Back to School: Youth Perspectives on COVID-Era Education

In-person, remote, and hybrid learning. Tech access for students. “Learning pods.”

As students across the country go back to school, community leaders debate how to keep both students and teachers safe while making sure that kids don’t fall further behind. However, one group has been conspicuously absent from this conversation: youth themselves.

When asked, more than half of young people share that they don’t feel safe to go back to school in person. More than two-thirds fear bringing the virus home to their families. Sixty-nine percent are worried about sacrificing the quality of their education. And 70% of students report increasing concern about their mental health in the context of COVID-19.

Young people’s lives have been completely upended by the pandemic. But when it comes to designing the solutions they need, youth perspectives are rarely included.

Three months ago, we spoke to youth across the country as they dealt with the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. Last week, we caught up with two of those young people as they prepared to go back to school.

As it turns out, they had a lot to say. We covered topics that SCE is really interested in—COVID-19, education, and tech, to name a few.

Some of their answers really surprised us. All of them demonstrate why it is so, so important for the adults in the room to design solutions with—not for—young people.

Back to school

When we last spoke to Khymari and Susi, they had major concerns about how COVID-19 would affect their education.

Khymari, a graduating senior at the time, was navigating a landscape of college applications and scholarship deadlines that didn’t really make sense. “Because of COVID-19, scholarships are pushing back their application dates and the dates when you’ll hear back, so seniors have to choose which school they’re going to without knowing whether they’ve gotten a scholarship.”

Susi, who was a junior in high school, was struggling with an abrupt transition to online learning. “For me, it’s more difficult,” she said. “I’m a very studious person, and even I’m procrastinating a lot. Normally I have lots of people pushing me, but now I have to be my own advocate.”

Three months later, their concerns look different. We were surprised to learn that Khymari and Susi were less worried about the direct impacts of the pandemic. Rather, they were more concerned about managing difficult course schedules—just like they would have been any other year.

“It makes me nervous, but it’s exciting because everything is a challenge,” said Susi, now a rising senior. “I’m nervous about taking five AP and honors classes! Everything else might be different, but those classes will be just as hard.”

Khymari had similar feelings about starting college. “I’m worried about college and what it’s going to be like, not necessarily about how COVID will make it different.”

Friends and family

In the early days of the pandemic, Khymari and Susi found strength and steadiness in the people around them when everything else was hard to predict. “I was really down the first week…but talking to my teacher made me realize that people did care, including the adults in my life,” said Susi.

Khymari added, “My friends and I…are still making plans for prom and graduation. We know that they aren’t going to happen, but it still boosts our spirits.”

Today, close relationships continue to support Susi when she needs them. “I’ve begun to open up more about everything,” she says. “A few friendships have faded, but this challenge taught me who my true friends are.”

Khymari loves living in a busy household. However, lockdown has definitely posed some challenges. “My siblings have been attending Zoom summer camps, and I have to help them sit still and pay attention,” she says. “And that is not IT!”


Both Khymari and Susi spoke at length about two forms of technology: virtual learning and social media.

For the former, both students definitely feel some Zoom fatigue after three months of online school and remote work. “Between class, work, and social media, I’m getting so sick of staring at a screen,” says Susi. “I’m always hunched over!”

Khymari agreed. “I’m so over it!” she said. “I’ve had lots of tech issues—I didn’t have WiFi for two weeks, so I had to use my phone to call into meetings for my summer job. It’s hard to participate when you can’t see who you’re talking to.”

When we last spoke, Khymari mentioned how she had seen misinformation spread on social media—especially among older relatives on Facebook. Three months later, Susi sees the same thing happening among her peers. “So many people use Instagram to vent or spread fake news,” she says. “Sometimes when I go on there, I just want to see my puppy posts!”

What we’re learning

Khymari and Susi are at the center of so many issues that COVID-19 has brought to the forefront. Their education has been drastically changed by the pandemic. They live in communities deeply affected by both the virus and the subsequent economic fallout. Unsurprisingly, they have some great ideas about how people in power should respond.

