The Technology and Adolescent Mental Wellness program (TAM) provides students with the opportunity to participate on a youth advisory board where they can be introduced to health research and receive professional development. Youth advisory boards (YAB) allow health researchers to connect and collaborate with adolescents on which aspects of social media affect them the most. To incorporate adolescents into research, their voices must have a platform. To kickstart this initiative I asked one of TAM’s newest YAB members, Shreya, about her experiences with youth advisory boards and her relationship with technology:
Q: What initially made you want to join a YAB?
“I was initially a part of the IDRA education non-profit organization. I felt that my voice was heard in influencing an education system which directly affects me and my peers”. “I saw TAM YAB as another opportunity to share my perspective – specifically about mental health”.
Q: What drew you to TAM YAB in particular?
“TAM YAB’s focus on mental health coincides with my interests in health outcomes associated with social media. I hope to learn more about the specific health outcomes affecting youth and their use of technology”
Q: Which aspects of social media/Technology affect you the most?
“I would say the addictive qualities of social media affect me the most. Snapchat and bereal market themselves as more ‘real’ than other social media platforms. People post about where they are and how they look at that moment. It isn’t as curated as something like instagram, but it still has the same addictive qualities that can lead to a reliance on technology. Technology can be a good thing too. I like to see what my friends and cousins are doing, and social media allows you to connect to those people in a totally different way”
Q: What, in your opinion, should youth’s role be in health research surrounding social media and adolescent health? Are there any aspects of social media that don’t receive enough attention ?
“I feel like researchers should highlight aspects of technology that aren’t immediately obvious. Like the impact that social media has had on beauty standards causes a lot of problems. There is a difference in lived experiences versus sensational videos and personalities”
Q: What do you think of the TAM YAB learning environment so far?
“Everyone was very talkative so that made the meeting engaging and welcoming. The interactive format of the meeting also made me feel more involved”
With the advent of the ever increasing importance of technology in daily life, many people are questioning the effects of this relatively new medium. In this new digital age, the majority of Americans are spending a significant portion of their time in front of a screen. While many news outlets fixate on the metric of screen time, The Technology and Adolescent Mental Wellness Program (TAM) is committed to providing nuanced research to better understand the impact of technology and its effects on wellbeing. Part of this initiative includes the formation of the TAM Data Consortium: A robust infrastructure that oversees the ethical sharing of anonymized data surrounding youth, technology, and wellbeing. Collaboration with the TAM Data Consortium allows researchers early in their career and those from backgrounds traditionally underrepresented in science access to data without the barrier of data collection. This leads to development and dissemination of new literature based on empirical data.
Dr. Jessica Hamilton, assistant professor of psychology at Rutgers, is a part of the TAM Data Consortium. Her work, exploring the “Associations Between Social Media, Bedtime Technology Use Rules, and Daytime Sleepiness among Adolescents,” utilized the large, multivariable dataset available within the consortium. Hamilton argues that perceived importance of social media and parental guidelines surrounding social media use are connected. Her findings, which concluded that “social media affects sleepiness and having rules around technology use at bedtime can reduce these effects,” can be found at JMIR Mental Health. Additionally, guidelines which regulate perceived social media importance may aid in “[improving] social media use, sleep, and mental health” among adolescents.
Dr. Libby Matile Milkovich, assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine, joined the consortium in 2020. With help from the TAM Data Consortium and access to the Youth Health and Social Media dataset, Dr. Milkovich presented her research on “Parent problematic internet use associated with youth problematic internet use” at the Pediatric Academic Society’s 2022 international conference. This conference represents thousands of pediatricians, health care providers, and researchers committed to improving adolescent well-being through multidisciplinary collaborations.
Dr. Brittany Allen, associate professor at the University of Wisconsin Department of Pediatrics, is also part of the TAM Data Consortium. Her work assesses the digital interactions of transgender, non-binary, and gender diverse youth. There are currently two manuscripts submitted on the topic. The first covers the “connections between psychosocial measures and digital media use in TNG youth.” Published in August of 2021, it found that problematic internet use within the transgender community may not be “unilaterally driven by problematic factors among TNG youth.” More information can be found at JMIR Publications. The second, currently in a state of review, describes “problematic technology use and technology interactions seen in these TNG youth.”
