Alissa Antle, PhD, explains that a collaboration between Simon Fraser University (SFU) and Curatio, a digital health company that develops peer-to-peer private online support communities, is creating a digital application that will help children overcome social-emotional and mental health challenges related to the impact of COVID-19.
“Are children in danger when they go outdoors?” asks Antle, professor at the School of Interactive Arts & Technology at SFU.
Her answer, however, is not a simple one because it highlights the importance of collective care: it depends on where they go, when they go and who they go with. The same happens with meetings in the online environment, she says.
“There are many applications designed specifically for children on the Internet that adhere to privacy and security standards, and are curated in ways that ensure children’s well-being, for example, with moderated chats and content,” Antle explains.
However, because of her research background with child-computer interaction and interaction design for children, Antle reasons that there are also applications accessible on the Internet that are not suitable for children – especially those under the age of 13.
According to the professor, a combination of parental interaction with their children while they are online, content filters and education in technological literacy will help ensure that online content is age appropriate and safe.
“When coming across inappropriate content, they need help to understand what they have seen, just like what they might come across walking to school with a parent or guardian,” she says.
To ensure children from British Columbia and all around the world may have a safe online space that provides open dialogue to support their emotional state, Antle is now creating a digital application called No Child Alone, a project in collaboration with SFU and Curatio.
The child gap in interactive digital applications through the COVID wave
According to its team of specialists, the goal of the No Child Alone project is to enable those who care about children’s learning, development and mental health to effectively and efficiently work with children to overcome social-emotional and mental health challenges related to the impact of COVID-19 in Canada and internationally.
“The project involves better understanding the needs and experiences of children and families during the COVID-19 pandemic by taking a research approach that combines codesign studies with remote interview studies,” Antle says.
Then, based on information from the studies, SFU researchers will work with Curatio to create a peer-to-peer private online support platform tailored specifically to connect and support children and families during and after the pandemic. To meet multiple platforms needs, the application will run on both Apple and Android platforms.
“We received funding in the late summer 2020. After putting together our team, we are in the research design stage, and recruiting classrooms and families to work with. We expect to roll out our study early in 2021,” she says.
The No Child Alone study argues that digital technology may enable beneficial social-emotional interventions. Antle even recalls other research, conducted by herself and colleagues, in which she created game interventions for children to help them regulate their attention and anxiety.
“In both these cases a technology mediated intervention helps children to experience emotional learning. This is a different approach than explaining or telling children how to self-regulate – the intervention enables them to learn experientially,” she argues.
Understanding there are ways of connecting with others remotely in a healthy way, No Child Alone shows there is support available for families that are dealing with stress and anxiety from the pandemic, giving them a safe space to reach dialogue.
“The first step in supporting children is enabling them to have a voice around their experiences in a safe space. Despite social and physical isolation, they should know they are not alone and that others share similar feelings and experiences,” Antle concludes.
For more information, please visit www.curatio.me.