Defining Thriving in the Digital Age
Thriving as humans, according to Daniel J. Brown, co-author of Human Thriving: A Conceptual Debate and Literature Review, is simply “feeling good about life and yourself and being good at something.”
Today, we know that many adolescents across the United States are not thriving. The U.S. Surgeon General declared a mental health crisis for children and youth, saying there are “alarming increases in the prevalence of certain mental health challenges.” The American Psychological Association says that children and youth have been increasingly reported “persistent sadness and hopelessness—as well as suicidal thoughts and behaviors” for more than a decade before the Surgeon General’s declaration.
Many factors are contributing to this crisis. It’s difficult to identify the role of digital technologies in its creation, but we know that new technologies and social media can have both negative and positive effects on young people and that the challenges in the digital world are tough to navigate.
Our partners in the Youth Voice in the Digital Age Challenge committed to improving the digital experiences of children and youth. Their goal was to equip those who teach youth with the tools to help young people create digital experiences where they can thrive. The toolkit created by the initiative’s partners helps educators and afterschool providers facilitate intentional self-reflection about digital life, support mindful tech habits, create space for meaningful peer connection and validation, cultivate awareness about habits, coping strategies, and help adults understand current stresses, including related to tech, from teen’s perspectives. A critical piece of this initiative which is often missing was how the partners centered youth voice and experiences, and invited students to design their own solutions and to advocate for themselves.
Our partners at Spy Hop in Salt Lake City are a great example of how to bring this approach to life. They are a digital media arts center working with children ages 9-19 in schools, after school programs, summer camps, and other youth-centered programs. Fostering a fun culture that nurtures creativity and individuality of students, they provide the opportunities for young people to engage in open conversations about their use of digital technologies and how they affect their ability to thrive.
Spy Hop’s programs directly address youth’s need to thrive based on creating digital products, which builds their confidence and pride at being good at something. Students are mentored through the complicated process of producing a short film, creating electronic music, designing a video game, or producing a podcast. This allows youth to express and utilize their own thoughts and experiences using the varied tech landscape to create products that ultimately support them to thrive – not hinder it.
Spy Hop and our other partners in this initiative continue to transform students’ digital experiences from the negative experiences that lead to poor mental health into ones where adolescents can create, have fun, and thrive.