Teens and their phones are almost inseparable. Most parents and teachers are troubled by this – and rightly so. Excessive or inappropriate device usage is shown to interfere with sleep, relationships, academic difficulties, and physical activity and health. These each influence wellbeing in important and positive ways, so when devices interfere, outcomes are sub-optimal. Additionally, some early research has indicated that excess device use is associated with increased risk of being bullied, increased aggression, and even increased risk of disordered eating.
Most importantly, adolescent use of electronic devices of all kinds is associated with decreased relationship quality between parent and child, or teacher and student. Put simply, phones and tablets are a continual source of conflict in many homes and classrooms, regardless of how clearly the rules are established.
Devices can help us all be appy
In recent years there has been a surge in the development of apps designed to bolster mental health and wellbeing. Some of these apps are best used in consultation with a psychologist to monitor wellbeing and inform therapeutic delivery. Others are fun and clever ways to monitor happiness, mood, or other variables related to wellbeing (like fitness).
There is limited evidence that these kinds of apps work to significantly improve psychological wellbeing. However, if the kids are on the phone, they may as well be focused on good things rather than Snapchat, Kik, itube, or other apps less associated with bolstering wellbeing.
Here are 7 apps that can be helpful for youth to check in, see how they’re going, and find motivation to achieve greater wellbeing, health, or other goals.
Developed in association with the Yale Centre for Emotional Intelligence and their RULER program, this app requires the user to check in as often as they want in order to record the emotions they are feeling, and what they are doing. The app is designed to expand the user’s emotional vocabulary (great for building emotional intelligence), spot behaviours that are precursors to different emotions, consider strategies for improving their emotional regulation, and even see reports linking emotions with outcomes.
A tremendous app for teens and young adults to deal with anxiety in effective ways. The app is designed to help teens develop more helpful ways of thinking, and become proactive in dealing with anxiety-inducing situations.
Once again, along the same lines as other mood-tracking apps. I found it particularly interesting that reviews for this app all referenced the way the program helped users share data with their doctors. A mood-charting app that helps users monitor their moods, develop and monitor strategies for dealing with difficulties, and identify when things start to go pear-shaped.
My Mood Tracker
This was rated as the best health app a few years ago (so it’s been around a while). The app is similar to the Mood Meter, but provides more information, and it can collect information on additional things like sleep, menstrual cycles, and so on. A lite version is available for free, but the paid version is superior because it gives a full history.
You will have to pay for this app, but it’s a ripper. Sometimes it can be hard for our teens to get to sleep. They’re wired, buzzing, and want to keep going. This app works through a progressive muscle relaxation session, helping listeners get to sleep fast. It is a smart choice for teens always buzzing and resisting rest. (Also, check iSleepEasy as an alternative.)
This app asks, ‘What’s my M3?’ It is a 3-minute depression and anxiety screening tool that uses validated assessment to help identify risk of depression, bipolar, and anxiety disorders. Simple reports are provided that recommend a way forward, and a history log is also kept and available.
This is one of dozens of fitness apps that teens who want to exercise more should get hold of. The Strava app (which means “to strive”) is switched on when exercise (for example, a run) begins. It measures distance and time. The route is mapped via GPS so the user can see precisely where they’ve been and what they’ve done. And kms and time are tracked over weeks and months so cumulative totals can be reviewed. The user can also create ‘segments’ and compare him or herself to track improvement over time. They can also compare themselves to others on their own segments, or segments others have created. Plus it has a positive social aspect. ‘Kudos’ are given by friends when someone achieves a goal. Apps like strava promote goal-setting, optimism, social connection, and physical health – all of which are powerfully linked to wellbeing.
It is worth remembering that many of the ‘wellbeing’ apps available are nothing more than pop-psychology. Some are made my app-developers and have no psychometric (or psychological) testing. Several that I wanted to refer to in this article make claims that extend well beyond what science teaches us. And I have left out the therapeutic apps because they’re best used in consultation with a psychologist or other health professional.
But with minimal effort and by using the technology at our fingertips, we can guide youth to greater emotional intelligence, increased motivation, and potentially greater wellbeing – all while using their smartphone.
– Justin Coulson PhD