Marking its second year, the Technology for Well-being conference addressing technology and its relationship with mental health issues will be taking place this Thursday, 25 September in Dublin’s Croke Park.
Organised by ReachOut.com, the event is the largest in Ireland that is tackling issues regarding the ways people, particularly children, interact with technology and others online that could be greatly affecting their mental well-being.
There is no denying that almost on a weekly basis stories appear from around the world showing how even though technology can greatly increase our ability to learn and communicate, there are times when it can have a detrimental effect on that person and increasing the feelings of loneliness or a greater focus of cyber-bullying.
From Reachout’s own report from last year entitled Bridging the Digital Disconnect, there is a widening gap between parents of children who might be suffering mental health issues and their understanding of how to help them.
Form their survey of parents of students in both first and fifth year of secondary school, over two-thirds (69.8pc) said they were likely to look online to find solutions, but have also called on more guidelines to be put online to make it easier for them to understand possible solutions to their child’s problem.
Keeping up-to-date online
One such resource is Webwise whose founder, and speaker at this year’s conference, Simon Grehan, runs to help parents understand aspects of technology, particularly cyber-bullying.
In Grehan’s view, cyber-bullying is still the number one issue with children’s mental well-being online and is far from close to a solution.
However, he also dispels the myth that the pace at which technology is changing puts it out of reach of older generations and rather argues that children themselves look to their parents and teachers for guidance with technology.
“Research shows that in most cases, children think that their parents know more about the internet than they do and they look to them for advice and guidance,” says Grehan.
“Lots of children struggle to keep up too. In reality, apps and services are designed to be easy to use. Using the tool is generally straight forward but making decisions about what to use it for can be more complex.”
Of course, this doesn’t mean that children are flocking to parents and teachers to actively discuss bullying, something which even before the concept of cyber-bullying had ever been discussed, was always an issue.
According to Grehan, the act of a child telling a guardian about them being bullied is even lower than bullying in the past, but thankfully, a number of schools are starting to address children’s needs and to protect them from ‘ratting out’ one of their classmates.
“We know that reporting of all kinds of bullying is low, and even more so for cyber bullying,” he says. “Children are worried about over reaction, getting access to technology withdrawn, and being called a rat, but they don’t trust the reporting systems offered by the technology companies and yet they aren’t equipped to deal with this one their own. Telling an adult is usually the turning point in the story from where things stop getting worse and begin to get better so we need to do everything we can to encourage telling.”
On the front line of bullying
One such programme aiming to connect schools and teachers with affected students is Reachout’s Sarah Jackson is programme manager for the Wellbeing@School initiative currently underway in Australia but will be at the conference as a speaker on their progress.
The programme has been designed to help young people under 25 stay connected and get through tough times by providing the service provides practical tools, forums and information in a safe and anonymous online environment.
These tools include, aside from hard-copy and pdf information, the online resource of ‘My Wellbeing. My Classroom’, the world’s first iBook on the practical application of positive psychology in schools.
So far, from their research, they have found that over 98pc of teachers have said that their knowledge of positive psychology to pass on to their students increased after the programme showing signs of major progress.
When asked about Google’s recent discussion around creating accounts for children under the age of 13 as a means of protecting them from potential harm online, Jackson believes this would be one of a number of steps that need to be taken: “I believe that having accounts, websites and forums for particular age groups is one of the links in the chain that will seek to help with keeping people safe online, but it needs to also be accompanied with consistent education (young people, parents, teachers and other adults) and government policy/legislation.
“This not only includes the young people themselves, but their parents, teachers and other adults who to play major roles in keeping young people safe, online and offline.”
Challenges of regulating online interaction
One person who is well aware of the negative psychological effects that certain aspects of technology can have is Colman Noctor, a psychoanalytical psychotherapist currently working in St Patrick’s Adolescent Service and one of the speaker’s at this year’s conference.
Speaking to us about the role social media organisations have to play in promoting awareness of cyber-bullying and negative online factors, he believes that as of yet, the means of regulating social media are too new to see completely effective tools to be developed.
“I think regulation is the core difficulty with anything online,” says Noctor. “Essentially, it is the first aspect of human life that is largely beyond regulation and is both its strength and its weakness. There is no way of pre-filtering online material.”
He continues: “The problem is that adolescence is a time of poor regulation. Couple this with an unregulated platform and you've got to expect problems. The internet has no form of establishing the age of the user and this means that underage children can and will find themselves in places that they cannot manage.”
Despite these challenges, events like the Technology and Well-being conference and its speakers will attempt to do what is sometimes the greatest challenge to mental health, talking about it openly.
The Technology and Well-being conference will be held in Croke Park on Thursday, 25 September with a full list of speakers, including Simon, Sarah and Colman; available on their website. Tickets for the event cost €90 for an adult and €60 for a student.
Teacher with students image via Shutterstock