Teens Game Their Way to Mental Wellness

Technology provides incredible opportunities for students to learn, connect, create, and collaborate in ways never before imagined. The National Education Technology Plan places a heavy emphasis on developing “non-cognitive competencies”—such as the ability to interact well with peers, resolve disputes, and persist through challenging problems—through digital games and other classroom technologies. Applications noted to be of particular interest are virtual environments including simulations and digital role-playing games that allow students to experiment, fail, and try again in a low-stakes environment. Kognito’s Friend2Friend simulation lets high school students practice talking with a friend in distress and connecting them to a supportive adult. In Friend2Friend, teens learn about mental health as part of overall health, while learning to talk with a friend in distress and ask about suicidal thoughts. In the innovative, 30-minute role-play simulation, Michael and Ana are emotionally-responsive virtual teens who have struggled with feelings that threaten their academic progress, as well as their social, physical, and mental well-being. They serve as coaches and role-play partners for real teens who undertake Friend2Friend as part of a class or club activity to better understand mental health, reduce stigma, and encourage their peers to seek help. Using Friend2Friend, teens learn best practice communication techniques that will assist a friend in opening up, sharing what’s going on behind their worrisome behavior, and overcoming barriers to connecting to a trusted adult. The simulation incorporates familiar game mechanics, including earning points and badges, which contribute to youth engagement in what can be uncomfortable subject matter.

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