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Empowering Youth to Define Youth Wellbeing

April 4, 2023  • Juan D. Martinez

Something is missing from the conversation surrounding youth and young adult wellbeing. Amid all the quantitative data measuring outcome, the voices of those most impacted are being lost.

But what if we could support a community of youth and young adult leaders in a research project to define their own wellbeing and create better ways to measure it? This question gave birth to the research presented in the Youth and Young Adult Wellbeing report, a project to empower youth and young adults in defining, collecting, and analyzing data on their wellbeing as a basis for advocacy and developing policies and practices that help them thrive. 

In 2019, a group of youth and young adult peers came together to kick off this collaborative project, organized by Fresh Tracks at Forum for Community Solutions and including adult allies from organizations across the United States and Canada. Of course, they soon found themselves in a global pandemic. Covid shifted priorities, introducing challenges like those highlighted in a 2021 advisory from US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, who warned of a nationwide youth mental health crisis caused in part by the unprecedented challenges of isolation and illness. 

In the early months of the pandemic, this community became a place to explore the questions surrounding wellbeing within that unique context. What the group found was that meaningful connections with each other, even virtual ones, offer spaces to find healing—and strength to carry on with the project. They arrived at the following working theory aimed at defining the term “wellbeing”: 

Wellbeing is the journey to achieve balance in everyday life—juggling school and work, family and friends, and wants and needs amongst financial constraints. Wellbeing is the state of having found peace with multiple pressures. Wellbeing is also impacted by the presence of intergenerational and individual trauma from racism—and we must acknowledge these factors as root causes when addressing lack of wellbeing.

Much has been said about generational trauma and how it can inform solutions to widespread challenges, including both the impacts of the pandemic and mental health challenges that existed long before it. The members of the Youth and Young Adult Wellbeing Project believe that resilience is found in the same vein as trauma, and within it, generational joy. Embracing the role that culture plays in that equation is one way to address this pressing crisis, and generational joy should be held as a part of the solution. 

Similarly, one of the core themes of this project is the power of diversity, which influences how wellbeing is defined and nurtured; wellbeing is as dynamic, diverse, and alive as every single member of this project. 

This report shares the findings of The Youth and Young Adult Wellbeing Project to date. More importantly, it encourages us as a community to view young leaders as the experts they are. While adult allies may want to drive solutions and ideas forward themselves, it is always best to support those closest to the challenges being addressed. They are the people who will be closest to the solution, and so should be closest to power. It is time to rethink the world of research surrounding this topic and to advocate for youth and young adult leaders to be drivers of the solutions to help a generation thrive.