March 24, 2021

From Research to Promising Practices – Building Youth Connections for Wellbeing

Categories: Digital Citizenship, Equity, Research

About a year ago, the Connected Learning Lab published a report on Youth Connections for Wellbeing, which was developed collaboratively by Mimi Ito, Candice Odgers, and Stephen Schueller. The report discussed how technologies such as social media, smartphones, and digital games can foster social connection and engagement, and build wellbeing among young people—the opposite of the preconceived notion held by many.

Throughout this tumultuous year, the Connected Learning Lab has continued to explore digital impacts on youth wellbeing (now heightened because of the pandemic). We’ve published a video that dives deeper into the findings, and we’re establishing a blog series to highlight the work of others in this digital landscape.

Our initial goal in publishing the report was to summarize current knowledge and redirect the conversation about adolescent social media use and wellbeing in three ways:

  • Refocusing the debate over the relationship between youth social media use and wellbeing to reflect existing evidence and varied youth perspectives and backgrounds.
  • Identifying teen vulnerabilities and assets that may influence problematic and healthy social media engagement.
  • Suggesting opportunities through which youth social engagement might mitigate vulnerabilities and leverage assets.

Each of the investigators on the report has a different specialty: Mimi Ito is a cultural anthropologist studying youth new media practices. Candice Odgers is a developmental psychologist who studies adolescents’ mental health and development. Stephen Schueller is a clinical psychologist who studies how technology can improve mental health services.

The three investigators recently discussed various aspects of the research and findings in a video conversation, which we’ve published on YouTube. Watch the video for an interactive discussion of key questions and insights, including:

  • Foundation of the work: Ito shares how the education field’s interest in social-emotional learning overlaps with health and medical interests in wellbeing; both are considering digital aspects and impacts, which is the focus of our work around “connected learning.”
  • The never-ending debate about screen time: Odgers addresses the question of whether parents should be worried about it, and suggests flipping the approach, instead uncovering ways for families to utilize digital technologies more effectively. She also discusses what may be appropriate for kids of different ages.
  • Identifying ways youth can support their mental health: Schueller discusses his exploration of a vast number of digital tools for mental health, as well as creative ways that kids find supportive communities outside of specifically designed apps.

The research underlying the Youth Connections for Wellbeing report was completed before the pandemic, yet we’ve clearly seen strong impacts on the use of technology by most people, whether school-age children or adults. In the video, the team explores some of the issues that were brought to even greater light during 2020. This includes raising concerns over the equity gap for young people who may not have had access to digital learning tools or broadband wifi, and pondering what might be the long-term social and developmental effects of the pandemic on children’s mental wellbeing.

Ito, Odgers, and Schueller are interested in doing more than uncovering ideas and principles around youth wellbeing; their goal is to facilitate positive change as a result. To that end, the Connected Learning Lab is undertaking a supplemental project, the Spaces of Refuge series.

The initial post in the series explores how 2021 offers a unique window of opportunity to push for new innovation, policy, communications, and partnerships that can make social and digital media a positive influence on wellbeing for more youth, particularly those not well served by traditional mental health and wellbeing supports and services.

The post outlines an agenda and offers guiding principles for tapping youth agency and social and digital media to support mental health and wellbeing for vulnerable youth. In the coming months, we will add to the series with case studies highlighting interventions and projects that illustrate these guiding principles: meet youth where they are, tailor to diverse groups and ages, build connections between existing assets, and tap youth agency and peer-to-peer support.

Please continue to visit our Spaces of Refuge series as we highlight the work of varied experts and organizations who share our goal of supporting youth wellbeing through equitable and relatable online connection.


Guest post written by Claire LaBeaux