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Center for Digital Thriving Launches to Support Teen Well-Being

Based at Project Zero, the center will offer new evidence-backed resources to support teens in a technology-filled world
Teens with phones

Harvard Graduate School of Education today announces the launch of the Center for Digital Thriving, a new research and innovation center based at Project Zero. The Center’s work seeks to transform understandings of how young people — and everyone else — can thrive in a technology-filled world.

The Center was founded by Harvard Graduate School of Education researchers Carrie James, a sociologist, and Emily Weinstein, an educational psychologist, who have worked for more than a decade to explore the emerging digital landscape that young people are encountering today and to answer questions about what it’s like for teens to grow up with social media.

“We can’t get around the simple truth that technology profoundly shapes teens’ experiences growing up today,” says Weinstein, the executive director of the Center for Digital Thriving. “Technology is hugely consequential to students' lives, their learning, their relationships, and their development. It matters for their well-being and it matters for their sense of self.”

Weinstein and James explored these issues most recently in their 2022 book Behind Their Screens, which documents just how much adults had been missing in their understanding of how teens interact with the screens that surround them. “The dominant feature of our research has been slowing down and really listening to teens as they talk about growing up with today’s technologies,” says James. “Putting youth voices and stories at the center has been transformative. Our assumptions have been checked and challenged, left and right.”

Growing up with technology exacerbates many of the challenges that young people face, adding layers of complexity to how they manage their mental health, friendships, and civic lives, James and Weinstein have found. But technology also presents a range of benefits for adolescents, they say, including for supporting their identities and social connections. Despite established upsides and real risks, conversations about tech use often get narrowed toward a limited focus on restrictive measures like limiting screen time or deleting apps.

The Center for Digital Thriving aims to tell a more complete story of teen life in a hyperconnected world, acknowledging that technology is both helpful and harmful, connecting and dividing.

“Acknowledging the multifaceted nature of tech in the lives of teens must be the starting point if we want to build young people’s agency and actually help them navigate the advantages and drawbacks of living with tech,” says Weinstein.

Digital agency is at the heart of the Center’s goal, which is to empower young people and the caregivers and educators who surround them with an understanding that they can have meaningful choice, intentionality, and control over the way technology fits into their lives. The Center is developing research and evidence-based resources in partnership with youth, educators, psychologists, clinicians, and experts from diverse fields. A series of classroom lessons on digital well-being, co-created with Common Sense Education, a leader in offering free, research-backed, and award-winning resources for students, teachers, and school communities, launched this summer. The resources, including one on thinking traps, bring evidence-based insights from cognitive behavioral therapy to tech-relevant pain points for teens.

The Center’s resources are uniquely artful, says Beck Tench, senior researcher and designer at the Center for Digital Thriving. “When we design our resources, we draw on Project Zero's rich history of valuing the arts and listening deeply,” Tench explains. “We want to honor the time and effort our co-designers spent with us, and we want the broader community of people who will use them to feel that same sense of reverence. The design of our resources isn’t just aesthetic; it’s a message that says, 'You matter to us, and we've thought deeply about your experience.'”

With founding grants from the Susan Crown Exchange and Pivotal Ventures, the Center for Digital Thriving is boldly envisioning a world where young people thrive, however they choose for technology to fit into their lives.

“Our mission is to ‘prepare youth to thrive in a rapidly changing world,’” explains Kevin Connors of the Susan Crown Exchange. “Growing up in a 24/7 tech landscape is unique from past generations, so it’s imperative that we partner with young people to ask the right questions and co-design relevant solutions.”

“Young people today need better access to the resources that can help them navigate the ups and downs of adolescence in the digital age.” says Kelsey Noonanst, adolescent mental health strategy lead at Pivotal Ventures, a Melinda French Gates Company. “The Center for Digital Thriving is not only providing those resources but putting them where young people are, creating opportunities for all young people to thrive as technology continues to evolve.”

The Center for Digital Thriving’s launch coincides with an Askwith Education Forum featuring U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy. In conversation with Weinstein and a student researcher at the Center for Digital Thriving, Murthy will discuss his recent advisory on social media and how families and educators can help young people build and sustain digital well-being.

The Center will be creating and sharing additional resources over the coming months. And within the next year, it will develop and launch a fellows program that brings together researchers working toward similar aims. “Everyone has a part to play,” says Amber Kamilah, Ed.M.’14, who is overseeing communications and partnerships at the Center. “Digital thriving is ongoing, individual and collective work.”


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