  • “We can’t take anyone for granted. While I haven’t lost anyone close to me personally, my parents lost someone close to them to the virus.” – Susi
  • “Every household needs WiFi, a Chromebook, and headphones—for every student. In lots of families, many people share one device. In my house, everyone uses my computer! And not every house has a quiet space where students can work or attend online class, so headphones are really important, too.” – Khymari
  • “Food access! Many CPS students eat most of their meals at school. Now that all of us are at home, we’re going through three times as much food as usual. That’s hard for a lot of families.” – Khymari
  • “If you’re expecting people to go to classes in person, you need to offer free COVID testing to everyone!” – Khymari

Khymari and Susi, like many of us, have begun adjusting to the “new normal” of a post-COVID world. But adjusting to a pandemic isn’t the same as finding it easy. These young people have lots of ideas about how to make COVID-era education more effective, empathetic, and safe. It’s up to us to listen.

Our latest Challenge, Youth Voice in the Digital Age, supports creative solutions from nonprofits that elevate the perspectives of young people like Khymari and Susi. We look forward to learning from the nine members of our Youth Voice cohort—and the young people they serve—as they launch their programs this fall.

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

Announcing SCE’s Youth Voice Challenge Partners

When we announced our Tech and Society Youth Voice Challenge last winter, we sought the answer to a single question: How can young people inspire their peers to use technology in healthy ways and make digital spaces better for everyone? 

Six months later, the world looks completely different. COVID-19 has impacted the health and economic futures of millions. Across the United States, hundreds of thousands of people are marching to demand an end to police brutality and to state unequivocally that Black lives matter.

Our Youth Voice Challenge was never intended to directly address a global pandemic or racial injustice. But as our society goes through this period of transformative change, youth voice will be more important than ever.

With the future of in-person learning uncertain, young people are spending an unprecedented amount of time online. More than ever before, they’re using technology to connect with their families, peers, classmates, and online communities. And for the foreseeable future, technology will be how young people explore, discuss, and take action around critical issues.

In this context, young people need solutions that help them build positive and productive digital environments. Those solutions must be designed, tested, and implemented by youth themselves.

We’re proud to partner with nine exemplary organizations in search of youth-led solutions for a tech-enabled world. Each of our partners brings a unique approach to this work. All of them engage youth as leaders. Over the next two years, we’re excited to collaborate with this cohort, learn from their expertise, and share our learning with the field.

Read on to learn more about our Youth Voice Challenge partners.

Beam Center: Beam Center is a New York City-based makerspace that brings together youth, artists, engineers, and educators. Together, Beam Center program participants produce ambitious, collaborative projects that support youth to take bold steps towards meaningful futures and foster conditions for educational equity. To support a vision of digital public health for everyone, Beam Center will train and empower two diverse cohorts of young people to conduct their own research on Healthy Digital Futures. Their project will also support youth as they create a platform where they can share their findings with peers, youth-serving organizations and policymakers.

Digital Harbor Foundation: In 2013, Digital Harbor Foundation transformed a closed-down rec center in Baltimore into a vibrant Tech Center for youth. Since then, they have offered workshops and programs about technology and maker skills to both youth and educators. Digital Harbor’s project will provide approximately 40 Baltimore youth with the equipment, training, and mentorship to research, produce, and market their own podcast that discusses the most pressing technology issues they face today. Using this platform, youth will lead critical conversations about the role of technology in society.

Erikson Institute: Erikson Institute is a hub of complex, creative thinking that empowers adults to help children reach their fullest potential. They bring the newest scientific knowledge and theories of children’s development and learning into graduate education, professional training, community programs, and policymaking. Their project uses teen voices and experiences to research, develop, and implement a technology peer-to-peer mentoring program. It will honor and highlight youth perspectives and experiences, leveraging a strengths-based approach to supporting young people in healthy media use while building relationships between older and younger youth.

Games for Change: Games for Change empowers game creators and social innovators to drive real-world impact through games and immersive media. They convene industry experts through their annual Games for Change Festival, inspire youth to explore civic issues and STEAM skills through their Student Challenge, and showcase leading impact-focused games and immersive experiences through live Arcades for the public. Their project, Raising Good Gamers, will inspire young people to shape the culture of online communities, advance youth leadership and advocacy for safe, diverse, and inclusive gaming experiences, and build positive game communities that counter toxicity.