Along with access to 65 variables and thousands of participants, the TAM Data Consortium provides opportunities to collaborate with other researchers well versed in youth, technology, and mental health. This topic based approach to research allows for multidisciplinary studies which benefit from numerous, unique perspectives. From developing a research question to isolating specific variables, TAM Data consortium members are encouraged to work alongside the Technology and Adolescent Mental Wellness program (TAM) and the Social Media and Adolescent Health Research Team (SMAHRT) in adding to this relatively young field of study. With access to both parent and adolescent variables, the consortium allows researchers to publish unique, empirically based perspectives on problematic internet use, household tech rules, and social media addiction. These variables empower fledgling researchers with the tools they require to improve their analytical skills and become a part of the growing literature surrounding youth, mental wellness, and social media.
According to UNICEF, today about 16% of the world’s population is comprised of adolescents, more than ever before. At the same time, the world faces an unprecedented number of risks for adolescents, a need for more diverse voices, and opportunities for great creative potential from youth. A Youth Advisory Board (YAB) provides a space for these risks, voices, and potential as an important way for adolescents to engage in discussions about scientific research and social issues.
Different organizations can benefit from working with youth based on their themes and goals by regularly listening to youth suggestions on relevant issues or projects. Want to know more about why YABs are so important? This article provides seven insights into the importance of YABs from the perspective of board organizers, especially those in research.
1. YABs are consistent with society’s goal of developing decent citizens.UNCRC Article 12 states that adults should take children’s voices seriously and consider their evolving capacities. Some analyses suggest that using the right to express and be heard during maturation facilitates the realization of all rights and prepares children and adolescents for active social participation later in life. A YAB creates a space for adolescents to express their views and know that what is said matters and will be understood.
2. YABs reduce the distance between the research team and the public, and increase the visibility of the research. YABs help to break the misconceptions that scientific research is inaccessible and allows adolescents to realize that every insight or suggestion they have has the potential to turn into an important research question. The adolescents’ willingness to share their experiences makes it likely that the YAB will serve as a bridge between the team and the public.
3. YAB members can share new insights with the team. With the rapid growth of the internet and various social movements in recent years, adolescents growing up amidst these trends can help academics explore potential research opportunities and keep researchers updated with changes. On the Social Media and Adolescent Health Research Team (SMAHRT) for example, YAB members help researchers better understand important social media topics such as, TikTok and Snapchat, which have emerged in recent years.
4. A YAB can increase the realizability of research and maximize the use of research results. Every research project requires considerable time, effort, and resources, so researchers want to maximize their research results and contribute to real-world problem-solving. In addition to providing new ideas for proposed projects in the early stages, youth involvement in ongoing projects or reflection and discussion of completed projects is also valuable. Especially for adolescent health-related research, YAB members’ suggestions can help place ongoing or completed projects in the actual context.
5. A YAB helps achieve team sustainability and provides career development opportunities for participants. Most research teams are optimistic about adolescents who have participated in their YAB formally joining the team at a later stage. Because YAB members are more familiar with the organization’s research focus and structure, and have been exposed to the process of conducting research through their involvement in the YAB. This sustainability allows for continuity and greater efficiency in team research, and youth participants also gain a more stable academic and career development, which is a mutually beneficial process.
6. A YAB increases the cultural background and diversity of the team. In recent years, the academic community has placed more emphasis on providing opportunities for traditionally underrepresented groups. Along with this awareness, YAB is highly likely to increase team diversity in multiple dimensions such as ethnicity, gender, and age or experience. A diverse perspective makes it possible for research projects to fully consider the potential directions and possible limitations.
7. Communication and information sharing among YABs can advance adolescent health research. There are many YABs across the country with different themes and organizational structures, ranging from social movements to scientific research, from local communities to national recruitment of members. YABs with the same goals can likewise have different research focuses. In the case of the SMAHRT-sponsored YAB Initiative, 14 YABs across the country are closely focused on youth health-related topics, but each has its focus, such as the field of medicine, gender minority groups, racial discrimination, etc.
The 2021 Technology and Adolescent Mental Wellness (TAM) Colloquium brought together people from diverse backgrounds. The virtual colloquium was the third annual gathering of this community.
During the first day, TAM grant awardees presented updates on their year 1 and year 2 projects and discussed some of the key takeaways from their experiences.
