Kent State Professors Turn to Technology to Reduce Teen Stress
Have too much stress? There is an app for coping.
Researchers from Kent State University’s College of Arts and Sciences worked together to develop an app that not only measures stress levels in teenagers, but also teaches them how to manage anxiety.
The app gathers data in real time using two teen favorites: technology and music.
Angela Neal-Barnett, Ph.D., professor and director of the Program for Research on Anxiety Disorders Among-African Americans in Kent State’s Department of Psychological Sciences, and Arden Ruttan, Ph.D., professor in Kent State’s Department of Computer Science, employed the help of their students to bring the app to life.
“If you learn early how to manage your stress and anxiety, it makes a profound difference in your life going forward,” Neal-Barnett said.
She and her research team are testing the app at the Buchtel Community Learning Center in Akron, Ohio, with the help of eighth graders, including Michelli Phinnessee, who experiences stress and anxiety about her schoolwork.
“I’m worried about how my grades are going to be on my report card,” Phinnessee said.
To counteract stress, the teens are given iPods with the installed app. Kent State student researchers also visit the Buchtel Community Learning Center on a regular basis to work with the teens as a group.
Together, they talk about techniques that replace negative thoughts with positive ones in hopes of changing behaviors.
“It was a support for each other, a place to talk, get out their feelings and all their stress, turn it more positive and go in a different direction when they got angry and stressed,” said Kallie Petitti, a Kent State graduate student who is earning her master’s degree in the School Psychology Program in the College of Education, Health and Human Services.
USING POSITIVE KEYWORDS AND MUSIC
Before the teens open the app, they create positive keywords about who they want to be. They use those words to write their own theme song and record it on the app using a tune from their favorite artist. Some of the most popular artists chosen include Beyoncé and Pharrell Williams.
“Once the song is recorded, they can play it back, listen to it and ask if it’s what they really want to say,” Neal-Barnett said. “If it’s not the way they want it to sound, they might re-record, but they’re usually really happy with the way they recorded it.”
The app is designed to send push alerts to the teens encouraging them to take a survey, which measures their stress level. When the score is too high, the teens listen to their theme song and envision the positive person they want to be.
“They didn’t even know what stress was when we started,” said student researcher Leia Belt, who is majoring in psychology and sociology at Kent State. “By the end, they would say that when they felt stressed they would listen to their song and calm down. It made us feel good because it meant that we were really doing something.”
DEVELOPING THE APP
Developing the app was not a simple task. It started with an idea Neal-Barnett had about using music to teach teens how to change their thought process. She then approached Ruttan for help in integrating the technology. It took 16 weeks and two technically gifted students dedicated to making the app as functional as possible.
“They went out in the field,” Ruttan said. “They talked to the students. They made corrections to make the app easier to use. They were just completely involved. At some point, we just sat back and let them do the work.”
The data gathered allows researchers to see when and how often the teens are listening to their theme songs. Neal-Barnett says a follow-up survey also shows that the app is effective at helping the teens reduce their stress and anxiety.
REACHING MORE TEENAGERS
Neal-Barnett would like to use the technology to reach even more young people outside of the Buchtel Community Learning Center.
“We want to take this into the community, in after-school programs and churches, Boys & Girls Clubs,” Neal-Barnett said. “Wherever adolescents want to learn how to manage their stress more effectively, we intend to go.”
As for Phinnessee, she has advice for anyone dealing with stress.
“Keep going, don’t let stress stop you,” she said. “Everybody has it. It’s just the way you deal with it.”
The study is into its second year. It is funded by the Women’s Endowment Fund of the Akron Community Foundation. It is also sponsored by Kent State’s Division of Research and Sponsored Programs and the Applied Psychology Center.
More information about Kent State’s Department of Psychological Sciences may be found on their website.
For more information about managing stress, please review this article.