PeaceCasters: Based in Louisville, KY, PeaceCasters is a youth-led program housed within the Peace Education Program (Peace Ed) that empowers young people in middle and high school to share their stories with the world in order to create change through digital and social media. Through their groundbreaking Youth Influencers curriculum, they support young leaders to be influencers on social media and in their communities by sharing stories from lived experience, practicing positive communication skills, and building community online and off. Their curriculum is based on three pillars: empowered storytelling, social media for social good, and online conflict resolution. The PeaceCasters program builds on Peace Ed’s 37 years of experience training youth and adults to build and sustain positive relationships, bringing these essential skills into digital spaces and onto social media platforms.

Project Zero: Housed in the Harvard Graduate School of Education, the mission of Project Zero is to understand and enhance learning, thinking, and creativity for individuals and groups in the arts and other disciplines. Project Zero’s Reimagining Digital Well-Being will begin with empirical research that will help adults better understand the challenges that today’s youth face in their digital lives. Then, Project Zero will engage with youth in a participatory design project to develop a Digital Well-being Toolkit, which they will pilot and disseminate in partnership with youth-focused organizations.

Spy Hop: Spy Hop is a Salt Lake City-based digital media arts center offering in-school, after-school, youth-in-care, and satellite programming for students ages 9-19. Brave Voices, a youth-led participatory research, design, and media project, engages 400+ Utah youth in challenges, podcasts, and data storytelling to foster digital mindfulness and collective resilience. As digital auto-ethnographers, producers, and audiences, young people will create an open educational resource that shares both evidence-based insights and recommendations for building a better digital ecology.

Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence (YCEI): YCEI’s mission is to use the power of emotions to create a more equitable, productive, healthy, and compassionate society, today and for future generations. They conduct research and design educational approaches that support people of all ages in developing emotional intelligence and the skills to thrive and contribute to society. Their project will use a free program called InspirED to empower students to design and implement projects they believe best support healthy technology habits among their peers. Beyond the effects expected for participating schools, YCEI intends to promote these projects through its free website and share research findings about inspirED’s impact.

Youth Emerging Stronger (YES): YES’ mission is to provide runaway, homeless and foster youth (RHY) with safety, stability and housing, along with the relationships and resources to thrive now and in the future. They envision a world where resilient, self-assured, and hopeful youth are free from a life of homelessness and become capable of achieving positive, fulfilling futures. This youth-led project will help participants explore their own engagement with technology and ensure that their use of social media aligns with their long-term plans to enjoy academic and professional success. Once piloted, this project can be replicated for agencies serving runaway and homeless youth in Los Angeles and across the country.

Photo: student participant, Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence. © 2019. CASEL. All rights reserved. 

How has COVID-19 impacted young people?

The COVID-19 pandemic has completely upended the lives of young people. Just a few months ago, we lamented the overscheduling of youth who spent hours of time on extracurriculars and homework after jam-packed school days. Almost overnight, classes went virtual and those out-of-school activities disappeared. In an instant, young people across the country have had to adapt to a way of life different from anything they’ve ever known. They’ve redefined their relationships with their teachers, families, friends, and technology.

So what do they think of all of this?

To put it simply, young people are dealing with a lot. According to our partner DoSomething, 94% of young people are concerned about COVID-19. These concerns take many forms: 63% of youth say that the health of themselves and their loved ones is their greatest priority, 82.5% fear that we’re reopening the country too soon, and 92% are worried about the toll the virus is taking on the economy. 

However, youth are responding to this uncertainty with resilience and creativity. In the same survey from DoSomething, we learned that 34% of young people have begun to supplement their classes with independent online learning, 58% have picked up a new hobby, and 61% are doing indoor exercise.   

We wanted to dig deeper into the complex reality that young people face today. So we asked a few teenagers how they’re handling the “new normal” of COVID-19. 

Here’s what we learned.

SCE: How has school changed since this all started? What have been the biggest challenges? Are there any silver linings?

Gus, 14: “My school’s program was already self-directed, so it’s been an easier transition for me. I actually like what we’re doing now—I can wake up a little bit later, and I’m pretty good at managing my time so the flexible schedule works for me. Change is good!”

Alyssa, 15: “Honestly, I hadn’t realized how much I looked forward to going to school. Extracurriculars like soccer have been cancelled. It’s a real bummer.”

Ruben, 15: “Now, school is more at my own pace, which works better for me. Self-motivation is key.”

Susi, 16: “For me, it’s more difficult. I’m a very studious person, and even I’m procrastinating a lot. Normally I have lots of people pushing me, but now I have to be my own advocate.”

