Using technology

Technology is becoming a core part of children and young people’s lives.
young person uses ipad

Technology and mental health

Technology enables people to connect with others who are going through similar experiences or who share their interests.

It can open up a range of information which can be accessed in a confidential way – allowing children and young people to reach out for support when they may not be able to access support in the learning environment or broader community. 

Early learning services and schools can be proactive in helping children and young people critique and understand the types of mental health support and information available online and encouraging them to use reputable and evidence-based sites.

  • What does Be You mean by ‘technology’? 

    Be You uses the term ‘technology’ to refer to the digital platforms, applications and devices used to access information, link with others through social networks and seek help through online supports.

    One of the newest uses of technology relates to social media. This has lead to new forms of communication, self-expression, sharing of experiences, appreciation of cultural beliefs and understandings – as well as providing access to mental health supports and sympathetic virtual communities. 

  • Opportunities and challenges of social media

    Much has been written and reported about the potential risks of social media, so it’s helpful to consider both the opportunities and challenges.

    Opportunities
    • Promote positive norms about health and wellbeing and enhance health promotion initiatives.
    • Foster identity formation, community-building and creativity.
    • Support the self-directed learning and aspirations of marginalised children and young people. Extend formal and informal knowledge networks and social support for children and young people generally.
    • Online networks and resources that promote responsible attitudes to financial wellbeing may help to build young people’s consumer and financial literacy.
    • Promote proactive approaches to issues of risk and safety. These approaches empower children and young people to develop resilience and support their wellbeing.
    • Support family and intergenerational relationships. Different generations of people will bring different skills and knowledge to social media. When children, young people and family members use technologies to collaborate and socialise, they can find new opportunities to connect, utilise each other’s strengths and can be watchful for each other’s safety.
    Challenges
    • The range of content and culture of social media provides low-level exposure to a range of risks. However, experiencing some level of risk is necessary to build resilience online and offline.
    • Across these positive developmental processes, children and young people may also experience upsetting and potentially harmful content and practices, which can have serious effects on their wellbeing.
    • Poor integration of social media in formal and informal learning environments can reinforce social exclusion.
    • More research is required to understand the multiple influences which can foster harmful consumption and financial practices.
    • Social media may also amplify risks to physical and emotional safety.
    • Social media may also be perceived as a barrier to traditional family relationships.
    Common myth: technology isn’t healthy for children and young people’s development or wellbeing – they’re losing their skills to communicate face-to-face

    Technology can support children and young people’s learning, development, social networks, mental health and wellbeing. It can provide access to opportunities to connect with others, and gain support, through the development of new skill sets to complement and build on their existing social and emotional competencies. There is emerging research which highlights the benefits of technology and in which circumstances children and young people can benefit.

  • Participation in mental health promotion

    Children and young people engage with technology in ways that challenge many traditional concepts of learning and connecting with others and seeking support.

    This can be difficult to understand for educators and families who didn’t grow up with technology being such a core aspect of life. Concerns about risks, and the challenges of understanding the benefits of technologies, can make it seem too difficult. 

    However, a failure to engage with new technologies within services and schools is likely to lead to missed opportunities in meeting children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing needs.

    Common myth: all children and young people use technology anyway, so it’s not necessary to focus on it in services and schools

    Not all children and young people have equal access to technology, due to financial constraints, family expectations and understandings, and geographical locations.

    Early learning services and schools can minimise the exclusion of those who don’t have access to technology in the home environment by providing options for access. In addition, children and young people may not have the skills or knowledge to locate the best resources.

  • Empowering children

    Young children see adults using digital technology for many purposes every day – texting, posting to social media, taking photographs, watching videos, playing games, accessing information (for example, recipes) and navigating car or public transport travel.

    Adult usage normalises technology for young children and helps shape their own interest in activities involving digital technology. Like adults, children use devices for a range of purposes – research shows young children use digital technology for communication, to watch videos, play games, access information and for digital recording (for instance, taking photographs and videos).

    Educating children on safe use can begin before they even have their own device.

    Families and educators can communicate with children about appropriate online behaviour and role-model the management of any potential issues. Supporting children to establish healthy digital habits early on has positive flow-on effects to their safe use of devices and engagement in the internet.

    Implementing boundaries and clear expectations supports them to engage in positive ways. Talking to children about their intentions for use, as well as setting time limits, is also important.

