Trib Live: Opinion: Angela Liddle: Protecting kids on social media requires all of us to be digitally diligent
Policymakers across the country this year have been laser-focused on reining in social media companies, especially as it relates to their impact on children. U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy told CNN that he believes 13 is “too early” for kids to join social media websites and apps, and U.S. House Republicans are pushing to ban kids 16 and under from using social media.
In Pennsylvania, there’s a bipartisan effort to protect kids and teens on social media, with Sens. Kristin Phillips-Hill, R-York, and Vincent Hughes, D-Philadelphia, introducing legislation to give parents more control over their kids’ access to their platforms. The senators said the protections are necessary in order to address the mental health crisis among young people.
It makes sense that lawmakers are pushing for reforms. A March 2022 survey from Common Sense Media found that children spend more time on digital devices than ever before, with children ages 8 to 12 spending an average of five-plus hours on screens per day, and teens 13 to 18 spending nearly nine hours per day on their devices. The American Psychological Association recently released a health advisory for kids and teens on social media that outlined 10 recommendations, including requiring young people to be trained on how to use social media.
We are immersed in a digital world that can have critical physical impacts. My organization, PA Family Support Alliance (PFSA), recognized the impact that social media can have on children. To that end, we launched our Family Digital Wellness hub last year, to give parents, caregivers and communities the tools and resources they need to keep Pennsylvania’s children safe.
It’s no longer enough to just limit screen time or take away devices: the nature of these platforms, how adept child predators are and the rapid change in technologies require us to prioritize their digital wellness to help children foster a safe, healthy relationship with digital technologies.
To protect our children, we must be digitally diligent and adhere to the five P’s:
- Pause to become aware of the current digital dangers that threaten children and families
- Prioritize your family’s most urgent needs related to digital threats and safety
- Protect against current digital threats to your family by implementing a family digital safety plan
- Prevent the risk and harm of future digital threats to your family by practicing digital safety routinely
- Practice healthy interactions with digital technologies through transparent behavior and role modeling
Legislation is critical to protecting our children, but it won’t provide a comprehensive solution. Kids and teens have for ages been able to circumvent parental controls to access technologies and content deemed “taboo” by adults and governments. Training and diligence will be crucial to ensure children and teens use digital technologies in safe, healthy, and constructive ways.
Family digital wellness is about strengthening families to raise healthy children in a digital era. If you’re interested in getting resources and tools to protect your children while they’re on their phones, gaming devices, or tablets, please check out our Digital Wellness hub at pafsa.org/family-digital-wellness.
From Trib Live, May 25, 2023
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