There’s an app for that: online resources for mental well-being and support

One of the questions I’m freqbooks-484766_1280uently asked by our young clients and their parents is, “What other resources are out there for [insert their concern here]?” I chuckle at how obvious a topic this can be, especially for our blog, but seeking out other resources can be helpful.

First and foremost: if you have any psychological concerns, of course seek out a mental health professional. If you are looking for social skills coaching, Aspiring Youth is a great resource.

What exists as easy-to-access, supplementary resources for adolescents, young adults and their parents? There are many, but let’s take a look at a few I like and, in some cases, personally use.

How to ADHD

Jessica McCabe is a Los Angeles actress who, as an adult, received a diagnosis of 23280349432_a86bbcdc28_zADHD. She researched what that means, the likely effects on her life and how to overcome it, resulting in her very engaging YouTube series: How to ADHD. She is not a clinician, nevertheless her insights are well-informed. This includes tips for living with and overcoming some of the challenges of ADHD and other diagnoses.

Autism sensory simulators

Many who have a diagnosis on the autism spectrum experience sensations very idiosyncratically: some are sensitive to touch, some to lights or sounds and, for others, smell is overwhelming. For those with more neurotypical development, these challenges are difficult to imagine. Thankfully, some wonderful online simulations can illustrate these experiences, often created by someone with an autism spectrum diagnosis. Mashable collected five great representations of these.

Apps for to-do lists

For some (and I’m squarely in this camp), doing routine tasks is a serious challenge. “I’ll do it later,” really translates to, “I fully intend on doing it, and I’ll do it when – oh! I love this song! Did you know that the composer was inspired by – wait. What was I saying?”

Different apps exist for making tasks more enjoyable, or at least memorable. Habitica (my favorite) truly gamifies to-do lists and daily tasks. In this role playing game (RPG), your character gains experience points and levels for completing tasks and takes damage for tasks left unfinished. With group challenges, quests, and bosses – plus an extremely supportive forum community– Habitica provides an opportunity for me to monitor my lists and check off items as I complete them. Oh, and it’s also free to play!


Mindfulness is a big deal in the psychology world. My colleagues and I use it within a variety of situations.  I checked out Headspace, and the feedback I’ve received from clients has been overwhelmingly positive. The program gently guides you in different mindfulness modules, all in 10-minute portions. While it’s a paid app (with a free trial), I think it’s worth it.


I have written about this topic previously because it is so important and comes up often with adolescents and young adults.  Advice on the internet ranges from laughable to outright scary and misogynistic. I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: don’t visit websites by people in the pickup artist (PUA) or seduction community. Their advice often relies on negating consent or assuming that one person is owed affection and/or a date, and your curious visit nabs them more site traffic and subsequent income.

My favorite resource in the dating domain is Dr. NerdLove, as he provides straightforward advice recognizing that girlfriends/boyfriends are not titles or prizes, but actual people with different needs and autonomy. Geek’s Dream Girl­ is another resource that offers solid, concrete advice from a woman’s perspective. While it’s no longer updated (though there are hints at its impending resurrection), the info is still there and accessible.

Hopefully, these suggestions give you a start. As I said, there are many resources out there that can be used in conjunction with social skills coaching.

What are your favorites? Feel free to comment below with your suggestions for online resources.

R BoccamazzoR. Boccamazzo, PsyD, LMHCA

Dr. Boccamazzo is a doctor of clinical psychology and social skills coach with Aspiring Youth. In addition, he is the clinical director of, a national nonprofit focused on mental health and the gamer community, runs a private psychology practice in Bellevue offering individual therapy and psychological assessment to adolescents and adults, and provides parent and clinician trainings on technology in psychology. Much of his work focuses on high functioning autism, problematic technology usage, social anxiety, trauma and games. In his spare time, he enjoys acting, cooking, board games and video games.