  • Empowering young people

    Largely, young people will have the skills to be able to find and engage with mental health resources and services on the internet. However, their ability to make good decisions is continuing to develop and this can affect their ability to: 

    • make sense of the wide range of information available
    • decipher accurate information from inaccurate
    • use good judgment when responding to others online
    • make decisions about what is appropriate information to access. 

    Sifting through the available information in ways that draw out the most credible and accurate sources is not necessarily a strength of young people. Some research suggests they tend to use the top few results generated through search engines rather than searching more broadly.

    Spelling errors can lead young people to get misinformation. They may also be less discerning of the types of online social interactions they’re involved in, potentially exposing themselves to risks that can impact on their mental health and wellbeing.

    Schools can empower students with competencies that will enhance their online experiences.

    Much of the heavy lifting in this area is done by the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Capability component of the Australian Curriculum which is integrated across all learning areas, so that students: “… learn to use ICT with confidence, care and consideration, understanding its possibilities, limitations and impact on individuals, groups and communities.” 

    In relation to mental health and wellbeing, schools can build on the ICT components of the Australian Curriculum by: 

    • directing young people to evidence-based information that can support their mental health and wellbeing
    • introducing young people to a range of confidential supports and services, enabling them to reach out when they may not be comfortable seeking support in the school or community
    • recommending safe places for young people to connect with others going through similar experience or who share interests. 

    Be You Professional Learning

    Social media can support a sense of belonging and inclusion. Learn more about relationships and belonging in the Connect module.

  • How can I get involved?

    You don’t need to be a technology guru to get involved in using it to support children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing. You can begin simply and explore alongside them.

    For older children and young people, you might try:
    • selecting a mental health tool for ‘students’ from Be You’s Wellbeing Tools guide and try it out for yourself
    • having children and young people try the same tool
    • running a group discussion about this resource, and let it flow into a conversation on other mental health resources that your students may know. 
    There are a number of ways you can follow up

    These include running another session with a different online resource or app, or encouraging students to continue using this resource for a period of time and record their impressions. You may find it helpful to find out what sites and apps they’re already using, and seek their evaluation of these. 

    Remember your students are a great source of information and know-how 

    Acknowledging their unique insights into new technologies and involving them in decisions and planning around the use of mental health technology in the classroom will help empower them in their own mental health support.

    Be You Tools and Guides

    Check out the Be You Tools and Guides section for guidance on the different online tools and other resources that will best support children and young people in taking care of their own mental health. 

  • Building knowledge and confidence

    With technology, we often feel like we’re always in ‘catch-up’ mode

    By the time you think you’re on top of it all, there’s a bunch of new things happening. So don’t get hung up on keeping up – simply continue to build your knowledge and skills. 

    Here a few things educators have found useful: 
    • Take an open and curious approach about your own use of technology for mental health promotion. Learn about online mental health sites and programs to help children, young people and families access the supports they need (through the school referral pathways and policies).
    • Learn about the support services available online (such as eheadspace and Kids Helpline) to provide guidance on help-seeking.
    • Engage in ongoing professional learning and skill development.
  • How can services and schools be proactive?

    Technology is integrated into our lives

    Ericsson estimates that by 2021 there will 38 billion devices connected to the internet. For services and schools, engaging with technology is a requirement to educate children and young people to live in our connected world. The impacts of this engagement reach almost every part of a learning community – it’s necessary to consider its role in most policies and procedures. 

    When planning how technology can be promoted as a mental health and wellbeing support for children and young people, services and schools need to: 

    • consider the ways technology intersects mental health, wellbeing and anti-bullying policies, mental health procedures and referral pathways, and curriculum
    • regularly review policies and procedures to help ensure their alignment with continually evolving technologies and usage patterns
    • build the capacity of the school community to understand and embrace technology as part of a whole-service or whole-school approach to supporting children and young people
    • plan ways to empower children and young people to be involved, take a lead and innovate in this space
    • build technologies into mental health promotion, prevention and early intervention frameworks.

    Services and schools will also need to be proactive in identifying key mental health apps, online resources and social media sites, which are reputable and supported by evidence. It would be useful, therefore, to have a system of classification that helps ensure technology use is targeted and appropriate.

    Bring everyone along 

    Leadership and wellness staff can lay the foundations for a cohesive whole-service or whole-school response by engaging educators and families in the use of technology to support children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing. 

