Known as ‘Goalzie’, the software is aimed at enhancing young people's interactions in an online setting and enhancing their 'mental health resilience'.
"Through Goalzie, we want young people to be able to reach out, set goals and practice their skills in these areas,” said lead researcher Dr Barbara Spears of the Young and Well Cooperative Research Centre at University of South Australia. "Then when a big problem arises in their life, they’ve already developed the habit of connecting with and speaking to others."
Goalzie works as an app within the social networking site Facebook with safety considerations in mind as people prefer to interact within their own established online networks as opposed to other, more open social networks.
"You can only issue Goalzie challenges within your existing friendship group,” explained Dr Spears. “This is what makes it fun, and the users have confidence in already knowing who they’re talking to.”
Once downloaded, the app allows users to challenge their friends to complete a task. Challenges might be physical, such as doing a dance work out; may target self-regulation, such as giving up chocolate for a week; or encourage creativity, such as making a Vine video.
The Centre have now completed an eight-week trial involving more than 1,000 teen users of Goalzie. Participants were only allowed to be involved with the informed consent of their parents, and all completed pre- and post-trial surveys assessing mental health, experiences of cyber-bullying and behavioral characteristics. The researchers are currently analyzing their data.
With the data collection phase now completed, Young and Well CRC have released Goalzie as a free download for the general public.
Dr Jamiee Stuart, Research Fellow in Psychology at the Victoria University of Wellington argues that if checks and balances are in place to ensure positive experiences, online programs have exciting potential for promoting better mental health.
"Social media offers great promise for connecting with kids that can’t be reached through more conventional outreach interventions,” said Dr Stuart. "Most teens do use social media appropriately, so Apps like this can encourage connectiveness."
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