Khymari, 17: “One big thing that’s changed has been college applications. Because of COVID-19, scholarships are pushing back their application dates and the dates when you’ll hear back, so seniors have to choose which school they’re going to without knowing whether they’ve gotten a scholarship.”

SCE: What has changed about your relationships with your friends and family?

Diego, 15: “I’m really close with my friends, and now I can’t see them. I still text and FaceTime them all the time, but now it feels a little awkward.”

Susi, 16: “I was really down the first week, and I felt like nobody cared about me or what I was going through. I stopped turning in my work. My principal checked in with my mom, and we set up a call with my teacher. After that, something moved in me. Talking to my teacher made me realize that people did care—including the adults in my life.”

Khymari, 17: “My friends and I do a lot of video chats and Netflix parties. We also are still making plans for prom and graduation. We know that they aren’t going to happen, but it still boosts our spirits.”

SCE: Are you using technology any differently? 

Gus, 14: “Technology hasn’t changed for me, but my brothers and I are using it a lot more. Our parents set some limits around our tech use, but they mostly trust us to make our own boundaries.” 

Alyssa, 15: “Technology gives me an opportunity to talk to family and friends, but we’re still losing some connection. It’s hard to avoid getting distant.”

Khymari, 17: “The tone of social media has definitely changed. Way more people are talking about COVID-19, and I’m seeing a lot of people spread conspiracy theories and rumors. Different generations also are using social media in different ways. I’ve had to tell older relatives when something is fake news!”

SCE: What are you learning from this?

Gus, 14: “This whole situation is out of my control, so there’s no point in stressing about it if I can avoid it.” 

Diego, 15: “I want to spend more time with my family once this is all over. I’m really appreciating the time I spend with my family now.”

Ruben, 15: “I appreciate having more time. There are so many things that I’ve said I wanted to do forever, and now I have the time to do them.”

Susi, 16: “I woke up pretty early for school, and I was usually on the bus by 6:00 AM. I miss taking public transportation and watching the sun rise. I want to appreciate the little things like that.” 

Khymari, 17: “I’m going to remember how brands reacted to this, and that will affect whether I support those companies in the future. I’m also looking at how colleges—how did they treat their students during this time?”

As we continue to endure, adapt to, and recover from the shifting landscape of COVID-19, we must also keep young people like Gus, Susi, and Khymari in mind. Youth are deeply affected by the pandemic, but they often lack opportunities to voice their needs or share their opinions. Alongside our nonprofit partners, we’re committed to elevating youth voice and helping young people thrive—through this pandemic and beyond.

Note: this post has been edited from its original version.
Photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash

Building a Better Human-Tech Paradigm by 2023

This blog is the second in a series exploring our evolving thinking on the relationships between technology and society. We look forward to learning more about this emerging topic, and to sharing what we learn along the way.

How can we harness the power of tech?

As we built robust programs in social and emotional learning and digital learning, we have asked ourselves this question countless times. Technology is everywhere. The line between online and offline life is fading fast. Tech’s power is undeniable; its effect on our individual and collective well-being is trickier to grasp.

In the first article in this series, we explored how the intersection of our SEL and Digital Learning program areas led us to build a new program: Tech and Society. We launched this program with a lot of questions and few answers. We knew we wouldn’t be able to find those answers on our own. So shortly after announcing this program, we began planning a convening of the best and brightest minds who shared our desire for a world both plugged-in and productive. 

Our intent? To surface all of our experiences with tech, both the good and the bad, and draw from them to collectively envision a better future.

To plan this convening, we partnered with Spark’s Jim Cohen and Solon Teal, professional facilitators with extensive backgrounds in technology, business, and human-centered design. From the beginning, Jim and Solon challenged us to think creatively about who qualified as an “expert.” In order to make this convening truly matter, they cautioned, we needed to consider those with nontraditional but equally important views on tech.

Our convening quickly grew beyond the gathering of grant partners and researchers we had originally envisioned. In January of this year, we flew to Austin with twenty-six teachers, artists, academics, storytellers, nonprofit leaders, designers, and high school students—each of whom brought a unique and important perspective to the table.

Before touching down in Texas, we presented our convening participants with a challenge: How can we advance our current human-technology paradigm in three years? 

It’s a huge question, and we had just a day and a half to address it. The pressure was on.

