Youth Connections
for Wellbeing

Fears abound about how social media, smartphones, and digital games are leading to depression, anxiety, 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 wellbeing among young people. 

Young people are actively seeking information and support for mental health and wellbeing online, and their experiences vary. Online risks mirror offline vulnerabilities. Parents, educators, clinicians, and technology developers need approaches tailored to the needs and strengths of vulnerable youth.

This project dispels murky fears and moves beyond one-size-fits all solutions. Our goal is to identify, support, test, and communicate new digital strategies for tapping young people’s insights, agency, and technology engagements to support wellbeing.

" Much of our existing knowledge related to the core principles of how to promote healthy development among young people should translate into an evolving digital landscape. "
- Social Media and Youth Wellbeing Report


New report provides insights into youth connections for wellbeing. Respected psychologists and scientists identify gaps and opportunities for supporting adolescents in today’s digitally-focused world


New report from Common Sense Media seeks to understand how best to reach adolescents who are disproportionately affected and most vulnerable, support them in digital spaces, and improve their mental health outcomes.



This post is the first in the Spaces of Refuge series that outlines an agenda, offers guiding principles, and provides case studies of how to tap youth agency and social and digital media to support mental health and wellbeing for vulnerable youth. This initial post summarizes the evidence for inequities and gaps in mental health supports and identifies opportunity areas for correcting these problems.

Novelly is a civic-minded book club for youth centered on a mobile reading app. The Novelly team curates a collection of stories centered on a social issue, embedding learning and interactivity in the stories to spark critical thinking and empathy. Youth read and discuss the stories, and journal their thoughts and impressions in the app. In this case study, we’ll share the story of how Novelly was started and developed, and describe how it exemplifies the four guiding principles of…

In this case study we will examine ways the Esports for Wellbeing program sought to support mental health and wellbeing for a group of vulnerable teenage players. A set of guiding principles highlighted in the Spaces of Refuge series serve as our north star. They include…

These days, it seems impossible to escape the crushing psychological weight of Black death and dying. Everywhere I turn – my social media accounts, local and international news, attendance at protests – the suffocating grasp of Black death and dying – reinforced and substantiated by anti-Black racism – is always there…

After years of being warned about the toxic effects of screens on children, finally we have an evidence-based set of guidelines that may actually help educators, families, and children successfully navigate “screen time” in the digital age.

Young people are growing up in a new era of information abundance where they can google anything and connect with specialized expert communities online.

As researchers spend more time analyzing what teenagers do on social media and we learn about the overwhelming benefits, it begs the question: What needs to be done to further this conversation? The “Social Media and Youth Wellbeing” report…

Many people improve their physical health through workout routines and meal plans. How about mental health? There are now many online tools that either help people find support or learn skills to improve their mental wellbeing

“It is clear that youth’s growing reliance on online support for mental health represents an opportunity for providers of mental health services, apps, and other supports.”

New report raises many important thoughts for parents, educators, and researchers to consider when it comes to young people and their relationship with social media.

Shareable Resources


Apps for Kids
Apps for Youth - Meditation
Apps for Youth - Game Your Goals
Apps for Youth - Talk It Through
Apps for Youth - Track Your Thoughts
Self-Care Toolkit
Self-Care Toolkit
Screen Time for Kids Infographic

In The News

- CNBC -

“Finding an effective therapy app can be like finding a needle in a haystack,” says Stephen Schueller, a UCI assistant professor of psychological sciences…

- The New York Times -

“There doesn’t seem to be an evidence base that would explain the level of panic and consternation around these issues,” said Candice L. Odgers, a professor at the University of California, Irvine…

- NPR -

Parenting in the age of smartphones can be really stressful. There’s a growing push to encourage parents to be media mentors rather than gatekeepers. Mizuko Ito, director of the Connected Learning Lab, talks with NPR’s Anya Kamenetz in the Life Kit parenting podcast.

- Scientific Inquirer -

Scientific Inquirer discusses the findings of a recent report on social media use with its authors Mimi Ito and Stephen Schueller

- Spark & Stitch Institute -

“A new report from a team of researchers at the Connected Learning Lab at UC Irvine provides rich evidence of what we have been sharing in workshops for years and the philosophy that guides our online classes…”

- University Business -

“College students have turned to social media—not to cut themselves off from current events—but to seek connections that boost mental health during this age of coronavirus-induced anxiety and isolation.”

- American Psychological Association -

Stephen Schueller discusses his nonprofit mental health app reviewing website, One Mind PsyberGuide and how to choose efective, science-based mental health apps.

- Edsurge -

“What we have here is not a capacity problem. It’s a supply chain problem. Educator capacity sits untapped at a time of unprecedented need.” Mimi Ito shares her concerns about how the pandemic has drastically expanded the out-of-school enrichment gap that is key to children’s learning and wellbeing.

- Lifewire -

Playing video games might be good for you despite years of hype to the contrary, experts say. A recent paper published by scientists from the University of Oxford finds some games can positively impact a player’s mental health.

- Lifewire -

“The way online platforms and regulations are designed right now, it assumes there’s this cliff at 13 where kids are thrown into the wild open internet.” Mimi Ito discusses why it’s important to focus on connection rather than control when it comes to kids and social media.

- The Conversation -

Currently, evidence does not support the idea that social media use is generally harmful to young people’s well-being. In fact, comparing oneself to others’ positive social media posts can even enhance well-being by motivating self-improvement.

- Instagram -

Watch Josh Richards go 1-2-1 with Griffin Johnson about how difficult it can be for them to be vulnerable and open up about their feelings. They are joined Dr. Stephen Schueller of One Mind who speaks about the importance of self-compassion and seeking support, as well as the pros & cons of social media on mental health.

- CNN -

A new project called HX aims to generate reimagined models of technology that put people first, prioritizing psychological well-being and ethical behavior online.


Principal Investigators

Mimi Ito
Mimi Ito
UC Irvine
Candice Odgers
UC Irvine
Katie Salen headshot
Katie Salen
UC Irvine
Stephen Schueller
Stephen Schueller
UC Irvine

Collaborating Faculty





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