“Growing up, I would translate for my limited-English speaking parents from Thailand, so in a way, I have always been a translator. Now, I want to translate youth’s needs into the public realm so that they are not forgotten.”
Linda Charmaraman grew up with parents who came to the U.S. with a dream of providing a good education for their children and a better life for their family. They left the comfort of familiar soil in Thailand for a life that was less than easy. Growing up in an underprivileged community in South Central Los Angeles, Linda did not think she had an opportunity to make a change. She eventually learned that she could use research to find loopholes in a change-resistant system. Linda uses data to influence policymakers and those who have the power to help youth that do not have a voice.
Finding Resilience among Youth through Social Media
While working toward her graduate degree at the University of California, Berkeley, Linda found her passion. She became interested in understanding how young people interact with and consume media, as well as how youth think the media portrays them. While looking at stories of youth in a particular case study, Linda realized that this was an overlooked and forgotten population.
“There is so much research and funding when it comes to children, but unfortunately not adolescents. Most researchers and funders think that with adolescents, it’s too late to intervene. But I am fascinated by this stage of life. There is so much room for risk and resilience.”
Through observing social media platforms, Linda discovered the influence that media had on youth’s resiliency and risk.
“The amount of virtual support from social media followers can help people who face isolation,” she explains. “It is amazing how, for example, LGBT young people are ‘out’ online, but not in person. I think social media brings amazing potential for increasing the mental well-being of people who are disenfranchised and don’t have an in-person support system.”
New Connections Brings Invaluable Resources
In 2013, Linda began presenting her work to New Connections scholars during the Annual Symposium. Over time, this unique community has continued to provide Linda with invaluable resources such as mock trials of her National Institutes of Health proposals, statistical coaching and webinars, methodological and policy workshops, women’s leadership training, publication workshops, and training on effective collaboration.
In 2015, Linda was asked by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to join a webinar panel on using technology to address health disparities. Linda presented on how to promote well-being through social media and internet technology to a national audience of more than 80 practitioners, health policymakers, and researchers.
“It was an honor to be on a panel with fellow New Connections scholars who had overlapping research interests with my own,” she recalls.
Mentorship Can Make All the Difference
Linda uses social media networks as an avenue to connect with young people who are disadvantaged, largely because she recognizes similarities with her own childhood.
“My high school had random drug searches, drive-by shootings, and there wasn’t enough money for textbooks in every class. My upbringing, however, has inspired me to help the next generation of disenfranchised youth access things that can help them improve their community in the future.”
Linda believes that it just takes one mentor or one opportunity to take a young person out of their everyday life and help them see the other side. For Linda, that person was Debra Joy Pérez, who helped found the New Connections program more than 10 years ago.
“I still remember the inspiring pep talk that Debra gave about how we should not take for granted our accomplishment as first-generation academics – she mentioned that having two parents who did not obtain a college degree gives you only a three percent chance that you will get your degree. I especially was grateful that she mentioned that Asian Americans are a diverse segment of the population, with some of the lowest socioeconomic status and social capital.”
Linda is passing along the gift of mentorship by engaging Wellesley College female undergraduate students in rigorous scientific inquiry — some of whom are first-generation budding academics. She is eager to help the next generation move toward healthier, happier, more successful lives.
Title: Research Scientist, Wellesley Centers for Women
New Connections Status: Junior Investigator
Grossman, J., Charmaraman, L., & Erkut, S. (2016). Do as I say, not as I did: How parents talk with teens about sex. Journal of Family Issues, 27(2), DOI: 10.1177/0192513X13511955
Charmaraman, L. (2016, November). Preventing vulnerable adolescent substance use and risky sexual behaviors through peer online engagement with a web-based intervention. Invited talk at Center for Quality of Care Research, Baystate Medical Center, Springfield, MA.
Charmaraman, L., Ramanudom, B., Chan, H. B., Richer, A., & Tracy, A. (2016, October). Asian American social media use: From cyber dependence to cyber harassment. Poster presented at the Society for Research on Child Development Special Topic Meeting: Technology and media in children’s development. Irvine, CA.
Charmaraman, L. (2016, October). Biracial girls, identity, and media representation. Panel discussion at book reading event: An intimate look at race: Growing up biracial in a racially-torn world. Wellesley College, Wellesley, MA.
Price, T., & Charmaraman, L. (2016, August). Social media: a potential tool for Black women’s mental health. Paper presented at the annual convention of the Association of Black Psychologists, Arlington, VA.