Good Digital Parenting
Blog | June 24, 2013

Using Technology to Improve the Mental Health and Wellbeing of our Young People

CEO, Young and Well Cooperative Research Centre

The Young and Well CRC has been established through the Australian Governments Cooperative Research Centre program to bring together innovative researchers from around Australia and the world, to investigate the impact that technologies can have on the mental health and wellbeing of young people aged 12 - 25.

At the Family Online Safety Institute’s international forum held in partnership with Telstra, I shared the findings from our new research – the first Young and Well National Survey of young people aged 16 – 25 in Australia. The data revealed a few key themes, including evidence that young people may be more cybersavvy than we give them credit for.

Technosapien infographic Earlier this month we unveiled our new ‘species’, unearthed by our national survey, the technosapien: modern man in the digital age. For the first time we have a clear picture of the presence and behavior of young men online. Our survey of 1400 young people found that while 99% of young men aged between 16 and 25 access the Internet, with 95% doing so daily, the majority are online for just 3 to 4 hours, indicating a balanced approach to the life in the online/offline world.

Further soon-to-be released evidence from the same survey has shown that young people who rank themselves as psychologically distressed are seeking assistance and health advice online. This is exciting, as we now have the evidence to show that technology offers an unprecedented opportunity to overcome long-standing barriers stopping young people from seeking help, particularly in relation to isolation and stigma.

Young and Well Cyber Safety to Cybersavvy Encouragingly, the further statistics from our national survey revealed at the forum show a real shift from a ‘cybersafety’ to a ‘cybersavvy’ mentality. The data shows that young people are actually very savvy when it comes to understanding the online world, and are clear about how to protect their privacy, being respectful online and how to respond when they see or experience cyberbullying.

Indeed, promoting safety and respect online is one of the core research programs for the Young and Well CRC: Safe and Well Online, a five-year study of the most effective ways to design, deliver and evaluate online social marketing campaigns aimed at improving safety and wellbeing.

Keep It Tame’ is the first of four campaigns targeting Australian teenagers aged 12-18, drawing attention to the consequences of thoughtless and hurtful use of social media through a series of mock social media posts. As things turn nasty, an animated creature slowly becomes more grotesque, highlighting the hurtful effects of the online exchanges and ultimately encouraging people to act with respect. Unique to the campaign is the application of an innovative digital tracking methodology which – in conjunction with a cohort study that will survey and interview young people over time – will measure its impact on behaviour change.

Meanwhile, parents have reason to be reassured in light of research led by our partner the University of Western Sydney and supported by Google Australia which found that young people are aware of the risks of being online – but they could show their parents a thing or two.

The team conducted an intergenerational ‘living lab’ experiment where a group of young people designed and delivered online safety workshops for parents in front of a computer screen. The project gave parents a close-up view of how and why young people use technology, and assess what impact this has on parents’ own digital literacy.

The Enhancing Parents’ Knowledge and Practice of Online Safety project found that intergenerational conversations between young people and parents can greatly assist parents to feel more confident in managing their own children’s online interactions.

The Young and Well CRC are also creating practical tools for mental health practitioners, including Using technologies safely and effectively to promote young people’s wellbeing: A Better Practice Guide for Services which guides psychologists, psychiatrists and other mental health practitioners through the myriad apps and online tools available.

This has been complemented by a series of workshops for practitioners around Australia by leading child and adolescent psychologist, and Young and Well CRC Director, Dr Michael Carr-Gregg: ‘Is there a psychologist in my pocket?’ in partnership with the Australian Psychological Society.

I left the audience at the Melbourne forum feeling energised about the next steps, with a lot of buzz about partnerships in the air. Collaboration is never easy, but the rewards are rich and I’m pleased to say at the Young and Well CRC we have already embarked on this journey with our 75+ partners.

With young people ready to shift the conversation from cybersafety to cybersavvy we are at a perfect juncture to explore digital resilience and promote inter-generational dialogue, and the massive NBN broadband rollout in Australia provides the perfect backdrop for all this to take place.

Are you interested in leading research and new practice in the field of young people, technology and wellbeing? I invite you to be a part of the Young and Well Network.