In 2018, six projects were funded that answered the question: How can technology support adolescent mental wellness? During their second year they were answering the same question in the context of a global pandemic, political unrest, and heightened awareness of the long-standing racism in the United States.
While the awardees were presenting, the community engaged in discussion regarding the obstacles caused by bots in research. This was something that Dr. Yalda Uhls and her team encountered when recruiting for their year 2 study. The community came together to come up with some ideas on how to spot bots in data.
There was also an invigorating discussion about the ins-and-outs of getting IRB approval. Several of the awardees faced IRB challenges and the conversation led to the idea of possibly sharing the experiences and solutions from the group in a publication.
The second day of the colloquium was dedicated to engaging youth in improving adolescent health through research and practice. Youth from the TAM Youth Advisory Board (YAB) shared their perspectives and experiences throughout the day. A group of 15 teens from across the nation make up the TAM YAB. The youth are asked to share their expertise on how to successfully include teens in social media research, what they are observing with their own or their friends’ social media use, and what else they are looking for when working alongside researchers.
The Colloquium always includes presentations from other members of the Madison community and their experiences working with youth. This year the Wisconsin Partnership Program and PATCH presented. They shared their experiences engaging youth even in an online environment and creating safe spaces for youth to lead the way. Most of the youth driven conversations can lead to powerful topics such as mental health, the Black Lives Matter movement, and others. Speakers emphasized that it’s essential to create a safe space before diving into important topics.
A major highlight each year is the youth panel. This year’s panel included discussions about how their technology use has changed since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many youth found themselves setting their technology aside to spend time outdoors or reading. TikTok was interestingly not a huge part of the conversation, but Discord was a new crowd favorite.
Below, some of the TAM YAB members described what made them interested in getting involved with the program and what they think researchers should be asking about technology and adolescent mental wellness:
By Mina Aslan, Headstream Youth Program Coordinator
The era of convincing professionals to involve youth in their work is slowly coming to an end. People from all fields, from healthcare to education all the way to tech design, understand that in order to build for young people, youth must be involved in the design process. However, now that the “why” has been established, the “how” is a more critical piece. At Headstream, we have asked ourselves the same question for almost two years. Headstream is an initiative, powered by SecondMuse, that seeks to accelerate startups creating social technology designed to support youth wellbeing. As Headstream’s Youth Program Coordinator, my team and I had the joy of designing, launching, and executing the Youth 2 Innovator (Y2I) Program, a virtual experience for teenagers across the United States to work with a social impact startup around youth wellbeing on digital platforms while building out their own social technology project around teen wellbeing. From outreaching to young people all the way to building a strong community of empowered youth, Headstream’s key learnings when working with youth have now become the foundation for all of our youth programming. Join us in designing an amazing youth experience that will truly set your program apart!
Start with Socials
When kicking off outreach for our Youth 2 Innovator program, we reached out to about 100 youth organizations, several schools, and inserted ourselves into as many graduating high school Facebook and Slack groups as possible. It wasn’t until we took our outreach to Instagram & TikTok when application numbers skyrocketed to almost 100. I wanted to be able to show and explain the value of our program to youth directly and in the digital places they consume most. I started by directly messaging pages that had similar rhetoric as Headstream’s (youth, wellbeing, social tech, Gen Z, etc). I then started looking up youth platforms for queer youth, BIPOC (Black and Indigenous People of Color) & POC (People of Color, i.e. Asian, Middle Eastern, Latinx, etc). youth, and Gen Z girls. Before I knew it, I went down a rabbit hole of messaging 50+ Instagram pages that shared our opportunity on their stories (a feature that allows you to share content up to 24 hours). It all came from knowing where youth spend their time and meeting them where they’re at. Here are some quick tips on how to conduct social media outreach on Instagram for youth opportunities!
Search for keywords similar to your work.
For example, you want to find youth to participate in research around queer teen wellbeing. Look up keywords like “LGBTQ” “teens” “wellbeing” “mental health”
Read their bios and scan their page to see if their values align with yours.
Message that page a personalized blurb about your opportunity, why you want to share it specifically with them and their network, and ask for them to share it on their platform.
On their page, hit the downward arrow button under the followers button to find similar organizations to them.
