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03 Dec, Saturday
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Montreal Families

Online tools aim to help teens handle stress 

Much has been said over the last two years about the mental health challenges faced by young people due to the pandemic. With stress and anxiety plaguing Canadian youth, Strong Minds Strong Kids, Psychology Canada (SMSKPC) is on a mission to nurture psychological well-being. To support youth aged 13-17, this organization has introduced two new interactive online tools aimed at helping teens handle day-to-day stressors and unexpected crises.

By youth, for youth

The creation of the Zen Garden App was a collaborative effort between seven Canadian youth, mindyourmind (an organization that develops interactive tools for youth), and Canadian psychologists. Youth can customize their garden while learning about the signs and symptoms of stress, creating a coping kit, and watching videos. They can alleviate stress with a weed-plucking tool where they write about their stress and then pluck it away. The app also explains the differences and similarities between stress and anxiety, and the upside of stress. Guided questions, prompts, management strategies, and resources that include crisis lines and a provincial list of resources are found along the garden path.

In the Resiliency Quiz, teens are shown how resilient they are today while providing strategies to adopt for tomorrow. While answering questions, users are prompted to listen to a podcast on gratitude, participate in a guided meditation, and encouraged to practice self-forgiveness. TED Talks on subjects such as The Power of Believing That You Can Improve and Why Sleep is Your Superpower are interspersed with tips and strategies. The quiz wraps up with a video on how to create a “joy kit”.

The pandemic has been particularly hard on young people. The Canadian Institute for Health Information reports that in 2020, nearly one in four hospitalizations for those between 5 and 24 were for mental health conditions. And in the same year, Kids Help Phone reported twice as many interactions — through phone calls, texts, and the use of self-directed help resources across Canada compared with 2019.

“We feel so strongly that our purpose to build resiliency in children and youth has never been more important and that is why we are pushing ourselves to dramatically expand our reach and impact,” said Dr. Mark Smith, Chair of Strong Minds Strong Kids, Psychology Canada. The charity’s goal in 2021 aimed to deliver psychological knowledge, expertise, tools, and resources to 1,000,000 children in Canada. As the effects of the pandemic continued into 2022, the range of programs has expanded to meet the needs of today’s teens.

The role of parents and caregivers

Dr. Robin Alter, a child psychologist and SMSKPC Board of Trustee who consulted to ensure the integrity of the Zen Garden App content, offers parents and caregivers advice on managing stress and anxiety to better help their children. “Children feed off our energy and model our behaviours,” Alter says. “So, if parents and caregivers can manage their own anxieties around this time, not only will they set a great example for their teen, they’ll be healthier and more resilient to tackle anything that comes.”

Adults can also use the strategies and resources from the app and quiz. Alter’s Five Tips for Parents and Caregivers to find their Back to School Zen include forgiving yourself and letting go of the past, talking about and sharing your stress, creating a joy kit to use when your spirit or mood needs an uplift, reframing mistakes, and setting achievable goals.

The Zen Garden App and Resiliency Quiz can be downloaded at www.strongmindsstrongkids.org

Supported by leading Canadian psychologists, SMSKPC is part of The Psychology Foundation of Canada, which has focused on leveraging psychology to the benefit of all Canadians since 1974. Today, the national organization supports more than 250,000 families in Canada each year.

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