Let me take you inside a conversation at a recent board meeting for Susan Crown Exchange, a national foundation that supports organizations working at the intersection of adolescent well-being and technology. Two young people were invited to share their experiences as participants in a research study conducted by our partners at Erikson Institute:
Q: “Does technology have a positive or negative effect on your mental health?”
A: “It depends on how you use it.”
Q: “What’s missing from the current conversation about teens and tech?”
A: “Young people.”
While media outlets and adults have largely embraced an oversimplified and tech-centric narrative that designates tech as the enemy and reduced screen time as the answer, young people have consistently told us a different story: their relationship with technology is complex, and one-size-fits-all solutions aren’t the answer.
So, what are the answers – and how do we find them? From a survey by Dosomething.org (Dosomething.org), we know that 71% of young people look to their peers for tips and tricks to navigate the digital landscape, yet young people rarely have a seat at the table when designing new solutions. How can adults create space for young people to discuss what it’s like growing up in an increasingly connected world? How can we support them in addressing the challenges most relevant to them and their communities?
In 2020, Susan Crown Exchange launched a two year initiative called the ‘Youth Voice in the Digital Age Challenge’ to address this gap. We funded eight organizations from across the country to engage young people in novel and meaningful ways to create new solutions for improving digital well-being. Youth were engaged as project advisors, researchers, and content creators. Ultimately, they created a sprawling suite of resources that includes podcasts, conversation prompts, surveys, and toolkits.
When the learning community concluded in the Fall of 2022, the cohort, with support from our partners at the Stanford d.school, created the Thriving Youth in a Digital World website to share these “For Youth, By Youth” resources.
Educators play a vital role in empowering young people as leaders, and Thriving Youth in a Digital World is a starter-kit for educators. It offers grab-and-go resources that were co-created by youth, as well as strategies educators can use to elevate youth voice in their practice.
Throughout this two year initiative, we learned three valuable lessons from young people and adults for implementing youth voice into existing programs:
- Young people have the capacity to share in a more genuine way when not filtered through an adult lens. By engaging youth as content creators and allowing them to control the content, style, and dissemination of their creations, you can foster liberatory imagination and give youth the tools and space to create a future where technology generates opportunities for everyone.
- When given the opportunity, tools, and resources, young people will advocate for themselves and achieve goals. One way to give young people the space to engage as advisors is to create a youth advisory board.
- Let youth lead research efforts to unpack data, evaluate programs, and shape more relevant metrics to make the value of youth voice and insight more explicit in your work. Here is a guide for engaging youth as researchers through implementing the YPAR model.
Young people deal with many challenges in their digital life but when given the space, they also can create solutions for addressing those challenges. As adults and practitioners, we need to get out of their way and lift up their voices in order to close the digital communication gap.
Guest post by by Julia Callahan, Program Associate | Susan Crown Exchange