Marc Fennell:
G’day, my name is Marc Fennell and welcome to the MindMatters Spotlight on Technology. Now, when you talk about young people and technology there are certain words that always come up. It’s sexting, it’s cyberbullying, there’s porn, there’s video game addiction. But is there more to it than that?

Well, to debate today we have Dr Michael Carr-Gregg from The Young and Well Cooperative Research Centre, we have Professor Debra Rickwood from the University of Canberra, Julia Nordlinger from Ringwood Secondary College and Sarah Faithfull who is a member of the Youth Brains Trust - also from the Young and Well CRC, welcome to you all. Give yourselves a round of applause for being here. There you go. We need a studio audience for this.

So Michael, you’ve heard the list sexting, cyberbullying. Fair to assume anything involving young people and technology, instantly evil, yes?

Michael Carr-Gregg:    
There’s no question the media demonise technology. And for me it’s just a long line of moral panics. In the 1890s there was a moral panic around the rather disgusting habit of young people reading novels.

Marc Fennell:
Ah, the worst.

Michael Carr-Gregg:    
And that was going to corrupt their – We’ve had jazz music, Elvis, TV, video games. This is just a continuation.

Marc Fennell:
Michael, what’s your pitch to schools in terms of getting them on-board with using technology?

Michael Carr-Gregg:
You know, there really are a lot of very good studies which show young people aren’t coping. We need to prepare them for life and this is where I think technology has such fantastic potential.

Marc Fennell:
All right, so Debra, are there specific areas in which you can use technology to help with mental health and young people in particular?

Debra Rickwood:
There’s probably three key ways that we can use technology for young people. And the first one being access to information. Obviously through technology we’ve got access to the entire universe of information that we have at the moment.

The second way is to build skills. So, to use technology to increase young people’s resilience, help them develop habits, monitor their behaviour. So, build their own skills.

And the third way, which is really important, is to encourage connection. Communication, connection. They can develop a sense of belonging, connect with likeminded young people, get into communities that support their wellbeing. So those are probably the three main ways that we can use technology.
 
Julia Nordlinger:
I just wanted to add to that, I agree. And in schools, while we’re struggling with the technology and we’re having to now spend a lot of energy and resources on teaching our students how to protect themselves, what cyberbullying is, how to make sure you’re not involved in that, what to do if you are. We’re equally using technology in a way that’s so useful to the students, and particularly around their wellbeing.

Marc Fennell:
Michael?

Michael Carr-Gregg:
Yeah, young people’s problems don’t occur between nine and five, which is when my office is open.

Debra Rickwood:
Yeah, I agree. I think the out of school hours is when young people need support. And so all the school staff and the teachers need a couple of websites, addresses to be able to promote.
 
Marc Fennell:
All right Sarah, I want to bring you in here because you are the person in the room who is the closest to high school age. Now, you had a personal experience with an eating disorder when you were younger. Is there a way in which technology at that point would have helped you?

Sarah Faithfull:
Absolutely, and it did. I used, in particular, an app to help me manage my eating disorder. But I’ve also used technology for all aspects of my mental health. So, when I was a teenager in high school I didn’t really feel comfortable talking about my mental health. Online counselling was really beneficial to me. It meant that I could speak to a counsellor from the privacy of my bedroom, in the middle of the night on my laptop. No one had to know, no one had to drive me there, I didn’t have explain what I was doing or where I’d been. So it really allowed me to get help when I wanted, where I wanted and how I wanted.

Marc Fennell:
Are there really great examples you’ve seen of schools using technology in really effective ways?

Julia Nordlinger:
Yeah, there are a lot of apps that help teenagers track their mood, build their resilience, a lot of mindfulness apps. The other way we’re using technology is on our school website we now have a wellbeing website.

Marc Fennell:
Okay. What sort of stuff would you put on that?

Julia Nordlinger:
A lot of mental health promotion. A lot of links to apps. A lot of just fact sheets around mental health issues and there’s some relaxation exercises. A lot of resources for parents, around parenting, how to recognise signs in your teenager.

Marc Fennell:
Are there specific apps that you think would be useful for a teacher to know about?

Michael Carr-Gregg:
Look, I think Smiling Mind for meditation would be brilliant. Couch to 5K for exercise, sensational. And one of my favourite websites is MoodGYM, which is a fantastic online resource for mild to moderate depression and anxiety developed by the ANU. It’s about 20 years old, it’s had about seven randomised controlled trials. It’s really got a great evidence base.
 
