way of managing e-devices but also to warn against the notable negative emotional and mental health issues affecting the students insidiously. This takes us full circle to the above-mentioned predicaments making the situation even more complex in the search for lasting solution(s).

While it is logical to argue that all of the above falls foremost under the ambit of various designated ministries, it must be recognised that it is the youth who will face the ultimate brunt should the relevant ministries slag off as the case seems to be. Meaning, that the Ministry of Youth and Sports will have to pay a high price to see its constituency shrink (in numbers and quality) if it too turns a blind eye (as it did previously). Thus this open letter to call to your attention to take the path not travelled by urgently moving things around to save precious lives other than just winning medals as a measure of "real" success. This is after all the dawn of a "new" Malaysia. And the lives of innocent youth matter much more. Good luck bro!

With some four decades of experience in education, the writer believes that "another world is possible". Comments: