Childhood addiction is on the rise. The substances they’re addicted to are TikTok, YouTube, and Instagram. It’s not hard to see the addictive nature of social media these days – for adults and children alike. The problem is especially concerning for children, and U.S. federal and state governments are making efforts to regulate it.
The growth of childhood social media use
Since the start of the covid-19 pandemic, social media use has skyrocketed. A study by Common Sense Media reports that the total daily entertainment screen time increased 17% from 2019 to 2021. Whereas this metric saw only a 3% increase from 2015 to 2019. This means that social media entertainment saw 6 times the growth in the last two years that it saw in the previous four. That’s hundreds of thousands more kids getting addicted to social media, taking away from their childhood year by year.
Social media concerns with children
Experts in child psychology have weighed in. Most see social media as detrimental to children and teens. An estimated 95% of adolescents have access to a smartphone. Some of the most prevalent concerns that experts have regarding the effects of social media on children are privacy, mental health, cyberbullying, sleep disturbances, comparison, and body image.
One of the main concerns for parents and the government is privacy for children on social media. Sharing images of children online, whether by parents or the children themselves, has both short-term and long-term impacts.
The most crucial impact is on a child’s safety. Unfortunately, the internet is full of creeps and criminals, many of whom prey on innocent children. When a parent or child exposes personal and location-based information, this opens them up to the predatory dark side of the internet.
Digital identity is a term that didn’t exist a decade or two ago. Now, it’s a major part of society. With access to social media, children are bound to make mistakes and share things they will regret later, even if just for the sake of embarrassment. Ultimately, it’s the parents’ job to protect their children’s digital privacy and identity by watching what they post and what their children post.
Also Read: Instagram Implements a New Parental Control
Mental health tolls
Experts can see the toll that social media is taking on the mental health of children. Social media may pose a very real danger to the lives of children. Suicide is the leading cause of death in children. Research shows that social media is a major risk factor for self-harm and suicide. When vulnerable adolescents are exposed to explicit depictions and discussions of self-harm, their likelihood to participate increases. Social media may seem harmless, but there are serious implications that parents need to be aware of.
Active outdoor play is so important for youth. When children are on their phones scrolling on social media, they aren’t getting this crucial developmental experience. Furthermore, the lack of outdoor time and playtime coupled with blue light exposure may lead to sleep disturbances. Sleep is so important for the development and well-being of children. Protecting children’s playtime and sleep is protecting their wellness.
Cyberbullying has been an issue since the inception of social media. It can happen between friends and strangers. No matter the source, cyberbullying can leave immediate and lasting negative effects on children. Being a victim of cyberbullying can lead to depression and social disengagement. Parents can help monitor and protect their children by keeping track of their online activity and encouraging kindness. The U.S. government is taking steps to help parents manage this new epidemic of social media addiction in children.
What lawmakers are doing to fix the problem
U.S. lawmakers have seen these issues arise, and they are taking steps to mediate the situation. Both state governments and the federal government are putting legislation that will protect children from the addictive algorithms of today’s social media platforms.
Fighting for transparency
Transparency means giving the public access to public information. Many argue it’s a first amendment right for citizens to have transparency from social media companies. Defining the boundaries and requirements for this transparency is where it gets tricky.
So far, the social media industry has been much like the wild west. Companies have risen and grown so quickly that the government hasn’t fully caught up. This has given platforms somewhat free reign to be their own government. The result has been shady operations that value profit over people. There has been a lack of transparency, and one can argue this is one of the contributing factors to childhood social media addiction.
To combat this and bring more information to light about how these companies operate, the U.S. is looking to the E.U. The European Union’s recent Digital Services Act is a legal model for new laws in the U.S. The senate recently drafted two bills to increase digital corporate transparency. The Platform Accountability and Transparency Act and the Digital Services Oversight and Safety Act will impose multiple transparency requirements. Platforms will be required to disclose data to lawmakers and users. One of the main purposes of this requirement is so that the public and government can be aware of abusive online activity and how platforms respond to it.
While there is still progress to be made in the execution of transparency laws, it is a priority for congress. Collecting and analyzing data from these platforms can help adjust the nature of social media for the better. The result is a better environment for children.
Stopping the algorithm
Algorithms are social media platforms’ greatest tool in getting users addicted. They suggest content that will keep consumers scrolling for hours. This is a big problem when it comes to the vulnerable and impressionable minds of children. Some states are taking action to stop these predatory algorithms.
In Minnesota, lawmakers have proposed a bill that would prohibit platforms from using recommendation algorithms for child users. In California, the proposed Media Platform Duty to Children Act would first obligate social media companies to avoid addicting child users to their platforms. If any child is injured by way of a platform not complying, the parents may file a lawsuit against the platform.
Kids Online Safety Act of 2022
Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) have proposed the Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA) to stop social media addiction and improve mental health in children. They want to partner with parents to make social media a safer place for children.
The bill aims to accomplish three main objectives:
- Provide parents and kids safeguards and tools to protect kids’ experiences online
- Create accountability for social media’s harm to kids
- Open up black box algorithms
There is some opposition to this bill. Some argue that it takes privacy away from children and encroaches on their rights. Opponents contend that the bill encourages surveillance and censorship of those 16 and under which abuses the safety and liberties of American children.
The bottom line
Many have likened the social media industry to the cigarette industry. Companies market their products to the public while not being straightforward with their intentions and the effects of the products. Habit-forming algorithms have taken over the minds of many children, and the U.S government is fighting to mitigate these negative effects.
California Assemblymember Jordan Cunningham put it well in a recent interview. “Some of these companies do indeed intentionally design features in their apps — that they know children are using — that cause the children to use it more and more and more, [and] exhibit signs of addiction,” he said. “So the question to me becomes … who should pay the social cost of this? Should it be borne by the schools and the parents and the kids, or should it be borne in part by the companies that profited from creating these products?”
Finally, the social media companies profiting from the addiction of children will be forced to take responsibility for their actions. Remember, parents are the first line of defense for children on social media. Together, we can make a safer digital environment for children.