Adolescence is an immensely stressful time as teens struggle to find their identity, develop healthy relationships, navigate increasingly demanding academic environments and complicated social situations, and discover what role they wish to play in their communities. iThrive is a bold new approach to reaching teens that will help adolescents not just survive, but thrive, by repurposing a medium most of them already favor – digital games.
To thrive is to function positively in private and social realms of life – to rise to life’s challenges, to engage with and relate to others, to find fulfillment through productivity and creativity, and to look beyond oneself. Numerous factors such as nutrition and social support contribute to thriving, but one important piece of the puzzle is provided by positive psychology. By teaching skills such as empathy, gratitude, resilience, persistence, and mindfulness, positive psychology-informed activities can provide adolescents with tools for addressing the various stressors that confront them at school, at home, and in their communities.
Digital Games have become powerful teaching and training devices for businesses, the military, and education.
But the potential for digital games to advance mental wellbeing, especially for teens, is largely untapped. Although research affirms that games can be a powerful tool to promote wellness in teens, to date very few games have been developed for this purpose. With the direction and support of the D.N. Batten Foundation and Centerstone Research Institute, the iThrive Initiative is positioned to address this untapped opportunity on a large scale.
Grounded in core principles of positive psychology, iThrive is facilitating the development of engaging, evidence-based digital games that help teens more successfully navigate the path to adulthood. iThrive utilizes the familiar and popular platform of digital games to help teens develop stronger emotional skills. Research indicates that digital games can be used effectively to build positive emotions in adolescents, teach social and emotional learning, and help players practice skills to protect against a potential onset of mental health disorders. iThrive is taking a three-pronged approach to creating a vibrant, cooperative, data-driven eco-system to strengthen adolescent well-being with games.
- Involve Youth as “Prosumers”: iThrive is involving youth and youth organizations in all activities, including inspiring a new generation of youth game developers with the principles and techniques of positive psychology. We are partnering with leading youth organizations so that adolescents and those who work with them every day are integrally involved in supporting the developing, testing, and improvement of games, and their use in a broader context of youth support.
- Pushing forward the Practical Science: iThrive is building a community of youth development and mental health experts, leaders in the psychology of gaming, and game development experts, including partners from leading universities, to develop an efficient, rapid learning and dissemination system that includes a clear positive psychology framework, metrics, and real world testing for game developers to use.
- Facilitating Game Development: iThrive is seeking to find and support games that are effective at promoting positive psychology. We will work with game developers to provide the positive psychology research expertise, exposure, investment, youth involvement and testing, and other factors needed to create effective games (while developers keep their IP). Activities may include public competitions, creative game idea generation, education, public gatherings, co-development of games, and sharing of processes, proposals, and game development practices. The result will be a new and constantly improving system of games that strengthen and support adolescents.
More About iThrive:
I founded iThrive to help teenagers understand that they hold the key to their own health and happiness (Forbes article). To show them this, I knew we needed to meet them where they most often are: in front of a screen, playing games. By supporting the creation of engaging games that boost their self-esteem and self-awareness, iThrive helps teenagers gain crucial skills through a platform with which they are familiar and that they can use privately, sidestepping the stigma that comes with seeking mental health help.
The need is great—and urgent. Approximately 20 percent of 13- to 18-year olds in the United States experience severe mental disorders, and half of all chronic mental illnesses begin around age 14. Only one-third of those in need of treatment seeks help. At the same time, many people can’t afford quality therapy. Many resources for affordable options have been cut, and insurance companies cover a limited number of sessions. Plus, there is a shortage of therapists from minority backgrounds to help those most at risk. These roadblocks mean we need to quickly find other avenues to mental health services.
iThrive is inspired by many of my own experiences dealing with partners and family members who are managing various forms of mental illness, as someone who has found therapy to be a valuable resource during difficult times, as a practitioner of positive and cognitive behavioral therapy, as an MBA-degree holder with an interest in technology, and as a mother of two video-game-playing teenage boys.
iThrive is a concept that has been incubating for many years. For my master’s degree in counseling thesis, I researched computer-aided cognitive behavioral therapy. Many of the programs demonstrated good outcomes but were so unenticing. I began to imagine how a tool that was both engaging and effective could affect the lives of many—particularly hard-to-reach teenagers, who are most likely to embrace and benefit from the medium. I went on to study positive psychology and the idea of building a computer program that focused on positive and cognitive behavioral therapy for teens stuck with me.
Finally, iThrive’s time has come, and I have been fortunate to gather a talented, thoughtful, compassionate team of people to help launch it. Together, we’re working to build a platform that will support the creation and distribution of games and apps that can reach teenagers where they are, help them develop a better sense of self-awareness and greater self-esteem, teach them to be open-minded and to interact and communicate more positively with others, and equip them with the cognitive tools that will bolster them throughout their lives. We aim to help teenagers become confident in their abilities to shape their own lives—and have fun doing it.
iThrive is an initiative created by the D.N. Batten Foundation in partnership with CRI to enhance the emotional well-being of adolescents through digital game applications of positive psychology.