“Surely you have experienced the illusion of making this world a better world,” says Sensei from the computer. Or the cell phone. The character, who seems to have come out of an anime, guides the teenager on the other side of the screen on an online trip around various islands. One is that of empathy. It is online, it is entertaining, there are points for passing objectives, but it’s not a video game.
It is the best format that a Conicet researcher, together with systems engineers from the Austral University, found to promote the psychological well-being of those who are between 12 and 15 years old and have been quarantined for more than 130 days due to the coronavirus pandemic. Is called Hero program, already used by 200 adolescents from Argentina and Uruguay, and 93% had positive results.
Although between 2018 and 2019 the Hero program was implemented in different educational institutions in four Latin American countries, the doctor in psychology Belén Mesurado considered that the lack of social relationships in quarantine was affecting the mental health of children and adolescents and decided to make it available to families at home.
He is called a Hero because of his objective. “Because, precisely, we seek to provoke a social change. We can all be social heroes, contribute positively to society. With the program we aim to develop social values in adolescents. The main objective is solidarity behaviors in the family context, with friends and on a social level, with strangers. But also to develop variables linked to solidarity, such as empathy, attitudes of gratitude, attitudes of forgiveness, everything that has to do with healthy social relationships. Also, we try to create positive mental states“, Measured details to Clarion.
She is the lead author of the program and coordinator of the implementation acceptance study during the pandemic. “Quarantined anxiety and depression levels rose usually. That the program was online seemed very useful to help adolescents from their homes. Upon entering the platform, a user is created, which can be a pseudonym, a screening dthe participant and performs one activity per week (seven weeks in total), lasting between 30 and 40 minutes, “he says. In a kind of sea, you can also see the Island of Gratitude, the Island of Forgiveness, the Island of Positive Emotions and the Island of Social commitment.
How do you “create” positive attitudes and states? First, you have to get to the Island of Empathy. “On that island we started the session activities with a psychoeducational video. Right after, the activities that stimulate empathy are presented and one aspect is the recognition of emotions. We present photos of people representing different emotions (which with previous studies have already standardized the thoughts they represent) and adolescents are asked to identify the emotion with response options, “explains the researcher.
“It helped me a lot in those moments because I was not feeling well or did not know what was happening to me. It helped me to be able to see what was happening to me, to know those feelings that I did not know or to be able to understand them. It was also quite fun and you almost did not you realize that you are working because they put you in a lot of fun activities, “he tells Clarion a 12-year-old girl from the Estancias de Pilar neighborhood, who participated with her 14-year-old brother.
The program tells them at all times if the activities are carried out correctly or incorrectly and, in the first case, they are going earning points through a reward system. “In this way, we are training each boy in aspects of emotional recognition,” says the researcher. Another island is that of Gratitude, where it is proposed to identify a person with whom they are grateful, who think of situations in which they felt grateful and are invited, for example, to write them a letter.
The Sensei gives them instructions on what to do on each island. Speak in neutral because the program was also used in Mexico, Uruguay and Colombia. It is not the only guide. At the same time, the adolescents have contact with a psychologist from the research team, who advises them if they had any difficulties. There are also debates and spaces for personal reflection.
“It helped me to get to know myself better and to help the people around me more. For this quarantine it helps you a lot because makes you understand others. They are not complicated things that you will not understand. It is easy for teenagers and I would do it again, “says Olivia Rivarola. She is 12 years old and is from Bella Vista. Lucia, her mother, may or may not be with her when she uses the program.” It is not necessary for the parents to be there, but if they want they can, “says Mesurado.
Entirely developed in Argentina from the Positive Technology model (the use of technology for psychological well-being), the program is free because it has a subsidy from the Templeton World Charity Foundation. To access from home you must enter www.herointervention.com. Adults are first interviewed, asked to sign a consent, and given an access code. How each user can be a nickname, who analyze the results or accompany the boys along the way do not know the identity of who responded in such a way.
According to the study of acceptance of the program during quarantine, at the end of the 7 weeks of travel around the islands, 93% of adolescents stated that helped them overcome the challenges of the situation of social isolation. On the other hand, the researcher details, the adolescents increased their levels of joy, gratitude, serenity and their ability to empathize with others.