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Meet Our Head of Research, Amanda Lenhart

Amanda shares what's at the top of her research agenda, how Common Sense research is different, and why she's excited about young adult and middle grade books.

Amanda's headshot with the title of the Meet the Experts series.

Our "Meet the Subject Matter Expert" series uncovers our team's superpowers and showcases the unique human talent behind our mission to improve the media landscape for kids and families. Read our previous articles on Girard Kelly, Kelly Mendoza Ph.D, and Betsy Bozdech.

Tell us a little about the experience you bring to your work at Common Sense.

Throughout my career I've been researching kids, adolescents, families, and technology. I've studied technological advancements and their impacts on families, and I've examined a range of issues including parental challenges and work-life balance.

Most recently, as program director for health and data at Data & Society Research Institute, I investigated how social media platforms can be designed for the digital well-being of youth. Earlier in my career, I led Pew Research Center's work studying how teens and families use social and mobile technologies.

Today, along with my work at Common Sense, I contribute my time as a technical expert for the American Academy of Pediatrics' National Center of Excellence: Creating a Healthy Digital Ecosystem for Children and Youth. I've also been a long-time adviser to the Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History on their newly opened exhibit on cellphones.

How does Common Sense research help families and educators?

We're in an exceptional time. Parents, caregivers, and educators are faced with so much information and many different opinions on how to best support kids' digital experiences. There is considerable research being done that could help, but it often stays in academic circles and doesn't reach the people closest to kids.

One of the most important things we do at Common Sense is to offer practical support for parents and caregivers navigating the digital landscape with their families. At Common Sense, we take a pragmatic and nonjudgmental approach. We recognize that parents need support and guidance for a wide range of approaches to digital parenting. Common Sense is committed to making it easier for families to access information that can help. We also work to help policymakers better understand the technology issues that families face.

How does Common Sense set its research agenda?

We plan our research based on the trends we see and the concerns we hear from kids, parents and caregivers, and educators. We aim to deliver research that informs education programs and product development, along with directly helping families. Common Sense Media research is infused in everything our organization tackles, from building better interfaces to navigating privacy challenges.

I see one of our strengths as the ability to translate complex research into easily consumable formats. We have a commitment to make research accessible to everyone, so we are intentional with the language we use and how we share research with different audiences. We work to make research straightforward to act on—from quick tips for parents to easy-to-understand infographics that educators can drop into a curriculum.

What do you think is the most inspiring or exciting work your team is doing this year?

One area of focus is collaborating with organizations focused on youth mental health. There is a need for more study of the impact of social media on young people's stressors.

We are also examining generative AI, a hot topic that's causing a lot of excitement and concern. Where we can help is providing actual data on generative AI tools and how kids and teens are using them. Our AI initiative includes reviews of popular AI products and a process for evaluating them based on families' needs.

What other areas do you think need more research?

One area I see as critical to examine is the impact of social media on boys' mental health. Our research so far shows that there are significant differences in the experiences and concerns that boys have with social media compared to the experiences of girls. As an industry, we have not given this enough attention, and we plan to focus upcoming research in this area.

We will also look deeper into the nuances of the relationship between social media use and mental well-being overall. It's hard to untangle the complex set of factors that contribute to social media's impact, including how the user feels before using the platform, the context of the platform, the various features being used, and who is in an individual's network and connections. So we will look at some of these factors in greater depth. We also plan to continue looking closely at kids 8 and under, as exposure to online media is moving younger and younger.

What was your favorite book when you were a kid, and why?

It is hard for me to pick just one! I loved reading as a kid and still enjoy titles for children and young adults today. Thinking back, I would call out The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley, a fantasy novel that centers on an awkward young woman who discovers she has magical powers. It really transported me, and I read it again and again.

Looking at today's authors, I enjoy Tamora Pierce's writing for teens. Her award-winning fantasy stories, such as the Beka Cooper series, center on strong female heroes and are extremely popular. The English teacher at my youngest child's middle school has been incorporating a diverse mix of newer books into their curriculum. The growing number of titles with diversity in both characters and storylines is a wonderful trend in books for kids and teens.

See the latest reports from the Common Sense Research Program.

Marisa Naughton

Marisa Naughton is senior director of marketing and communications at Common Sense. She leads communications and thought leadership, as well as marketing for our advocacy and research efforts.