Letter From The Chairman

Letter From The Chairman

Each generation takes on a definition, a shorthand description that sums it up in a few words. For some generations, the defining feature is derived from an achievement, for others the description reflects what the generation has experienced, and for still others, what obstacles it has overcome.

For the past decade, SCE has focused on how to help the rising generation thrive in a world where technology is everywhere, where distances across the globe can be traversed with a few keystrokes. This new era is full of promise and potential pitfalls. We live in a world where we have become more connected and more isolated at the same time. This is not the first time in history when our advances have outpaced our understanding of their highest and best use. Nor is it the first time we’ve developed new capabilities without foresight to see what unintentional consequences they might reap.

A couple of years ago, many of us defined the current rising generation as “digital natives,” blissfully unaware of a world without email, cameras always on, social media and apps of every variety, and immediate access to an endless amount of information. But this definition has recently pivoted; youth today can now be called members of the Pandemic Generation, one marked by perseverance through 24+ months of sudden and seismic change. From school to social life, nearly everything has changed.

In this context, SCE’s mission to prepare youth to thrive in a rapidly changing world has taken on greater urgency. To understand the highest priorities in today’s complicated landscape, we did what we always do: we looked to young people. We asked questions. And we listened. We wondered, “In a world where everything has changed, what has stayed constant?”

A common response? The role of technology and the need for connection.

Screens and devices are now lifelines. Tech is the bridge to school, the channel by which relationships are maintained with family and friends, and the window into the greater world while we isolate at home. In turn, our reliance on devices to connect personally, professionally, and educationally means we need to re-examine our relationship with technology to support our collective well-being.

After a decade of delving deeply into this issue, we know that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Young people tell us that the digital world is complicated, that it is both a lifeline and a grind. And as tech companies work tirelessly to devise new and better ways to capture our attention, measuring “screen time” no longer is the most effective measurement for healthy use. To make real progress, it is critical that we foster deeper understanding of how technology impacts young people, development, and relationships.

Our Tech & Society portfolio aims to embrace this complex landscape and recenter the tech narrative on what’s most important: our human experience. I believe it’s time to move past the overly simplistic and polarized narratives of the past. Let’s chart a future that celebrates our individual and collective values and then asks how tech can support that. We’re honored to partner with several leading organizations on this critical new initiative.

As this work evolves, we continue to support others at the forefront of this work. One partner, Screen Sanity is bringing resources like the Social Media Playbook to parents through a number of unique avenues so they can be more knowledgeable and confident when they talk to their kids about digital well being. Another branch of our work focuses exclusively on youth voice. Too often, adults make the rules and resources for tech use without fully grasping what youth are experiencing. Our Youth Voice cohort were a compilation of nine leading organizations who are empowering youth as researchers, creators, and champions for solutions that improve their relationships with technology. We learned so much from this group and their learnings and tools have been captured on the Thriving Youth in a Digital World website. In one of many inspiring examples, young people at Beam Center produced a podcast on the toll remote learning has taken on them mentally and socially.

Our youth partners are thoughtful, creative, and above all, candid; they offer constructive suggestions on ways to develop healthier relationships with technology. Sometimes this means changing the technology itself. Sometimes it’s changing the way we engage with it. Either way, we are wise to listen.

It’s been over eight years since SCE launched another program in what was, at the time, a burgeoning field. Social and emotional learning (SEL) has grown exponentially in that time. The pandemic has further accelerated the recognition that SEL is foundational to life preparation, satisfaction and success. Sadly, as schools scrambled to migrate to virtual formats, many of these skills were placed on a back burner, edged out by a laser-focus on recouping academic learning loss. But traditional academics cannot be our only goal. Without question, the return to some form of normalcy will require significant focus on helping students re-establish relationships, heal from trauma, and support their mental well-being.

One critical force that has spurred growth of SEL is the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL). More and more communities are seeking resources on SEL, particularly as the pandemic wears on, and SCE has worked closely with this expert organization to meet that demand by launching new communications initiatives, such as this webinar series.

And finally, in our commitment to the rising generation, we have zeroed in on Youth Sports and the role of coaches. With more than 45 million kids playing organized sports each year, the “playing field” represents one of our best untapped opportunities to help young people develop foundational life skills.

Much like a teacher inside a classroom, a coach plays a vital role in a child’s experience. Research demonstrates that adults significantly influence children’s social and emotional development. Young people who can identify at least one supportive adult within their social networks achieve better outcomes across a range of academic, behavioral, and health indicators. For kids who play sports, a good coach can be a transformational figure. Yet less than one third of the country’s six million coaches have been trained in youth development.

In 2021, we put out a call for ambitious ideas on how to close the coach training gap. Nearly 60 organizations responded and ten were selected to be part of SCE’s Million Coaches Challenge. I’m inspired by these ten incredible organizations that are transforming youth sports at the ground level and diving headfirst to create positive environments for millions of young people.

In true SCE style, our goal is to ask the right questions and find partners who move us closer to answers. We are grateful for the expertise so many readily share in our common goal to help kids thrive in a dramatically changed world.

This generation’s definition will depend on some circumstances out of our control, but how we choose to respond to circumstances speaks to our ability to adapt to and navigate uncharted territory.

I want to thank our exceptionally talented and committed board of directors who bring a wealth of experiences and perspectives to our work. Our small staff is simply the best anywhere; I am grateful they are keenly intelligent, hard working, and genuinely passionate about making the process of growing up in the 21st century better understood and more supported.

Susan Crown

Photo by Álvaro Serrano on Unsplash