Problem Scenario

Yesterday when my teacher beamed the results of our Math test into our individual Personal Digital Assistants (iPDA) - I wear this finger-sized device as a pendant round my neck, but that's just my preference - one of my classmates actually broke down in tears! He yanked his iPDA out of his ear bracket (which I find uncomfortable wearing), stamped on it and sobbed so uncontrollably that all of us, including my teacher, were stunned. Miss Tan recovered after a while and sent him to see the school counsellor. After he had left the room, some classmates confided that they too had been nervous, stressed and unhappy. While one was experiencing sleeping problems, another had taken to binge eating. My good friend Sean even confessed to harbouring thoughts of running away from home!

This is the year 2030, far into the 21st Century, and Medical Science has made many breakthroughs in terms of cures and treatments of serious mental diseases like schizophrenia. However, is there enough done to safeguard the emotional and mental well-being of teenagers like us (a particularly vulnerable group)?


I am Tom Tan and I’m a Secondary 2 student at Hwa Chong Institution. I have never really given much thought to this issue until that meltdown in class. I have since decided to study the topic of Mental Health Amongst Teenagers for entry for Project Day’s Competition. I researched the way teenagers live in Singapore in 2030 and how their way of life affects their mental health. I showed my preliminary findings to my teacher-mentor, Mrs Balakrishnan. Mrs Balakrishnan holds a Masters in Psychology and she identified 3 main reasons for our increasing mental health problems.

1. There is not enough interaction between people, and many lead solitary lives.

Most adults work from home now and we have machinery and robots to lighten or even completely take over our housework. One would expect parents to have time to foster closer ties with their children. With the overlap of work and home life, many parents are working longer and longer hours. As such, many families do not even eat together anymore. Most teenagers come home from school, pop their dinner requests into the automatic oven and don their television helmets, and then proceed to eat their dinner with the sound and sights of the latest blockbusters for company. If most teenagers are like me, they probably spend most of their time alone. On average, I spend three hours at school plugged into PortAll, the integrated learning system, and five more hours alone at home connected to PlayAll, the home entertainment centre (with integrated gaming systems and all). My parents will eat dinner in front of their own integrated systems, and, if we have to talk, we’d send each other messages online. Mrs Balakrishnan comments that 21st century teenagers may be more self-reliant and less dependent than those of the past; but they are also more isolated, hence self-absorbed as well. People call this social media, but where's the social element?

Gaming was so much more straightforward half a century ago
2. Teenagers spend too much time on and are overtly stimulated by media.

Teenagers spend most of their time watching or playing with computerised media systems. This means that we spend an inordinate amount of time in the virtual world or parallel universes. Mrs Balakrishnan thinks that this can cause an unhealthy detachment from reality when what we teenagers need is a healthy dosage of real-life conflicts and problems for us to orientate ourselves in the world. She also says that the constant bombardment of imagery and sounds can rob us of healthy “think time”, and lack of focus, concentration and deliberation can result in poor problem-solving as well as decision making skills. In fact, the kinds of sensory input teenagers receive on a daily basis may even cause teenagers to experience sensory overload, and this can be counter-productive.

3. Medical Treatment is impersonal.
Relive pleasant childhood memories in your Pocket Shrink

When teenagers are diagnosed with emotional/psychological problems, they are immediately handed Pocket Shrinks. These psychotherapy machines are programmed with artificial intelligence to respond to the individual needs of patients. The new models even come equipped with a memory chip that will recount your favourite childhood memories. Mrs Balakrishnan thinks that nothing beats counseling with a trained professional; she also worries that too many teenagers are currently on mood-altering medication. My preliminary findings indicate that at least 40 per cent of secondary school students are users of psychoactive drugs. These drugs dull the mind and retard our physical and emotional responses, so teenagers who use these drugs become sleepy and sluggish.

So does it look like the 21st century has put the mental health of teenagers in jeopardy? I’ve shared with you my preliminary findings. Do you think you can help me identify the problems (the more the merrier) and come up with comprehensive solutions after research? We really do need to extensively uncover these problems and rectify them the best we can, and our future is in your hands.

Thank you,
Tom Tan

Your Prelims Task

By Prelims 1, you will have to identify 10 problems identified (this is known as Step One), substantiated with research (to show that these are indeed likely problems in the year 2030). Eventually, 5 of the most significant problems will be presented during the oral judging session, and the rest stored in your online portfolio for reference. In addition, you also need to craft a Fundamental Problem. This Fundamental Problem is not just the most significant of the 10 problems identified in Step One, but ideally considers the nature of these 10 problems, spots patterns in these 10 problems, and combines elements of some of these problems. For example, if 3 of your 10 problems focus on technological abuse issues, and you deem technological abuse to be the most critical issue in this scenario, then you may attempt to combine these 3 problems into one significant Fundamental Problem (provided the 3 problems are related and linked).

These 10 problems should be documented on a website or online portfolio that you will maintain throughout your participation in Projects Competition. The document below is a template showing you what needs to be documented by Prelims 1 - you do not need to and perhaps even should not simply copy this template. By all means, use your creativity to place this content aesthetically in your online portfolio (remember, research must be documented and linkedas well), but make sure the content is easily accessed and navigated (this will be assessed in the Finals).

The Online Document Template