Any parent paying attention has clearly seen how influential technology and social media are to the lives of our children. And many realize this influence has too often been negative, even more expansively corrosive than any of us ever imagined.
How do we protect our children from the harmful effects of technology as we teach them to live their lives and discern the good and bad of current culture?
Well, the good folks at the Institute for Family Studies (IFS), an academic think-tank focusing on research to help strengthen family values and parental authority, and DC-based Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC) have just released a very important new report – a legislative brief – offering five intelligent policy ideas (and a bonus idea!) that states can enact to help parents protect their children from harmful online influences.
These recommendations are:
- Establish age-verification laws for social media and other platforms.
Under current U.S. law, requiring age verification for minors visiting pornographic sites are unconstitutional. This must change and this report calls for that. These authors hold the same should be done for all social media platforms. Demand social media platforms to require all users to prove their age to gain access to their services and content.
- Require parental consent for contractual offerings over the Internet for minors under the age of 18.
States should prohibit a social media company or website from offering any account, subscription service, or contractual agreement to a minor under 18 years old in their state, absent parental consent. These authors explain, “This law would be quite controversial, but it stands on firm First Amendment grounds.”
This report expounds on this,
The effect of such a law could be significant. When individuals join social media websites or use most commercial websites, they agree to terms-of-service, which are binding contracts. Depending on the sanction for forming such a contract without parental consent, these laws could change the way web-sites function. If the sanction is severe enough, it could also effectively force web sites to verify users’ age, to ensure that parental consent is being given for any account formed by an individual under age 18.
This would give parents greater control over their children’s actions, as would the next proposal.
- Mandate Full Parental Access to Minors’ Social Media Accounts
States could also pass laws requiring social media platforms to give parents or guardians full access and control of all social media accounts created by minors between the ages of 13 and 17. While a state may not want to take on the challenge of enacting a complete ban on social media use for minors (see bonus option below), states could at least mandate that social media companies give parents full access to minors’ accounts so parents are able to see all that their children are doing online.
- Mandate a complete shutdown of social media platforms at night for minors
This would mean requiring social media companies to completely shut down access to their platforms for all users aged 13-to 17-years old from 10:30PM to 6:30AM. This would ensure young people cannot be distracted from their sleep, nor find reason to obsess about other’s behavior or postings during that time.
- Create Causes of Action for Parents to Seek Legal Remedies with Presumed Damages
Essentially, this would allow parents to sue social media platforms for damages to their children due to their exposure to dangerous material featured on their sites. The report states,
For example, when considering the four laws above, a parent could be empowered to sue respectively: (1) a website or platform for distributing material harmful to minors without having an age-verification system in place, or that is found to be guilty of allowing minors under the age of 13 on their platform; (2) a platform for creating an account for a minor without parental consent; (3) a platform that does not allow full parental access; (4) or a platform that allows minors on the platform during night hours. Along with the private cause of action, a law could also include the possibility for class actions.
The report even presents a provocative, but wholly serious, “bonus proposal.”
Bonus: Enact a complete Band on Social Media for All Under Age 18.
The authors explain, “This would be the boldest approach a state could take on protecting children from social media. But it is not unprecedented.”
They add, “Some states already place age restrictions on numerous behaviors known to be dangerous or inappropriate for children, such as driving, smoking, drinking, getting a tattoo, and enlisting in the military, among other things. Similarly, a state could recognize social media as a prohibited activity for minors.”
Many parents would find this bonus proposal a much welcome solution to the many unhealthy distractions young people are tempted with today.
“Even in the face of mounting evidence that Big Tech is exacting an unacceptable toll on our teens, neither Congress nor the Courts have taken adequate steps to protect children from platforms that promote anxiety, envy, pornography, loneliness, sleeplessness, and suicide,” these authors explain. “Thus, it falls to the states to step into the breach and act now to better empower parents and protect children online.”
These very sober and wise proposals should enjoy serious consideration by states, as our individual states serve as laboratories of democracy, each trying various version of these very needed ideas, improving upon weaknesses and emphasizing strengths.
Social media has become an evident social and psychological environmental toxin of various strengths and dangers to all age groups. Its impact is most dramatic upon our young people. IFS and EPPC are to be congratulated for their bold ambition in making such proposals. It is not time for state legislators and citizens to take up the challenge to enact wise, protective measures for the well-being of our children.
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