When commencing this program, there were certain truths about teen wellbeing and digital spaces that Headstream had to internalize. In the design of such digital spaces, Headstream has learned from both our entrepreneurs and our young people not only what they want to see on social technology, but what they truly need for the youth empowerment recipe for wellness:
Agency: Youth wellbeing is directly tied to young people’s agency to transform the societies in which they live, so in order to uplift youth wellness, digital spaces must also be a place for youth to creatively and proactively address the injustices impeding on their prosperity.
Action: Provide tasks/activities/projects of substance that allow them to contribute to the big picture.
Creativity: Youth are so creative and long for that creativity to be used for a greater purpose. Whether that is for empowerment, awareness, or just for the sake of their wellbeing, they need spaces where they can manifest that in whatever opportunity they embark on.
Action: Encourage and promote creativity within a given task or responsibility in order to benefit your overall work. Creative energy is derived when those insights will be used for a greater purpose.
Intersectionality: Youth come from different backgrounds and identities that require those who work with them to approach them with an intersectional framework. This starts with holding space to listen and learn from the experiences of youth and validating those experiences to be true and to inform collective learning.
Action: Listen to the realities of the youth you are working with. If you are working on a research project, ask how their gender identity, their sexuality, their racial identity, their ethinic background, and/or nationality influence their thinking. Speaking from an intersectional mindset also allows you to design experiences that include these different realities.
Connection & Community: Like most human beings, youth need other youth. But what makes a community within a program strong is a common anchor. For Headstream, our anchor that ties all of our members together is our dedication to transforming the way technology empowers youth wellness.
Action: Create hangout spaces! Youth need to develop a genuine personal connection with you and their peers in order for the programmatic environment to prosper.
Learning Skills: Youth crave for education that will propel them further in life. It is the core of empowerment. Youth need to have access to practical and emotional/social skills that can help them continue to build out their purpose.
Action: When you provide a task/project/community for a teen, be sure you can name the learnings that will come out of that endeavor. If the task is to lead research on mental health of queer youth, your teen can learn how to conduct a focus group, research methodologies, synthesizing and analyzing data, etc.
Support: There are two kinds of support that are critical for youth, emotional and practical. Emotionally, young people are going through a lot, especially during this time. They need consistency in their scheduling, in the expectations requested of them, even in the way they are spoken to. However, the truest form of support comes from genuine care expressed through 1:1 check ins and simple messaging. With many of our youth, we broke down traditional binaries around “professionalism” to simply ask how our teen was truly feeling.
Action: Provide consistent professional touch points and create spaces for personalized touch points.
Mentorship: A Two Way Street
Every opportunity that involves youth has the potential for mentorship and it is imperative to tap into this potential.. As a part of the Youth 2 Innovator Program, our cohort of teens were paired with an innovator to not only advise their innovation, but to be mentored by them. Youth Advisor Madison Ramos advised Headstream Innovation, Novelly, and shared through her experience working with Novelly the myriad of ways mentorship can be manifested and the profound impact it has on the wellbeing of youth.
“It’s unbelievably rewarding to be able to draw from your own experiences to help the development of a youth-targeted innovation.” Madison continues, “After working with the team, I really couldn’t be happier. Not only have I been able to learn so much about the inner-workings of growing startups, but I have watched as my feedback and insight inspires positive change. Moreover, I’ve realized that the relationships you form as an advisor are incredible. After meeting with Anna, Novelly’s founder, we discussed what excited me about Novelly and brainstormed how I could contribute to the team. From this meeting, I joined the team as a Content Intern, and I’m currently continuing in this role! I’ve been able to make my own contributions, and playing a part in the progression of such an amazing nonprofit has been truly exhilarating.”
Mentorship comes from truly believing in the capacity of the youth you work with by giving them the space to contribute to your work and applying it. The ability to build authentic and genuine spaces starts with entering those spaces as your authentic selves. It’s much simpler than people often lead on, but it truly starts with breaking down binaries around adults and youth.
Retention: Building Love & Loyalty through Accountability
Along with presenting your authentic self, discipline does go hand in hand. But here’s the thing: young people respect you more when you hold them accountable. In fact, they need accountability to become better individuals. What builds the love and loyalty in the tough disciplinarian moments is if you are holding them accountable because it benefits them, not you. The moment you see a lack of participation or consistent absences, reach out to the individual youth asking if they are okay. Show them that you care about them as a person and arrange a 1:1 meeting where you can learn more about the root causes behind their behavior. With a kind and genuine composure, lay out the responsibilities they have committed to and how it doesn’t need to be an added stressor, but that they have a support system available to them to help them complete the tasks before them.
