Bipartisan Bill to Protect Children from Social Media Is Back

Published May 2, 2024

In what has become an exceedingly rare scenario in the nation’s capital these days, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have introduced a bill that would shield young Americans from the dangers of social media.

The bill, known as The Keep Kids Off Social Media Act, “would set a minimum age of 13 to use social media platforms and prevent social media companies from feeding algorithmically-boosted content to users under the age of 17.”

According to Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI), “There is no good reason for a nine-year-old to be on Instagram or TikTok. There just isn’t. The growing evidence is clear: social media is making kids more depressed, more anxious, and more suicidal. This is an urgent health crisis, and Congress must act.”

The bill’s co-sponsor, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) added, “Every parent with a young child or a teenager either worries about, or knows first-hand, the real harms and dangers of addictive and anxiety-inducing social media. Parents know there’s no good reason for a child to be doom-scrolling or binge-watching reels that glorify unhealthy lifestyles.”

Schatz, a progressive Democrat, and Cruz, a conservative Republican, rarely agree on policy matters, which is partly why this particular bill caught my attention. However, that is not the only reason this bill should be taken seriously.

Since social media debuted in the United States more than a decade ago, we have ample data that show it is having a profoundly negative effect on young Americans.

First, social media is having a detrimental effect on children’s mental health. As a recent Yale Medicine study found, “Over the last decade, increasing evidence has identified the potential negative impact of social media on adolescents. According to a research study of American teens ages 12-15, those who used social media over three hours each day faced twice the risk of having negative mental health outcomes, including depression and anxiety symptoms.”

Even worse, there is now a concrete link between teenager social media use and suicide. Per the National Institutes of Health, “Social media use by minors has significantly increased and has been linked to depression and suicidality. Simultaneously, age-adjusted suicide rates have steadily increased over the past decade in the United States with suicide being the second most common cause of death in youth. Hence, the increase in suicide rate parallels the simultaneous increase in social media use.”

Second, social media enables cyberbullying. Before social media became ubiquitous, bullying was already a major problem for American students. Unfortunately, social media has made bullying both easier and more widespread. It is much easier to bully over social media, hiding behind a screen, than it is to do so face to face. Likewise, the mere constant presence of social media in the lives of young Americans makes it so that there is no way to avoid or evade bullying. Unlike the old days, where bullying took place on the playground or in the hallways, cyberbullying via social media is ever-present. There is literally no escaping it.

Third, social media emboldens online predators, who prey upon kids in cyberspace. According to a recent study, more than six in 10 teenage girls say they’ve been contacted through social media by strangers in a way that made them feel uncomfortable.

Fourth, and perhaps most importantly, social media is fundamentally changing how kids’ brains develop and function, and not for the better. As a recent JAMA study found, “habitual checking of social media in early adolescence may be longitudinally associated with changes in neural sensitivity to anticipation of social rewards and punishments, which could have implications for psychological adjustment.”

To be clear, this is far from an exhaustive list of all of the hazards posed by social media for kids. Moreover, because the advent of social media and its use by children is still a rather new phenomenon, it will take years, if not decades, to realize the full impact of social media use on children.

With that being said, and with the evidence already at hand, it seems more than prudent to take measures to limit, if not outright ban, children from accessing social media. As someone who grew up well before social media came into being, I am incredibly grateful that I had a “normal” childhood in which I played outside with friends and interacted with acquaintances in person rather than in cyberspace.

I simply hope that future generations have the same opportunity to enjoy the innocence of childhood that I did, without the toxicity of social media infiltrating their development. The Keep Kids Off Social Media Act is not a panacea, but it surely is a step in the right direction.

Photo by Nordskov Media. CC0 1.0 Universal.