Mightier app uses video games to improve children’s mental health

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Ten years ago, researchers from Harvard Medical School and Boston Children’s Hospital began working to find a new therapy for children who have problems with emotional regulation. They wanted it to be a scientifically proven coping mechanism that kids would be happy to engage in.

They developed a app called Mightier which uses video games and a heart rate monitor to let kids practice the skills they need to identify their emotions, reduce anxiety and calm themselves down.

“They were working with a lot of children and families at Boston Children’s Hospital who needed more help with emotional regulation than they were just getting through therapy, and they did some trial randomized with them to test it,” said Emily Stone, a licensed social worker and senior clinical strategist at Mightier. “Families using the app reported a reduction in outbursts and oppositional behavior from children, which also reduced stress for parents.”

With the positive results under his belt, Mightier was “graduated from academia” in 2018 and began selling directly to families across the country. through their website. Since then, the app has been used by over 100,000 children, many of whom have been diagnosed with ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorder or Oppositional Defiant Disorder.

The app includes around 30 mobile video games, which kids gravitate to because they’re both fun and familiar – racing games, puzzle games, and games similar to those they’ve played on their own consoles. games or phones.

“There’s a lot of educational software out there that’s like math or reading,” Stone said. “But these are fun, play-based games that appeal to kids. Kids can also look for something that speaks to them when choosing a game, like animals or races.”

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How it works

While the child is playing a game, he wears a heart rate monitor on his arm. When play gets difficult, a child’s heart rate often increases as they become frustrated. When this happens, the game adjusts by doing the exact opposite of what you might expect. The game becomes even harder to play.

In Crossy Ninja, a game where the player must slice flying fruit while walking back and forth across a bridge, a heart rate in the “red zone” causes the character to pick up speed, making it harder to cut. of fruits. In Return of Invaders, players protect their planet by shooting at invading ships, but when in the heart rate red zone, they cannot control the direction of their shot. And in Super Best Ghost Game, the player controls a growing group of ghosts through different levels of puzzles. Most of the screen is covered in the red area.

“When a child is playing a game and it suddenly becomes more difficult, we know they want to start playing normally again,” Stone said. “So they’re encouraged to use methods they’ve learned to calm themselves down, which brings their heart rate back and the game returns to normal.”

These soothing skills can be coping mechanisms children learned in therapy or methods recommended by the Mightier app itself.

When children participate in therapy sessions, the atmosphere is often calm and they only recall stressful situations when they tell the therapist, rather than living them in the moment. For this reason, coping mechanisms suggested by therapists may seem too abstract for children to understand. Mightier solves this problem by encouraging them to use calming methods in a moment of stress, then immediately seeing results when the techniques work.

Stone said children who use the Mightier app often play games during their therapy session so the therapist can help them identify their anxiety as their heart rate increases, observe them using calming techniques to lower their heart rate, then reinforce how those skills can be used when they’re in a “sticky spot” in their real life.

“We would never say Mightier replaces therapy,” Stone said. “It’s just one more tool in the toolbox that people can use with therapy, especially for children in treatment who need extra skills to help them.”

How does the app reach the children who need it?

The Mightier app has been available for purchase on the website since 2018. It can be used on many phones and mobile devices, although Mightier will also ship a device if needed. Games, calming techniques, heart rate monitor and a companion app for parents are available through a subscription that costs between $28 and $40 per month depending on the plan.

Stone said he’s also worked with doctors, therapists and insurers to make the app available to children who need it. And just recently, Mightier partnered with Wisconsin Long term support system for childrenwhich means Medicaid-eligible families can receive funding to pay for the Mightier device and monthly subscription fees.

“We’ve known for a long time that kids aren’t getting what they need when it comes to mental health, and the pandemic has made that clearer to everyone,” Stone said. “Working with CLTS helps more families receive this tool right in their homes that they can use with the services they already receive.”

Contact Amy Schwabe at (262) 875-9488 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @WisFamilyJSinstagram at @wisfamilyjs or Facebook at WisconsinFamily.

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