Parents Taking Action: How You Can Make Social Media Safer for Kids and Teens

Kids Social Media Digital Safety
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Parents Taking Action: How You Can Make Social Media Safer for Kids and Teens

We are in a whole new pandemic, the digital kind, and its victims are the most vulnerable of all: children. 

How many times have you said: “Thank goodness these phones weren’t around when we were younger”? Mostly we just didn’t want to be filmed doing regrettable things young people do. But there are a host of other reasons to be thankful for our early lack of technology. 

Psst… Check out Social Media and Kids Safety: An App-By-App Breakdown of Safety Measures

I often refer to Gen Z as the guinea pig generation for technology. It’s the wild west out there: kids are always just a few clicks away from seeing anything they want. ANYTHING. Violence, gore, pornography, and who even knows what else. Even the most innocent child can accidentally stumble upon something highly disturbing on the internet. It’s a cesspool of unregulated activity, and it’s having widespread negative effects on young people everywhere.  

While phones can be an extremely helpful tool for parents – I track my kids’ locations at all times, and when they need me (or I need them) we are always just a text away – we know as parents that offering internet access to impressionable children can be detrimental.

They have a wealth of knowledge at their fingertips unlike older generations could fathom having at that age; unfortunately they also have a wealth of misinformation, bullies and predators too. And those predators might not be the kind you think.

Many would argue that social media companies and tech giants have been preying on kids for over a decade, using complex algorithms to keep users on their apps for hours at a time – essentially helping kids form an addiction to the content on their targeted feeds for their own financial gain.   

And since it’s nearly impossible to monitor everything kids see online, many parents are left frustrated and very concerned over their children’s well-being on the world wide web. 

That could soon change, however, if two bills currently awaiting Senate approval are passed. If passed, the bills would add a sizable layer of digital protection for kids by limiting data collection in young users and reducing exposure to addictive social media feeds.   

And you – yes, YOU – can help push them forward, getting us closer to a world where our children can net-surf safely.

Enter Common Sense Media, a leading nonprofit providing parents, educators, health organizations, and policymakers in the United States with reliable, independent data on children’s use of media and technology and the impact it has on their development. 

The organization is calling on New York parents to put their children’s safety first by contacting local lawmakers ASAP in support of the bills, which you can read about below. You can do so here, or read on and link to the form at the end of this article.

Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA)

KOSA requires companies to design their platforms to prioritize children and teens’ health and well-being over engagement and profits. Covered platforms would have a ‘duty of care’ to prevent or mitigate harms posed by the platform and offer parents and minors safeguards and tools, like strong default privacy settings. KOSA requires greater transparency about how online platforms operate. The Senate Commerce Committee unanimously approved the bill last July, and changes to the bill were announced in February. More than 60 senators support the bill. 

>>> See Common Sense Media’s fact sheet on KOSA to learn more about this bill. 

Stop Addictive Feeds Exploitation (SAFE) for Kids Act

This bill protects kids online by limiting social media companies’ ability to use addictive feeds that keep kids glued to their devices, and it prevents companies from waking kids at all hours of the night with notifications and pings, unless parents consent.

>>> See Common Sense Media’s fact sheet on the SAFE for Kids Act to learn more about this bill.

New York Governor Kathy Hochul announced her support of the bills back in October. “Our kids are in crisis, and the adults in the room need to step up,” she said. “The statistics are extraordinarily disturbing: teen suicide rates are spiking, and diagnoses of anxiety and depression are surging. It’s critical we all stand together to address the youth mental health crisis.” 

The bills have been met with bipartisan support (always a good sign when the parents are getting along). While legislation to increase our children’s digital safety should be a no-brainer, opposition comes from free speech groups and, you guessed it, the tech industry. 

While social media companies implement safety measures for young users, they’re merely slapping a band-aid on a gaping wound. And although there are steps you can take to ensure your own child’s internet safety, many Americans are now calling on the government to finally take action – after decades of no significant internet legislation at all. 

In a poll conducted by Common Sense Media of U.S. adult voters and kids and teens 12–17, 78% of voters and 60% of teens think that politicians and elected officials are not doing well reflecting the needs, desires, and experiences of younger people in this country. 67% of voters say the federal government spends too little on investments that benefit children and youth.

“Even though the American people are more divided than ever, most can agree that our elected officials are completely failing young people. This poll suggests that everyone in this country—Democrat and Republican, parent and nonparent—has concerns for the future of America’s children,” said James P. Steyer, founder and CEO of Common Sense Media. “It’s time for our leaders to put kids first and build policies that leverage the power of the federal government to support families everywhere.”

The U.S. Surgeon General deemed the digital epidemic an urgent health crisis, reporting that nearly two thirds of teenagers use social media every day and one third use it “almost constantly.” They have issued an Advisory on Social Media and Youth Mental Health, citing that it “explores and describes the current evidence on the positive and negative impacts of social media on children and adolescents, some of the primary areas for mental health and well-being concerns, and opportunities for additional research to help understand the full scope and scale of social media’s impact.”

Frankly, as the parent of a teen and a tween, I’m fed up with trying to monitor the content they consume. No parent can be 100 percent sure their kids are being safe online. 

If you agree (why any parent wouldn’t is beyond me), email your State Senator and Assemblymember TODAY before lawmakers vote on issues to be included in the state budget. 

The helpful folks at Common Sense Media created an easy online form for New Yorkers to fill out (it takes literally seconds) in order to have their voices heard on the important issue of our kids’ digital safety.

Click here to do your part today in guaranteeing a safer digital future for our kids!


Psst… Read our Guide to Staying Safe Online For Parents and Families