Connected Wellbeing Initiative to Build Understanding and Action Regarding Teens’ Technology Use and Their Mental Health

June 1, 2023

The positive benefits of youth interacting with technology are often ignored while the negatives are emphasized. Today, the nonprofit Connected Learning Alliance and the Connected Learning Lab at the University of California, Irvine, announce the new Connected Wellbeing Initiative. This collaborative effort focuses on amplifying benefits of digital technology for vulnerable youth by accelerating innovation, building a coalition, and supporting a more evidence-driven narrative about youth, technology and wellbeing.

“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. 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,” said Candice L. Odgers, PhD, a quantitative and developmental psychologist with expertise in adolescent mental health working at UC Irvine who has helped lead the Connected Wellbeing Initiative.

This coalition of renowned experts says it is time to respond and relate to these technologies in healthy, empowered, and equitable ways. Members of the Connected Wellbeing Initiative see positive relationships with technology as a way to foster individual wellbeing, community thriving, and equity.

For example, Tiera Tanksley, PhD, is a partner in the Initiative’s Impact Studio and an assistant professor of Equity, Diversity and Justice in Education at the University of Colorado Boulder. 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 will bring together 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, hosted in June, 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.

Last week, an advisory from the Surgeon General discussed 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.”

Innovators were planning the project and establishing the framework for the Connected Wellbeing Initiative well before the report was published. Mimi Ito, PhD, professor at UC Irvine and Director of the Connected Learning Lab, said, “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.”

“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, Pivotal Ventures (a funding partner for the project).

“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,” said Kevin Connors, Susan Crown Exchange, a partner in the project.

Press Release originally posted on the Connected Wellbeing website.