Four 11-year old girls from Calgary saw their friends struggling with social anxiety and stepped up to help.

The members of team Robot Unicorns – Tito, Emma, Claire and Sarah– developed “Cloud 9” – a mobile app that helps their peers manage a complex mental health condition. The CDC reports 4.4 million children between the ages of 3 and 17 have diagnosed anxiety – and that rates of anxiety in children are increasing. Using their expertise as 11 year-olds to think about what 11 year-olds’ needs are, Tito, Emma, Claire and Sarah designed Cloud 9 to help their friends (and other kids struggling with social anxiety) to manage high levels of stress and anxiety and feel less alone.

Childhood Social Anxiety is a growing problem

“We were looking up problems specifically to do with children and young women and one of the biggest ones that popped up was social anxiety in children,” Claire told CBC Kids News. Claire herself experienced social anxiety in elementary school, and drew on that experience in developing Cloud 9. “In Grade 4 and 5, I had very minor social anxiety … I just felt like I wasn’t good enough to any of my friends. I think an app like this would have helped me back then.”

Cloud9 stands out for its targeted focus on kids and teenagers. “Most people think social anxiety is for adults, not kids. But that’s not true! A lot of kids have social anxiety, so we wanted to help them with that” Emma explained.

Cloud9 helps address social anxiety through a 3-step process. First, users share their experience with Charlie, a friendly digital dog. Then, a trustworthy and supportive digital therapist listens, asks questions, and offers advice to address specific facets of social anxiety. Finally, the Resource Hub shares stories from people with social anxiety, and links to local and online resources.

Explaining the brainstorming process, Emma explains that Charlie was carefully selected – “we chose dogs because the presence of an emotional support animal can relieve anxiety, and dogs are some of the most effective.” Tito also explained that “we’ve seen how social anxiety can affect people straight on so we realized it would be the kind of thing people would feel connected to.” As we face an increasingly uncertain future, and as youth and adolescence continue to be marked by growing pressure related to school and extracurricular performance, we’ll need tools to help young people feel less alone and more capable of talking about and addressing mental health challenges. We especially love to see such a tool created by the young people who best know what it really feels like to be a kid grappling with social anxiety.

What problem do you have unique insight into?

Cloud9 and Team Robot Unicorns stand out to us because the girls chose to solve a problem many of their friends struggled with and because they chose to solve it by thinking like their target audience – themselves, and kids like them. Big problems like mental health, climate change, and domestic abuse, can feel enormous and impossible to solve and we can feel unprepared or uninformed, but there are so many problems and situations we’re experts in. Whether it’s the specific problems facing our local lake, or understanding what an 11 year-old needs because you too are 11 years old, there are problems where your experience and expertise can be a big part of the solution – so where will you begin? What problem will you tackle this year?  Get ready to solve it by joining Technovation Families or Technovation Girls.

Are you an adult? Do you think you have the empathy and courage it takes to support teams like the Robot Unicorns as a mentor? We think you do – register as a mentor today.