Social media and teens

Social networking has become a big part of how we keep in contact with family and friends. It allows us to share ideas and connect with people. Given that the cyber world can also be daunting, parents tend to breathe a sigh of relief when their teen has little interest in creating a Facebook account.

technology-785742_1280My brother, who will be 14 years old soon, likes Minecraft and Legos and learning about planets. Facebook isn’t near the top of his interests list. What would someone who avoids social interactions and prefers to spend his time alone get out of creating a Facebook account? Actually, a lot.

He’s missing out on being a part of our family Facebook page and messaging with our grandma. He doesn’t get the opportunity to connect with peers from his school, which is one way adolescents form connections with one another. Social networking has become a critical component of teen and young adult social life.

Yes: it can be scary thinking that our teen is going to be joining the online social world. Especially those who already have a difficult time navigating social environments. So how can we be sure that our teen knows how to safely and effectively interact online?

Teaching the hidden rules of social networking, from The Hidden Curriculum (Myles, Trautman, & Schelvan, 2013).

Social networking comes with a whole set of hidden rules. They may seem obvious to us, but keep in mind that our teens may need them explicitly taught them – just like we teach appropriate social skills in situations like school and in public Have your teen develop a list of safe behaviors online to understand his or her knowledge.


  • Only connect with friends you know and trust

  • Keep personal information private or do no include it

  • Never agree to meet up with someone from the Internet without talking to your parents about it first

  • Do not talk to people online whom you do not know

Social interactions

  • Your social media connections can see eveyrthing you post

  • Don’t post anything if you are feeling angry, upset, sad or overwhelmed. Wait until you’ve calmed down to post something, think carefully and have a parent or trusted adult read it beforehand

  • A Facebook friend is not necessarily a real friend

  • Online posts can never be taken back – even if you delete it, it can be saved by others.

Social media is just one aspect of social interactions that can be important. Be sure to discuss the risks and benefits of social media with your teen and encourage him or her to safely connect with others online if you think its right for your teen.

Breea. M. Rosas, B.A., Ed. S. Candidate

Breea graduated from Central Washington University with a Bachelor of Arts in 2013. Her undergraduate major was Psychology, with a minor in Family Studies. She completed the coursework for an Educational Specialist degree in School Psychology in Spring 2015, with an anticipated graduation date of Spring 2016 upon the completion of an internship with the Franklin Pierce School District. Professionally, Breea has worked with Aspiring Youth as a lead facilitator for summer camp and served on the curriculum development team. Additionally, Breea has experience working with adults of varying abilities, including autism spectrum disorder, as well youth in the school setting.

So, they play video games. But what does that mean?

Video games have grown up – as have those who play them (average gamer age is 35). Some classics like The Legend of Zelda or Super Mario Brothers are at least 30 years old, so it’s safe to say that video games are part of our culture.

joystick-1216816_1280Despite this, I routinely encounter clinicians and parents who use the term “video games” as if the media are homogeneous. They’re unaware of the differences among games, as well as what people gain from playing them. In other words, they are missing the “why” someone plays the games they do.

Someone who plays Minecraft does so for different reasons than someone who plays role playing games such as Skyrim or Dragon Age: Inquisition. A teen who plays stealth action games like Metal Gear Solid V: Phantom Pain does so for different reasons than those who play massively multiplayer online (MMO) games like League of Legends.

These differences are clinically important. When clinicians wants to help someone eliminate a behavior (perhaps like an adolescent playing video games too much), we cannot just tell them: “Stop it.”

Why? Finding a substitute behavior that fulfills the initial need of the other behavior is absolutely vital. Here are some examples:

  • Social connection: If you gain a sense of social connection by playing a MMO game, then simply stopping cuts yourself off from social inclusion (plus the fun!).

  • minecraft-1106252_1280Creativity: If you enjoy the accomplishment from building creative worlds in Minecraft, then stopping has the potential to leave you unfulfilled.

