By Senator Lena C. Taylor
In an increasingly digital world, social media has become an integral part of our lives, even for the youngest members of society. While these platforms offer various benefits, such as fostering connections and enhancing creativity, they also bring concerns about child safety. As parents, guardians, and concerned stakeholders, it’s crucial to implement effective strategies to ensure that kids can navigate the digital landscape safely.
Positive attributes acknowledged, there is a downside that is gaining more critique. Whether emotional intelligence, social awareness, or self-image, we now understand the tightrope that we walk to protect the mental and overall health of our children. From “influencers” to “selfies,” far too often youth are exposed to unrealistic standards of beauty, lifestyles, and expectations. The desire to achieve these ideals have left too many youth disillusioned, dissatisfied, and deeply harmed.
A number of studies have drawn a direct link between mood disorders and social media use, with just three to four hours a day. Several studies have found that increased social media use is associated with anxiety, depression and obesity in children, particularly girls. Disturbingly, a federal study of 17,000 kids found that 57% of girls were persistently sad, and one-third had contemplated suicide. You understand where I’m going with this?
Several states have created and implemented new social media laws hoping to curve some of the negative effects. California created an “Age Appropriate Design Code” Act, which seeks to help protect children’s data online. Utah passed a Social Media Regulation Act, which prevents social media companies from collecting and selling children’s data, sets up strict age verification requirements, allows parents and legal guardians to have full access to their child’s social media accounts, sets time restrictions and blocks direct messaging to minors by non-friends.
In Wisconsin, we’re working on it. SB 385 is actively in motion to help lay some structure and prevent some danger to youth using different platforms. This bill creates requirements related to social media companies’ and social media platforms’ treatment of account holders on the basis of age. Under the bill, social media companies must ensure that all accounts created on or after January 1, 2019, are designated as a youth accounts that comply with the youth account requirements of the bill. Similar to Utah, this bill will restrict direct messaging, refrain from showing account information, prevent advertising, refrain from collecting or using personal information, refrain from the use of targeted or suggested groups or content, and ensure that the youth account cannot be used between the hours of 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.
It’s a start, but we need all hands on deck. Tech companies must assume more responsibility for their products. Parents need to strike a balance between responsible use and excessive engagement. Legislation must keep up with technology and include enforcement mechanisms to protect our youth. When we do this we equip them to make better choices and positively participate in the digital age.