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App uses classic game to get teens to set goals

Education

Goalzie designed to build help-seeking behaviour and goal-setting skills in young people interacting in an online setting

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Truth? Dare? Double-dare?

It’s an adrenalin-filled children’s game that’s been practiced around the world for centuries. Challenged by their pals, kids select a category and then complete a task as a show of honesty, courage or physical prowess.

Now mental health researchers in Australia are using the same format in an app.

Known as ‘Goalzie’, the software is designed to build help-seeking behaviour and goal-setting skills in young people interacting in an online setting.

Based at the University of South Australia, Dr Barbara Spears and Dr Carmel Taddeo worked with colleagues at the Young and Well Cooperative Research Centre to develop and trial Goalzie.

“Through Goalzie, we want young people to be able to reach out, set goals and practice their skills in these areas,” said Dr Spears.

“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.

Once downloaded, it 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 decision to place Goalzie within Facebook was driven by safety considerations, and by knowledge of how people prefer to interact within their own established online 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.”

Dr Jamiee Stuart is a Research Fellow in Psychology at the Victoria University of Wellington, and works at the interface of social media, resilience and mental health.

She said that once checks and balances were 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.”

Goalzie was developed with young users to ensure it was relevant and appealing to the target age group.

Thirteen year old Diya was involved during the development phase.

“I gave feedback on how prototype versions of the app looked and worked,” said Diya.

“I think Goalzie will be useful in my age-group, as we can have difficulty in following through with goals if we are distracted by other content.”

“I imagine most people will use it like a game, to pass time with friends,” Diya said.

Drs Spears and Taddeo have completed an eight-week trial involving more than 1000 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.

“All the data will be de-identified, and we’re going to map out how the users interacted with each other using Goalzie,” said Dr Taddeo.

With the data collection phase now completed, Young and Well CRC have released Goalzie as a free download for the general public.

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