The positive benefits of youth interacting with technology are often ignored while the negatives are emphasized. It’s time for that to change. In a commitment to this effort, the Connected Learning Alliance, along with the Connected Learning Lab at the University of California, Irvine, are excited to share the new Connected Wellbeing Initiative with the CLA community. This collaboration focuses on amplifying benefits of social media for vulnerable youth by accelerating innovation, building a coalition, and supporting a more evidence-driven narrative about youth, technology and wellbeing.The coalition of renowned experts who make up the Initiative agree that it is time to respond and relate to these technologies in healthy, empowered, and equitable ways.
Centering Solutions on the Realities of Young People’s Lives
Candice L. Odgers, PhD, Professor of Psychological Science and Informatics at UC Irvine, is a quantitative and developmental psychologist with expertise in adolescent mental health. She helps lead the Connected Wellbeing Initiative, and emphasized the importance of focusing on solutions. “Research finds few robust linkages between digital technology use and adolescent mental health, yet technology is often portrayed as the driver of youth mental health problems,” she said. “It is time to move forward in the solution space, where substantial agreement exists regarding the need to provide young people with the tools that they need to support their mental health. That is the objective of this initiative.”
Tiera Tanksley, PhD, Assistant Professor of Equity, Diversity and Justice in Education at the University of Colorado Boulder has developed a program to elevate the voices of black youth in technology, and is participating in the Initiative’s Impact Studio. She said, “My research has consistently shown that despite the permanence and pervasiveness of anti-Black racism online, Black youth continue to find opportunities for joy, healing and transformative possibilities, like when they use TikTok to make viral dance videos, Instagram to laugh at Black cultural memes, or when they use Twitter to document and remediate everyday instances of racist violence or to augment gaps in their formal education training around Black History.”
The Connected Wellbeing Initiative
The Connected Wellbeing Initiative will connect varied sectors, communities, and cultures to help raise awareness, demonstrate positive uses of technology, and empower young people to protect and advance their wellbeing in a tech-driven world. The project will particularly focus on connecting the for-profit technology sector and public sectors of health and education, as well as building shared understanding between adults and youth.
Key aspects of the Connected Wellbeing Initiative include:
- Impact Studio: supports 11 innovative youth-driven projects with demonstrated success and engagement to grow and expand their impact.The studio provides an infusion of coaching, social capital, and matchmaking opportunities with potential funders and partners.
- Coalition Events: free online monthly workshops led by experts and community meetups. The first workshop will feature a panel of experts from health, education, and youth development sectors.
- Advisory Board: a cross-sector slate of experts helps to guide the initiative, lead workshops, and mentor teams in the Impact Studio.
Grounded in Research on Youth Wellbeing
The sharing of the Connected Wellbeing Initiative comes up against a recent advisory from the Surgeon General about the effects of social media use on youth mental health. In addition to highlighting harms, the advisory notes benefits: “adolescents report that social media helps them feel more accepted (58%), like they have people who can support them through tough times (67%), like they have a place to show their creative side (71%), and more connected to what’s going on in their friends’ lives (80%).” It also notes how “different children are affected by social media in different ways, including based on cultural, historical, and socio-economic factors.”
Connected Learning Lab researchers were establishing the framework for the Connected Wellbeing Initiative well before the advisory was published as part of the Youth Connections for Wellbeing project. Mimi Ito, Director of the Connected Learning Lab, explained the impetus behind the project: “Because of their immersion and fluency with technology of the day, young people are uniquely positioned to receive benefits of technology, and they are underappreciated experts in fostering positive human interaction with it. This Initiative will tap their experience as we build an environment where youth are equipped to have healthy online interactions and relations.”
An important aspect of the Initiative is its emphasis on the active participation of and input from youth in the discussion and design of solutions – youth innovation is a crucial piece of the puzzle. Too frequently, solutions and tools are discussed and designed without any early input from the youth they are designed for. The CWI actively supports and fosters youth participation in its key programs.
“To promote youth wellbeing in digital environments, it’s critical that we center youth participation and youth voice in designing potential solutions. The Connected Wellbeing Impact Studio uplifts critical examples of networks and communities where youth can take action in support of their social, emotional and mental wellbeing,” said Kelsey Noonan at Pivotal Ventures (a funding partner for the project).
Kevin Connors at Susan Crown Exchange (a partner in the project) shared, “Improving individual and collective wellbeing in the digital age requires an intergenerational and interdisciplinary coalition. The Connected Wellbeing Impact Studio embodies this approach by investing in a diverse set of partners who are tied together by a common thread: a belief that young people are innovators, leaders, and change makers.”
The Connected Wellbeing Project invites interested organizations and individuals to join the Community of Practice. Learn more at https://www.connectedwellbeing.org.