Jim and Solon kicked things off with an exercise where each of us shared our first memory of technology and how that experience made us feel. It was quite a trip down memory lane; we told stories about everything from landlines and VCRs to YouTube and Instagram. Even more interesting were the emotions associated with these memories—joy and wonder on one hand, anxiety and fear on the other. Simple as it was, this exercise made the issue feel tangible and relevant. We left the room reflecting on how this issue affects each of us personally.

On day two, we got straight to business. Right away, Jim and Solon asked us to think backwards. “It’s 2023,” they posed, “We’ve built a more productive and positive paradigm for our relationships with technology. How did we get here?”

Working in small groups to backcast from this ideal future, we brainstormed projects that moved the needle, identified barriers that we overcame, selected a single great idea, and laid out a roadmap for how that solution helped us achieve our goal. We ended up with a mountain of foam core, more post-it notes than we know what to do with, and five road maps towards a better future.

Through this process, our small team generated a ton of great ideas. Now it’s on us to sort through these solutions and identify which ones we can turn into actionable projects.

But as the dust settled from the convening, a few core concepts began to emerge. Here are our biggest takeaways from this work.

  • The status quo is complicated. Our current relationships with technology make us feel a wide range of emotions. We value how tech brings us connection, freedom, and possibility; we resent how it causes confusion, anxiety, and fear.
  • A better future is possible. We could imagine a future where technology contributes to individual and collective well-being. That future embodies the ideals of purpose, optimism, inspiration, balance, empathy, and magic.
  • Agency is important. Tech shouldn’t be in control of the human-tech paradigm—we should be. Solutions to build a better future must acknowledge and encourage this agency, empowering each of us to develop a personal relationship with the tech we use.
  • Diversity matters. Many of our participants expressed gratitude for being part of such a diverse group. By bringing together unlikely actors, we heard perspectives that are rarely elevated and ideas that might not have been surfaced.
  • Solutions must be holistic. Our tech-enabled society is immeasurably complex, and every stakeholder in the system has distinct motivations. Instead of building piecemeal solutions in silos, we must forge unlikely alliances to achieve a better future.

In the coming weeks, we’ll work with Jim and Solon to distill the wealth of information that came out of this convening into an actionable set of solutions. We look forward to sharing what comes out of this exercise. Stay tuned!

Photos © K Krunk Photo

How Can We Harness the Power of Tech?

This blog is the first in a series exploring our evolving thinking on the relationships between technology and society. We look forward to learning more about this emerging topic, and to sharing what we learn along the way.

Picture a typical weekday. If you’re anything like us, you check your phone within a few minutes of waking up. You’ve scrolled through Instagram or Facebook by the time you’ve had your morning coffee. You read an article or two on your way to work, where you’ll spend seven or eight hours on your laptop. You’ll message friends and family throughout the day, and when you get home you’ll look forward to winding down with an episode of your favorite show on Netflix (for us, that’s currently the Great British Baking Show).

It’s undeniable that technology is all around us. But the impact of that technology — how it’s affecting individual people and our society at large — is far harder to describe.

We think that it’s important to build positive and productive relationships with the technology we use every day. But how? And what does a positive, productive relationship with technology even look like?

It’s questions like these that inspired us to launch our Tech and Society program area, a new funding opportunity focused on youth voice, and a year-long design project to better define and understand this space. We’ve already done several months of research, partnering with great minds and inspiring organizations eager to learn more about this emerging issue. We’re excited to share what we’ve discovered so far.

We first dipped our toes into this issue area about two years ago. After eight years funding social and emotional learning and digital learning, we began to wonder how those two areas might intersect. How is technology influencing our relationships and individual and collective well-being? And how can people — especially young people — engage more thoughtfully with the technology that’s all around us?

In late 2018, we launched a partnership with Chicago Ideas designed explicitly to explore this space. Our collaboration kicked off with a series of focus groups with Chicago Ideas’ youth ambassadors. We asked these teenagers about various forms of digital citizenship, such as online privacy, freedom of speech, and critical consumption. Two things quickly became clear: 1) kids think about these concepts every day, and 2) digital citizenship only paints a partial picture of teens’ online lives.

Further work in this space confirmed these hypotheses. A second partnership with layered in the concepts of youth voice and agency, and the next phase of our work with Chicago Ideas led to the development of a set of resources — including one focused on digital ethics — for young people seeking to engage more thoughtfully with online life.

