Brendesha Tynes

Nobel Conference 58

Brendesha Tynes

Brendesha Tynes

 Dean’s Professor of Educational Equity and Professor of Education and Psychology, USC

A Day in the Online Lives of Black Adolescents and What It Tells Us About Mental Health Equity

Access to digital media permeates our society, perhaps particularly among young people. In one recent survey of middle and high schoolers, 95% acknowledge owning a smartphone, and being on that device much of the time. While digital media present tremendous educational and social benefits, they also bring risks and challenges, particularly for young people of color, who experience cyberbullying and other forms of victimization. 

In a longitudinal study of more than 1,000 young people in grades 6-12, educational psychologist Brendesha Tynes found that 559 were cyberbullied or harassed online.Tynes’s study identified a reciprocal relationship between depressive factors and cyber victimization–that is, between being victimized and experiencing symptoms of depression. 

A former history and global studies teacher, Brendesha Tynes began her research career seeking to understand the racial dynamics in unmonitored chat rooms. She has spent the intervening 20 years studying the racial landscape adolescents navigate. That experience motivated her to explore issues related to digital access and the mental health effects of racially-driven digital experiences, including viral videos depicting discrimination or brutality against people of color. Tynes is recognized as one of the first to confirm that students of color are more likely to suffer online victimization that negatively impacts academic and mental health outcomes. These negative outcomes are magnified by the adolescents’ attachment to their phones, as their constant access allows them to review videos and messages that result in further damage. To mitigate these negative impacts, Tynes recommends strengthening communication between young people and caring adults, promoting empathy, identifying the adolescents’ strengths, and strategizing ways to respond to these types of encounters. She is developing a theory of Black thriving that draws on Afrofuturism and developmental science to explain how to create environments for optimal learning and development.

Tynes serves as the Dean’s Professor of Educational Equity and professor of education and psychology at the University of Southern California–Rossier School of Education. She holds a PhD in educational psychology from UCLA. She is currently working on a digital app to empower people of all ages to question and combat racially insensitive messages online. Called CRITmetic, the app equips users with critical race digital literacy skills.

Tynes's talk: Despite early scholarship suggesting the internet could erase race and corresponding social ills, two decades of research show online race-related experiences have increased in importance. Several studies have documented how young people express their racial identities, maintain friendships, find romantic partners, support and advocate for ingroup members, and learn about outgroup members’ cultures in online spaces. Research has also shown that young people have frequent experiences with online racial discrimination and traumatic events online-including images or videos of racial terror in the form of police racial violence. These experiences are associated with depressive and PTSD symptoms, trauma symptoms of discrimination, anxiety, and suicide ideation. Given adolescents’ “almost constant” use of the internet and a rise in exposure to racist material online, the USC Center for Empowered Learning and Development with Technology conducted the first nationally representative daily diary study of adolescents’ race-related online experiences. The study assessed whether algorithmic and filter bias, online racial discrimination, traumatic events online and positive racial socialization messages are associated with next day anxiety and depressive symptoms. This presentation will outline the study’s findings, focusing specifically on Black participants ages 11-19. Tynes will also discuss the design of digital tools that can be used to enhance adolescents’ racial coping skills in the face of demeaning messages about one’s racial-ethnic group.