Alexis Tapia opens TikTok every morning when she wakes up, and every night before she goes to bed. The 16-year-old from Tucson, Arizona, says she has a complicated relationship with the social media app. Most of what flashes across her screen makes her smile, like funny videos that make fun of the weirdness of puberty. She really enjoys the app – until she has trouble putting it down. “There are millions of videos popping up,” she says, describing the #ForYou page, the endless stream of content that acts as TikTok’s home screen. “It makes it really hard to get going. I say I quit, but I do not. ”
Examination of children, especially teenagers, and monitors has intensified in recent months. Last fall, former Facebook product manager who became a whistleblower, Frances Haugen, told a subcommittee in the U.S. Senate that the company’s own research showed that some teens reported. negative, addiction-like experiences on its photo sharing service, Instagram. The injury was most pronounced among teenage girls. “We have to protect the children,” Haugen said in his testimony.
Proposals to “protect children” have surfaced across the United States, in an attempt to curb the addictive attraction of social media to the youngest users. A bill in Minnesota would prevent platforms in using recommendation algorithms for children. In California, a proposal would allow parents to do that sue social media companies to be dependent on their children. And in the U.S. Senate, a comprehensive bill was called Kids Online Safety Act would, among other things, require social media companies to create tools that allow parents to monitor screen time or turn off attention-grabbing features like autoplay.
The negative impact of social media on children and teens has worried parents, researchers and lawmakers for years. But this recent rise in public interest seems to have ignited in the peculiar melting pot of the Covid-19 pandemic: Parents who were able to take shelter at home watched as their children’s social and school lives were completely mediated by technology, which gave rise to concerns about time consumption. on screens. The past two years of fear and isolation have hit teens hard and have exacerbated what the American surgeon recently called “devastating.” mental challenges towards young people.
The kids have been through the wrestler. Could cracking down on social media help make the internet a better place for them?
Proponents of the new legislation have compared Big Tech’s mental health damage to children to the dangers of cigarettes. “We’re a place with social media companies and teens who are no different, where we were with tobacco companies, where they marketed products to children and were not straightforward to the public,” said Jordan Cunningham, a member of the California Assembly that stands for the head of AB 2408, along with Assemblyman Buffy Wicks. The bill will allow parents to sue platforms like Instagram, Tiktok and Snap if their child is harmed by a social media addiction. Social media companies are not financially motivated to slow down children’s scrolls, and “public shame only gets you this far,” Cunningham says.
But unlike the physical harm of tobacco, the exact link between social media use and children’s mental health remains controversial. One high-profile examination which tracked increases in the number of teenage depression, self-harm, and suicide in the United States since 2012 suggested “heavy use of digital media” as a contributing factor. But still different research have found that frequent use of social media is not a strong risk factor for depression. Even the internal documents revealed by Haugen resist any simple interpretation: Facebook’s investigation had one sample size of only 40 teens, more than half of whom reported it Instagram also helped counteract feelings of loneliness. It is also difficult to separate the mental health damage from social media from other mental damage in a child’s life, such as health anxiety during an ongoing pandemic or the threat of school shootings leaving a lasting mental strain on students.
Nor is there a scientific consensus on what an addiction to social media is. “I am concerned that the medical and psychological communities are still figuring out what defines a digital behavioral ‘addiction’ versus other terms such as problematic media use,” says Jenny Radesky, who researches children, parenting and the use of digital media at the University of Michigan CS Mott Children’s Hospital. In addition to his research, Radesky helps shape the American Academy of Pediatrics’ political agenda on children and technology. She is also working on Designed With Kids in Mind, a campaign to raise awareness of how design techniques shape children’s online experiences.
Radesky advocates for a more nuanced interpretation of the relationship between social media and young people’s mental health. “People trying to ‘protect children’ in digital spaces are often a little paternalistic about it,” she says. Well-meaning adults often view children as objects to be protected, not subjects of their own experience. Instead of focusing on minutes spent on screens, she suggests, it is worth asking how children build norms around technology. How do they integrate it with the rest of their lives and relationships? How can parents, politicians and voters take this into account?
However, not all parents are able to enter into a real dialogue with their children about screen time. This poses a question of equity: Those who work multiple jobs, for example, may not be able to provide crash barriers during screen time, and their children may be more likely to overconsume than children of wealthy parents.