    Services and schools can engage educators by: 
    • exploring staff readiness – audit professional development strengths and needs
    • empowering those who are knowledgeable and confident with technology to support colleagues
    • trialling websites, apps, forums etc, and sharing learning experiences.
    Services and schools can engage families by: 
    • using technology to communicate
    • supporting families to understand and manage the benefits and risks of technology use, including creating balance in family life which incorporates technology use with other activities
    • providing information to families about the ways in which technology can support children and young people’s (and their own) mental health and wellbeing.
    Depending on their age and developmental stage, you can engage children and young people by: 
    • asking them to identify what technologies others in the service or school are using
    • involving them in exploring ways technology can be used to support mental health and wellbeing
    • incorporating student voice into whole-school planning approaches to effective and safe use of technology
    • providing information about the school’s approach to using technology for mental health promotion.

    Engaging with families is crucial in using technology for mental health promotion, prevention and early intervention work.

    Learn about creating and maintaining strong partnerships with families in the Family Partnerships domain 

  • Supporting students with mental health needs

    Efforts in recent years have attempted to understand the barriers to children and young people accessing mental health services. A range of online sites, services, supports and counselling that are engaging for young people have now been established. Recent research points to the fact that these online supports are well used. 

    Where do young people go for help?

    In relation to sources where young people turn to for help, the Mission Australia Youth Survey 2017 found that most seek help from friends (84.4%), parents (77.7%) and relatives or family friends (61.3%). The survey results also showed that:

    • over 50% said they’d go to the internet for help with important issues in their lives
    • 17.7% said they’d seek help from an online counselling website
    • 33.5% indicated they’d go to their teacher, while 33.1% said they’d go to a school counsellor for help with important issues. 

    While this pattern was similar for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, less said they’d seek help from the internet (38.9%) and more said they’d seek help from a telephone hotline (13.8%).

    The second Australian Child and Adolescent Survey on Mental Health and Wellbeing (2015) found that, for 13 to 17-year-olds, in the 12 months prior to the survey: 

    • 22.2% had used an online service in the previous 12 months for help or information about emotional or behavioural problems.
    • 52% of those with diagnosed depression had used an online service including services provided by headspace, ReachOut and Youth Beyond Blue, to get help or information about emotional or behavioural problems (of those, 40.2% used online services to find out information about mental health issues, 29.6% used online assessment tools to find out if they needed help, 8.6% had participated in a chat room or support group, and 7.4% had received online personal support or counselling).

    The survey also found that 37.6% of families of children and adolescents with mental issues used online services for help or information in the previous 12 months. 

    These findings confirm that children, young people and their families are often receptive to online supports and information. It highlights that it’s useful for school wellbeing staff to have an understanding of how different sites, applications and services could be used. Some may be useful for helping individual students with mental health issues, while others may be relevant for use across the whole school community.

    Technology as support

    Students with mental health difficulties can be supported through a whole-school approach to mental health, and technologies may form part of that support. Learn more about providing support for children, young people and their families, by helping them access information and internal and external supports, in the Provide module.

  • Managing risks

    New technologies can be difficult to understand as knowledge around their use and impact is evolving. For example, reports about the dangers of cyberbullying, sexting or accessing pornography online by young people may lead to educators being concerned about their duty of care and how they can ensure students aren’t exposed to inappropriate content. 

    Research has suggested that young people’s awareness of risks and ability to keep themselves safe sometimes conflicts with adult views about young people’s understanding of online safety. If students are supported to critically analyse the content, they may be better prepared than adults might expect to navigate the risks and benefits associated with technology.

    Common myth : the internet breeds bullying and therefore should be avoided

    Given that bullying occurs within the context of social environments, it’s inevitable that the risk of bullying transfers to the online space. Avoiding the internet because of bullying is like avoiding school for the same reason. Bullying is a problem wherever it occurs – services and schools need to be proactive in reducing both online and offline bullying.

    Cybersafety 

    The Office of the eSafety Commissioner is Australia’s leader in online safety. The eSafety Commissioner is responsible for promoting online safety for all Australians. committed to helping all Australians have safer, positive experiences online – just as they would offline.

    The Office coordinates and leads the online safety efforts of government, industry and the not-for profit community. It has a broad remit which includes providing a complaints service for young Australians who experience serious cyberbullying, identifying and removing illegal online content, and tackling image-based abuse.

    The Office also provides audience-specific content to help educate all Australians about online safety including young people, women, teachers, parents, seniors and community groups.

    School staff can meet duty of care requirements by being both proactive and reactive in helping young people manage the risks associated with technology use. 