Julia Nordlinger:
I think what teachers can do is be aware of reputable websites and apps. Have a look at them themselves, make sure they’re comfortable with them. They can promote them in their class, they can mention them to students they might be feeling concerned about. I think if they have any suspicions, they see any signs of the students not travelling very well, wellbeing wise or health wise, or they get a sniff that they might be using technology inappropriately, maybe through another student, I think they should not hesitate to consult the school psychologist, the school social worker and potentially the student’s parents.

Michael Carr-Gregg:    
There’s a fantastic website called Beacon which is run, in fact, by the ANU. And it has a list of all the different apps and web based programmes and they’re listed by evidence base. And I think that’s very, very useful.

Marc Fennell:
Michael, are there things that schools can do better to engage students in this sort of area.

Michael Carr-Gregg:
I think one of the big areas is sleep deprivation.
 
Marc Fennell:
Really? Okay, why is that?

Michael Carr-Gregg:    
And we know that young people require about nine hours of sleep a night,  yet the research suggests they’re getting about five point five. So that’s a very considerable gap. So, to try and do things like use technology to help young people track their sleep, to teach them what I call beducation, through fact sheets and through the wonderful websites.

Marc Fennell:
You should get that trademarked. I really think you should.

Michael Carr-Gregg:
I should.

Julia Nordlinger:
Yeah, that’s good.

Michael Carr-Gregg:
But I think that’s a really key point. I mean, ideally I’d love all schools to start school at 10 o’clock and finish at four but that’s not going to happen.
 
Marc Fennell:
A lot of school students would join you in that campaign. I really think they would.

Michael Carr-Gregg:
I’m sure it’s a cheap vote.
 
Julia Nordlinger:
It’d be good for staff.

Marc Fennell:
See, everyone wins. It’s fine. What about relationships? Because I’m thinking back to school and the biggest heartaches and the biggest frustrations emerged out of dynamics between friends and partners. Is there an element where technology can play a role there?

Dr  Carr-Gregg:    
Yeah, look psychology tells us that one of the greatest predictors of wellbeing for young people, in fact for all people, is having a rich repertoire of friends. So there are apps now, relationship apps, like beyondblue’s Check-in app which I think is sensational. Tells you how to approach a friend you’re worried about. Where, when, what to say. And most importantly what to say if they said, “I’m fine.” So, that’s brilliant.

There’s another app called Breakup Shakeup which helps you when you’re ending a relationship, which happens to all of us at one time or another. So, these things are practical, great apps, which you don’t have to be a psychologist to recommend. Just be a human being.
 
Marc Fennell:
If there was one practical thing you could say to school staff members and teachers right now. One practical thing, an app, a website, something you could give them, what would it be right now?
 
Julia Nordlinger:
I think the most practical and useful and cost effective thing a teacher can do is have a poster in their classroom that lists five great mental health promotion, wellbeing apps that their students can go to.

Marc Fennell:
Yeah, right. Michael, anyone that you want to pick from there?

Michael Carr-Gregg:    
Well, the websites, I think it would be really important for them also to know about eheadspace. So, that’s online counselling. 1800 55 1800, which is the Kids Helpline phone number. I think those two resources, personally, should be plastered all over primary and secondary schools right across Australia.

Marc Fennell:
Final practical tip for you Debra

Debra Rickwood:    
I’d suggest they go online and look up some of the websites. We have some fantastic websites in Australia and the one that I’d look at, at the moment is what’s been put out by ReachOut. They’ve pulled together a whole lot of evidence based approaches and apps to guide young people through them. It’s called the Toolkit. And, I mean, it’s for young people but if a teacher or parent goes on and has a look at that, they can see what are the things that are of interest to young people and what’s been brought together as the evidence based types of online approaches for them and have a bit of a taste of what they are.

Marc Fennell:
And the final thought goes to you, Sarah.

Sarah Faithfull:
Yes. I think it’s really important for teachers to understand that technology, in particular mobile phones, isn’t really seen as a separate entity for young people anymore. It’s more seen as an extension of themselves. We hear a lot about kids these days spending too much time on the internet and not enough time in the real world. But who says the online world isn’t real? It might be different but that doesn’t make it any less real. And I think when we’re talking about something difficult, like mental health, the online world can allow young people to be even more real.

Marc Fennell:
All right. We started the show with an awkward self-applause. We might as well end the show with one. Give yourselves a round of applause. Thank you so much. And before we say goodbye, we do want to share with you a quote from Bill Gates, who when he left Microsoft to do philanthropic work, he said, “Technology is just a tool. In terms of getting kids working together and motivating them, the teacher is the most important.” That was Bill Gates sucking up to you right now.

Very big thank you to everyone here on the panel. And of course, we’re now going to leave you with our regularly scheduled cat videos, which is what I believe the internet does when we’re not talking. Thanks guys.