Technology Essay

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Throughout the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) Strategic Plan (2007), there is repeated mention of the need for “novel and innovative research” and focus on “personalized” preventative and therapeutic approaches. In addition, their strategic plan emphasizes the need for more efficient methods for conducting research and expedited dissemination of programs that are shown to improve outcome and adherence.

In our own practices, schools, and clinics, we have witnessed our current child and adolescent population interacting with new technology in a way that could almost be described as instinctual. These youth are the first of a new generation who have been raised with regular access to a combination of personal computers, the Internet, and portable devices equipped with mobile media (including cell phones, iPods, portable gaming, and other hand held devices).

Instead of the informal hanging-out spaces of the school, mall, home, or street, these new generations are also employing "contemporary social media” to create the new “primary institutions” (p. 39) of peer culture (Digital Youth Project 2008). They are connecting and hanging out through the use of technology. It is here that we find the opportunity for entirely new ways of interacting with, engaging, and tracking youth and their treatment in mental health care.

In 2001, Marc Prensky published companion papers that coined the term “Digital Natives” to describe this technologically fluent generation. Prensky (2001) labeled their adult counterparts as “Digital Immigrants.” Most recently, Prensky has broadened this concept to include the development of an evolutionary piece, “Digital Wisdom.” Prensky defines “Digital Wisdom” as “a twofold concept, referring both to wisdom arising from the use of digital technology to access cognitive power beyond our innate capacity and to wisdom in the prudent use of technology to enhance our abilities (Prensky 2009).” While Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants defined technology use as generational, Prensky’s piece on Digital Wisdom sets a more modern distinction, between users of technology and their counterparts, that no longer relies on the age of the user but rather by their own patterns of technology use. We believe our mission, in this next phase of development for social science, is to foster education and training that builds the ‘Digital Wisdom’ of practitioners, accelerates the pace of our research, and helps to bridge the cultural gaps between the practitioners and educators and the youth of today. Somewhere between these groups, there lies the potential for a powerful merger between experience and the demands of a new culture.

2 In their recent brief, “Adolescents and Electronic Media: Growing up Plugged In,” authors B. Brown, Ph.D. and P. Marin, M.P.P., offer further support for developing mental health and social services which incorporate technology and media. Their writing places emphasis on the importance of research that addresses the influence of media on health and development (Brown & Marin, 2009). They also reinforce a point made by the NIMH, “data collection must keep pace with this changing environment” (Brown & Marin, 2009).

In the following white paper, we are presenting a collaborative effort to address the use of technology for the purpose of advancing child and adolescent mental health care. In the first section we will explore considerations for introducing innovation into practice. In the second section we will provide examples of technology being used in our own and the practices of others for the purpose of strengths based treatment, engagement, provision of services, accessibility to care, and data collection. In the third section, we will discuss some examples of new technology that have potential for use in mental health care programs. In the fourth section, we will discuss the implications of some of these new tools, including some...
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