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TFL prioritizes empowering parents, protecting kids online

The FAMiLY Leader is working on a new priority in 2024 — protecting kids online.


The internet is everywhere in modern life. It’s an incredible tool and a blessing in many ways. But sadly, the internet is often used for evil. It can ensnare children and hurt families. That’s why, going forward, TFL will make this issue a legislative priority.


Social media harms kids


One major category of online activity that is harmful to kids is social media. Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, X, TikTok, and other social media platforms might seem harmless, but there is more danger than most people realize.  


A young girl in Connecticut, Selena Rodriguez,[i] suffered from a severe addiction to Instagram and Snapchat. Even after her parents took her electronic devices, she would run away and find ways to get online. Selena’s social media use made her depressed and sleep deprived. She developed an eating disorder. People online asked her for sexually explicit photos, and she eventually gave in to the pressure. The pictures she sent were shared with kids at her school. Ultimately, Selena took her own life at only 11 years old.


Selena’s story is far too common. Millions of children in the U.S. have developed various degrees of social-media-related mental health struggles. Forty-six percent of teens report being online “constantly.”[ii] And a recent study showed that young teens who spent more than three hours per day on social media faced double the risk of depression and anxiety.[iii]


Addiction and mental health problems aren’t the only dangers on social media. In the year 2022, law enforcement received over 7,000 reports related to minors being coerced into sending explicit images online and then extorted for money, resulting in more than a dozen suicides.[iv] An article in the Wall Street Journal detailed a vast pedophile network that is active on Instagram.[v] And children have died from participating in various social media challenges that have gone viral.[vi] 


The addictive and harmful nature of social media is well documented and isn’t a partisan issue. The current U.S. Surgeon General recently issued a report that urges lawmakers to take action on this issue.[vii]


He explained:


[T]here is growing evidence that social media use is associated with harm to young people’s mental health. … Children are exposed to harmful content on social media, ranging from violent and sexual content, to bullying and harassment. And for too many children, social media use is compromising their sleep and valuable in-person time with family and friends. We are in the middle of a national youth mental health crisis, and I am concerned that social media is an important driver of that crisis – one that we must urgently address.[viii]


Social media companies will not fix the problem


Social media companies make a fortune on kids using their websites and, thus, are unmotivated to fix the problem. A recent Harvard study found that social media companies made over $11 billion advertising to minors in the U.S. last year.[ix] They aren’t likely to voluntarily give that up, especially when you consider an addicted teen will almost certainly continue to heavily use social media into adulthood.


Arturo Bejar, who formerly worked as a senior staffer at Meta on their “Protect and Care” team, recently came forth as a whistleblower and gave his testimony[x] before Congress. He testified that many of the safety measures that he and his team worked on and implemented were often “shut down or changed completely.”


“Meanwhile,” Bejar continued, “the range of unwanted content that people receive has increased in scope, reach, and intensity.”


Bejar’s testimony explains a lot. If these companies aren’t going to make their product safe, we believe that government should take action to protect kids from harm.


Solution: Empower parents to protect kids


The solution to the social media problem lies in the hands of parents. Mom and Dad have inherent authority to determine whether their child should have a social media account. Parents also have authority to monitor their child’s use of social media. But the way things are right now, monitoring a kid’s use of social media is extremely difficult. Unless a parent is extremely vigilant and somewhat tech savvy, kids can easily create and use social media accounts without parental awareness or supervision. We need to empower parents to monitor their children’s use of social media more effectively.


TFL proposes that Iowa join several other states in empowering parents to protect their kids online. This can be done by requiring social media companies to verify the age of account holders. A new law should also require any user under the age of 18 to get parental consent to have a social media account. If parental approval is granted, the social media company should provide the parent with administrative access to view and protect the child’s account as the parent sees fit. These simple changes would help parents protect their children from the dangers lurking on social media.




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