Fears abound about how social media, smartphones, and digital games are leading to depression, anxiety, loneliness, addiction, narcissism, and other mental health problems. What is under-discussed and under-investigated is how such technologies can foster social connection and engagement in ways that can build mental wellness among young people. These technologies are here to stay, and we need research and strategies that go beyond stoking fears to identify solutions and mitigate risks. This understanding could help leverage technologies to support young people in building stronger relationships and increase their mental wellness.
An emerging body of research suggests that under the right conditions, online information and communication can provide valuable forms of knowledge and emotional support that improve mental health. Importantly, the needs and effectiveness of interventions vary between different youth populations. Research indicates that socially marginalized and emotionally vulnerable teens often have the most to gain from online supports. However, technology solutions designed to be universal often end up serving the teens who need them least. While we are beginning to understand what individual characteristics and behavioral patterns are linked to vulnerability and resilience in relation to mental health, this work has not been captured and synthesized in ways that can inform development, policy, and investment. This project is engaged in interdisciplinary research and analysis of how online digital connections can be supportive of mental wellness, and how we can leverage these networks to expand these positive outcomes.
Project Leads: Mimi Ito, Candice Odgers, Stephen Schueller