Success lies in offering a similarly fun, in-person social activity that you can do instead of the MMO – or a creative building activity instead of Minecraft.

Have a child who plays an excessive amount of video games? Take some time and ask in a nonjudgmental way about the games they’re playing. Go at it with the mindset of just learning for the purpose of learning. Maybe even play the games. Don’t pretend to be an expert on them. Just let your child teach you. Over time, the info helps you…

  • Monitor the appropriateness of the games your child is playing.

  • Bond with your child or teen

  • Understand their motivations and the rewards they experience playing their games of choice.

If you believe their playing is excessive, this will help you brainstorm alternative activities. Remember, video games are a diverse and rich form of media—with motivations for playing as diverse as the games we play. In the process of learning your child’s preferences, maybe you’ll discover one you like.

R BoccamazzoR. Boccamazzo, PsyD, LMHCA

Dr. Boccamazzo is a doctor of clinical psychology and social skills coach with Aspiring Youth. In addition, he is the clinical director of, a national nonprofit focused on mental health and the gamer community, runs a private psychology practice in Bellevue offering individual therapy and psychological assessment to adolescents and adults, and provides parent and clinician trainings on technology in psychology. Much of his work focuses on high functioning autism, problematic technology usage, social anxiety, trauma and games. In his spare time, he enjoys acting, cooking, board games and video games.


Like this post? You may like “Why games? Why not?”

Learning Challenge: Escaping the “Feed”

A young adult science fiction novel, set in the not too distant future, mirrors the challenges that present day teenagers face.

Feed(novel)In my years of teaching high school language arts, one of the most popular novels among my students has been Feed by M.T. Anderson. It takes place in a dystopian future in which the majority of the population chooses to have a digital implant that allows them to mentally connect to an advanced form of the internet. The story follows a pair of teenagers who begin to explore the idea of being more in control of their minds since connection to the “feed” is as invasive as it is irreversible. I recommend it strongly both for its story and for the way it slyly makes the reader think about thinking.

It’s impossible to read the novel and not draw parallels between Feed and the very real struggle many teenagers have when it comes to disengaging with technology.

Without being heavy handed or eyeroll inducing, Feed addresses our recent cultural shift towards being connected 24/7. The author imagines the implant as an ever present source of information, consumerism, entertainment and socialization. In my classroom, I see kids getting lost in their devices. Without intervention they’d easily spend the entire 90 minutes staring into their phones. I see them miss opportunities to engage socially. Their parents struggle at home where technology is their biggest obstacle to both completing homework and sleeping. No wonder Feed resonates with the teenagers I work with!brain emoji

In response to our reading of Feed, we designed an experiment:

It was straightforward. For a week, students put their phone in an envelope and went about their life. Everything was the same: they carried it with them and used it whenever they wanted to, but each time they used it they added a tally mark to the envelope. The results were impressive:

  1. Students knew that they looked at their phone a lot. However, most were surprised to realize they looked at their phones that frequently.

  2. Students reported reaching for their phone for no real reason. Just the basic desire for stimulation caused them to get their phone out. The physical barrier of the envelope provided just enough of a delay for students to realize that they were making a choice.

  3. Students reported not being ashamed of using their phones. Which was great! The point of the experiment was to increase awareness, not use shame to try to force a behavior change.

  4. However, many students also felt that they were unhappy with their relationship with their phone because it reflected a way of being that they didn’t want, value, or even particularly remember choosing.

We can’t change what we aren’t aware of. The combo of Feed and this activity helped a lot of my students reflect on and ultimately work towards thinking the way they want to think.

8 bit TristanTristan graduated from the Rochester Institute of Technology in 2008 with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology. He holds a Master in Teaching degree from Seattle Pacific University and currently teaches high school language arts and social studies at an alternative school in Seattle. Tristan has worked with Aspiring Youth as a summer camp counselor and has facilitated rock climbing and board game sessions. In his free time he likes playing soccer, board games and reading about science and history.