I admit, as someone who has worked with youth for 7+ years, it isn’t easy to sustain a caring relationship with teenagers while also disciplining them. However, if accountability measures are framed out of a place of love and a desire to personally and professionally build the capacity of the youth you work with, they will be receptive to that. They will feel loyal because you will be an adult who doesn’t allow them to be complacent and facilitates their growth. And suddenly, they feel your love and loyalty as a mentor and pay it right back to you.
If you are interested in learning more about Headstream’s Youth Programming and want to find out ways to get involved, please email Headstream’s Youth Program Coordinator, Mina Aslan, at email@example.com.
At the 2019 TAM colloquium, our attendees put their heads together to brainstorm the current hurdles in both understanding and addressing adolescent mental wellness in relation to technology.
The strategy session was lead by David Ryan Polgar, tech ethicist, TAM advisory board member, and founder of All Tech is Human.
First, we discussed what we had learned in Day 1 of the colloquium. For example, our youth panel told us that they prefer to learn about healthy tech use by doing, rather than be passively receiving advice, recommendations, or warnings.
We then outlined some of the current hurdles towards promoting health among adolescents when it comes to technology use. We noted that the more eye-catching headlines often contain misleading information about technology use, which inhibits a more accurate public dialogue. Further, perspectives do not align on what constitutes a “healthy” relationship between youth and technology.
Last, we discussed the way forward. How can we use technology to promote adolescent mental wellness? There is space to design business models in tech that hinge on doing good. We also noted the importance of designing solutions that are likely to be adopted and modeled between peers.
In short: We found that the hurdles are complex, but success is both visible and worth pursuing.
Feel free to use, reuse, and share the images above to promote discussion and debate in your own place of work or play, and don’t forget to share with us what you find!
On October 16th, 2019, members of the TAM Youth Advisory Board met with local news anchor Amber Noggle of WKOW-27 and media relations specialist Emily Kumlien of UW-Health to share their perspectives on youth technology use! Check out the news coverage and video clip here.
We kicked off the colloquium with goal setting. On Day 1, we focused on understanding the landscape of adolescent mental wellness and technology use. On Day 2, we emphasized the successful progression of funded projects and building a longer-term community around TAM.
Our researcher panels featured student researchers (not pictured) as well as later-career researchers (see left). Our panelists spoke to what they perceive as the most pressing issues in the field. For example, Dr. Arigo highlighted the importance of looking at the same individual over time. If Monday’s tech use looks different from Tuesday’s, what variables might account for that?
Vicky Rideout of VJR Consulting spoke to the differences between adolescents that affect their relationship to social media. Adolescents with and without depression, for example, do not respond in the same way to Facebook. Why is that?
Community Partners Panel
Our community partners included those in private practice, primary care, school settings, and nonprofit. As a group, we observed that our panelists’ experience “in the field” is different from the findings of researchers “at the bench” (or more precisely, at our computers). How can we combine these truths to paint a more comprehensive landscape?
Youth Advisory Board Panel
The youth advisory board panel was a highlight for many attendees. Our youth spoke (emphatically!) to the differences in technology use between youth, what’s hot (and not) across social media, and the need to learn moderate and healthy technology use through their own trial-and-error.
Banquet & Strategy Session
One of our advisory board members and founder of All Tech is Human, David Ryan Polgar, led us in a strategy session over dinner. We worked together to identify what we’ve learned, what barriers we’ve encountered, and next steps for promoting adolescent wellness through technology.
On Friday, we focused time on hearing from the diverse array of six projects funded through TAM. Projects focused on the LatinX and Native youth populations, middle school curricula, peripartum youth seeking support online, and youth experiencing cyberbullying. PIs collaborated with colloquium attendees to maximize the reach and success of their projects.
We concluded the event by hearing from everyone. We worked to identify the most important features of an online TAM community, from gateways to collaboration to funding opportunities for much-needed research. Thanks to all attendees for their engagement, energy, and endless ideas!