The more we engaged with this space, the more complex we found it…. and the harder it became to define. We talked to kids, parents, nonprofit leaders, and other funders; everyone was interested in this issue, but nobody seemed to know quite what to call it or how to address it. Terms like digital citizenship, digital well-being, and screen time circled around the larger topic that interested us, but none of them fit quite right. We wanted to explore how human issues like identity, mental health, personal relationships, and many more were affected when filtered through the lens of technology. It’s a massive issue that we know far too little about, and it grows more urgent with every new advancement.

So we brought in some help. We partnered with a Chicago-based design thinking firm to help build a year-long project to convene the best and brightest minds in this space. Our goal was to give this issue a clear definition and framework, bring together the great thinkers already doing brilliant work, and build a movement to make tech work better for all of us.

In our next blog post in this series, we’ll share what we’ve learned from this process so far. Stay tuned!

Photos © Chicago Public Library, Digital Harbor, and Dreamyard / David Flores

Two New Grants Take SCE into the Digital Age

Partnerships with Center for Humane Technology and University of Wisconsin launch SCE’s exploration into well-being

In some ways, the convergence of Digital Learning and Social and Emotional Learning was inevitable: In this highly connected era, success requires the application of foundational skills (social and emotional) in new environments (digital). But 2018 grants with Chicago Ideas, Common Sense Media, and, as well as a three month research effort, also taught us that it’s not just about digital environments. It’s about digital life.

Indeed, the Digital Age requires us to re-examine fundamental aspects of human connection and behavior. Our relationships, our rights, our responsibilities, and ultimately – our individual and collective well-being – are being influenced by a world with ubiquitous technology.

SCE is pleased to announce two new grants that will usher in a new period of grantmaking focused on well-being in the Digital Age. Center for Humane Technology and University of Wisconsin’s Social Media & Adolescent Health Research Team are leading organizations who are making immediate contributions to the field. Both organizations are first-time grantees for SCE.

Center for Humane Technology (CHT)

CHT advocates for the ethical design of technology, arguing that today’s products are often motivated by business interests rather than human interests. Led by former Google Design Ethicist, Tristan Harris, CHT is comprised of former tech industry insiders and investors and a global thought leader for this cause.

To achieve its mission, the organization focuses on public awareness, public policy, and training and consultation for technologists. Increasingly, CHT is focused on youth engagement, and SCE awarded a one-year Learning Grant to support its outreach program that educates young people about the ethics and impact of the technologies they use. CHT also provides them with recommendations for a healthier digital balance and maximizing their digital experience. Specifically, the Learning Grant will enable CHT’s newly created initiative to:

  • Create and share high quality, evidence-informed resources with adolescents, parents, and educators at high schools across the U.S.
  • Launch a dissemination strategy to make the resources freely and widely available
  • Gather on-the-ground insights from adolescents, parents, and educators about the challenges they face and potential solutions

Why We Funded – Like SCE, CHT believes that mobilizing young people is a critical lever in this work. CHT’s resources also fill a gap in the field, as most traditional digital citizenship curriculums do not address the topic of “humane technology.”

University of Wisconsin, Social Media & Adolescent Health Research Team (SMAHRT)

Dr. Megan Moreno, a practicing pediatrician and Principal Investigator of SMAHRT, is a leading voice in the field of adolescent mental health. Her team recently launched the Technology and Adolescent Mental Wellness program (TAM). As part of TAM, six research teams from across the country will investigate adolescent behavior with regard to technology. One primary objective of the effort is to understand the world through the lens of the adolescent, not the technology, and to define, test, and disseminate pro-social or pro-wellness technology use.

The SCE Learning Grant will facilitate youth engagement throughout the project. Through a “TAM Youth Advisory Council,” a cohort of young people will attend regular meetings, collaborate with the TAM advisory committee, advise research teams, and contribute to key decisions. The youth council will also be involved in the planning and preparation for TAM’s 2019 Colloquium and help disseminate findings and deliverables.

Why We Funded – Dr. Moreno fundamentally believes that youth voice is needed if research is to result in meaningful, timely, and lasting change. This one-year grant provides her team with the necessary funding to thoughtfully engage young people and elevate their voices.

