I’ve been to my fair share of hackathons. I’ve judged at them, hosted them, and even designed them. Today, I judged a design-a-thon put on by Stanford’s dFarm for junior high and high school students. They were told to identify needs and design solutions around health and well-being using design thinking methodologies. Eight teams of 7th-10th graders presented their weekend’s work. I brought my own children to watch the presentations. These kids were impressive in their dedication and creativity, but what stunned me was their insights. Two teams focused on the need for exercise, especially outside of organized sports. One team focused on nutrition and making healthy eating choices. One team developed a medicine case that could discreetly carry meds to not draw attention while the companion mobile app reminded patients to take their medications. FOUR teams focused on some element of mental health and happiness. FOUR. Half the children (and yes, they are still children) were concerned about the rising stress and mental health of their peers and themselves. That was eye opening for me.

In today’s digital age of endless broadcasting social tools our youth tried to develop products to encourage privacy, anonymity, and mental balance. Our youth are incredibly self-aware and grasping for ways to leverage technology to regain control over the maelstrom of school, activities, family, friends, and just growing up. Remember that (in)famous mobile app Secret that took Silicon Valley by storm? These kids used anonymity to give students control over how to report and manage bullying problems with their school administration and parents. Apparently, no such system exists in any of the Bay Area junior high and high schools. Remember that addictive Tamagotchi toy and how we obsessed over keeping that digital avatar alive? These kids used gamification to create a system to manage depression through small, bite-sized tasks and goals that would encourage teens to exercise, communicate, and maintain perspective. EVERY team had a facet of mental health in their user need statement and solution.DSC04530

We work in a technology and data driven world where we believe that we can quantify, measure, and optimize everything. I didn’t know what to expect when I walked into that room today. I assumed that teenagers were obsessed with Snapchat and selfies and they may very well be. They are also hyper aware of the stress and vulnerability that today’s technology has created. Our hyper connected world has also ironically created loneliness and detachment for a generation that is more connected than any before it. It was an unintended byproduct. To every teen that came out dFarm this weekend, thank you for sharing your insight with me. Thank you for being so smart, so self-aware, and so motivated to make a change. Thank you for giving me a glimpse into what designing health and happiness means to you.