    Proactive strategies include: 

    • incorporating cybersafety into curriculum, year level events and health promotion activities as part of mental health promotion activities
    • adopting a whole-school approach to preventing bullying
    • developing students’ ability to critically analyse websites, apps and social sites to ensure that the sites are credible and safe
    • supporting families through information shared via the website and newsletters as well as information sessions or workshops to empower them to support their young people in the safe and effective use of technology for mental health and wellbeing. 

    School staff should respond to incidents of cyberbullying or inappropriate technology use by following your school’s policies and procedures. It’s important to recognise that some students are more vulnerable to cyberbullying than others, including gender diverse and same-sex attracted young people, students with disabilities, students from culturally diverse communities, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. 

    Access and equity 

    While technology has the potential to connect young people in rural and remote areas to online services and communities, reducing their social isolation and providing opportunities for empowerment, it also carries risks. Young people from these communities, as well as those from low socioeconomic areas, may have less access to technologies at home. This may further disadvantage them compared to most urban young people. Schools can help by having computers available at school and providing class-based mental health promotion activities. 

    Students with disabilities 

    In the same manner, technology can both support and disadvantage students with disabilities. Young people with disabilities may find opportunities to connect with others, feel an enhanced sense of belonging, and be able to better participate in education through using technologies. However, these young people may require additional supports to engage with online sites and services, such as assistive technologies designed to improve access and engagement. Young people with a disability may also be more vulnerable to bullying or accessing inappropriate sites, so tailored cybersafety education and monitoring may be required to ensure safe and effective engagement with technology.

  • References

    Australian Government Joint Select Committee on Cyber-Safety. (2013). Issues surrounding cyber-safety for indigenous Australians. Canberra: Parliament of Australia. Retrieved from: https://www.aph.gov.au/parliamentary_business/committees/
    house_of_representatives_committees?url=jscc/indigenous_australians/report.htm.

    Australian Psychological Society (APS). (2015). Stress and wellbeing. How Australians are coping with life. The findings of the Australian Psychological Society Stress and wellbeing in Australia Survey 2015. Melbourne: APS. Retrieved from https://www.headsup.org.au/docs/default-source/default-document-library/stress-and-wellbeing-in-australia-report.pdf?sfvrsn=7f08274d_4.

    Bullot A., Cave, L., Fildes, J., Hall, S. & Plummer, J. (2017). Mission Australia’s 2017 Youth Survey Report. Melbourne: Mission Australia. Retrieved from https://www.missionaustralia.com.au/what-we-do/research-evaluation/youth-survey.

    Burns, J.M., Davenport, T.A., Christensen, H., Luscombe, G.M., Mendoza, J.A., Bresnan, A., Blanchard, M.E. & Hickie, I. (2013). Game On: Exploring the Impact of Technologies on Young Men’s Mental Health and Wellbeing. Melbourne: Young and Well Cooperative Research Centre. Retrieved from: https://cdn.movember.com/uploads/files/Our%20Work/game-on-movember-foundation.pdf.

    Campbell, A.J. & Robards, F. (2013). Using technologies safely and effectively to promote young people’s wellbeing: A Better Practice Guide for Services. Melbourne: Young and Well CRC. Retrieved from https://www.health.nsw.gov.au/kidsfamilies/youth/Documents/better-practice-guide.pdf.

    Center on Media and Human Development. (2013). Parenting the in Age of Digital Technology, A National Survey. Illinois: Northwestern University. Retrieved from https://cmhd.northwestern.edu/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/ParentingAgeDigitalTechnology.REVISED.
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    Collin, P., Rahilly, K., Richardson, I., & Third, A. (2011). The benefits of social networking services: Literature review. Melbourne: Cooperative Research Centre for Young People, Technology and Wellbeing. Retrieved from http://www.uws.edu.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0003/476337/The-Benefits-of-Social-Networking-Services.pdf.

    Early Childhood Australia (ECA). (2018). Discussion paper: Discussion Paper Towards an Early Childhood Australia Statement on young children and digital technology. Canberra: ECA. Retrieved from http://www.earlychildhoodaustralia.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/ECA-DPG-Disussion-Paper-April-including-appendices_FINAL-2.pdf.

    Ericsson. (2015). Ericsson Mobility Report: on the pulse of a networked society. Stockholm: Ericsson. Retrieved from https://www.ericsson.com/assets/local/news/2016/03/ericsson-mobility-report-nov-2015.pdf.

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