Ultimately, these two grants represent the beginning of a multi-year effort by SCE to ensure that well-being is a reality for all adolescents in the digital age. We’ll be announcing more initiatives in the coming months, and we are seeking partners and collaborators for this effort. Come and join us.

We Untangled the Web with Here’s What We Learned.

More than 50,000 young people signed up to teach adults about digital life

Today’s young people are digital natives; they grew up with unmatched access to technology. However, they can feel disconnected from adults around technology and disempowered as members of the digital community. That’s a problem.

So what can we do? We know that fostering communication between a young person and an adult is critical for vibrant digital communities. So in March we partnered with to kickstart intergenerational conversations about digital life. The goal was to reach 25,000 young people. After two months and more than 50 million social media impressions, 55,000 signed up to Untangle the Web.

Call to Action: DoSomething asked young people to take a quiz that asked them questions about how they use technology and media. At the end of the quiz, young people received a digital personality and an action guide curated to that personality to help them start the conversation with an adult in their life. Whether a News Detective battling misinformation or a Ray of Sunshine spreading positive vibes, each young person shared a piece of their life with those closest to them.

The Approach: Empower young people. DoSomething has found that operationalizing the “teach-to-learn” model by positioning young people as the experts has proven efficacy for behavior change and cause impact. They structured messaging around the positive behaviors they know young people exhibit online as an entry point to deeper conversation with adults about digital citizenship.

Youth Experiences: We think it worked. Thousands of young people shared their stories with us. Here are just a few.

With the help of this guide, I am informing my teachers and peers of better ways to sift through the tidal wave of information that the internet provides, and in turn, lead to more productive discourse.

“I love to have debates with my peers at school. We discuss politics, religion, and various other topics. However, it becomes very annoying when other students cite information from a website that either makes up and distorts common information, fails to provide any credible sourcing, or does not disclose funding sources. With the help of this guide, I am informing my teachers and peers of better ways to sift through the tidal wave of information that the internet provides, and in turn, lead to more productive discourse.” – Keaton, 17

This campaign is important to me because social media has made it so hard for people to be happy being themselves.

“This campaign is important to me because social media has made it so hard for people to be happy being themselves.The high expectations due to bullying and rude comments has completely taken over this generation’s ability to be happy in their own skin. People believe that they can say anything online without it affecting anyone just because it is not face to face, but that is not true. I know that I still remember every mean thing that has been said about how I look or my personality. I know that I am not the only one. The online harassment crisis needs to stop in order for people to be truly happy in their own skin again.” – Savannah, 18

“Before coming across, I never noticed a problem with the way our society consumes media. But after exploring further, it became clear to me that discerning real from fake information online is a skill that even the most tech-savvy young adults lack. So I looked for ways to know which headlines, images, and quoted testimonies are legitimate. The solutions — learning to read horizontally, taking on the responsibility to ask ourselves two or three questions about the legitimacy of a source, and considering the consequences of what we post. I see these solutions as tips for improving the quality of information we intake online, key ingredients for an improved news diet. Doing this will not only improve our society’s media literacy but will contribute to a healthier democracy where we do not divide ourselves or argue on the basis of fake propaganda. These repercussions of media illiteracy must be acknowledged. And I foresee DoSomething’s effort to shed light on this largely disregarded issue impactful for youth and adults alike.” – Lina, 18

What We Learned

1. Through pre-campaign surveys, we learned that young people consistently rank online habits and digital use as one of the most important in their lives.

2. Post campaign, 66% of participants said they are more likely to talk to adults about technology as a result of their participation in the campaign.

3. Overwhelmingly, young people want to learn from their friends how to develop healthy skills online.

4. When asked to identify which skills are most important for navigating digital life, young people said Critical Thinking; Positivity, Compassion, and Suspending Judgement; Clear Communication; and Self-Control.

5. Young people want to be part of the solution. In fact, when asked what resources would be helpful, Accessible Content and Mentorship, More Online Resources and Guides, and Friends Learning from Each Other’s Mistakes were the most common suggestions.

What Comes Next

We heard our young people. Now it’s time to do something about it. Next, DoSomething and SCE are hosting an “Impact-A-Thon” in New York City from August 2-3. Fifteen young people will come together to solve a critical question: How might young people exercise better judgement in digital spaces?

So join us. Follow along. It’s an “Impact”-A-Thon, resource generation for young people, by young people.

Follow @scefdn and @dosomething on Twitter and Facebook for updates.