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TX Caregivers Urged to Take Active Role in Children’s Social Media Use


Friday, May 6, 2022   

As children grow up, parents and caregivers across Texas face the difficult decision of how to oversee social media use, with an ongoing debate on whether children should be allowed on social media at all.

Bob Sanborn, president and CEO of Texas-based research nonprofit CHILDREN AT RISK, pointed out research shows rather than cutting children off from social media, which in today's society is an integral part of their lives, parents and caregivers should take an active role to prevent children from falling victim to potential negative effects like depression, anxiety and even self harm.

"From an early age, when you give the first smartphone to your child, they have to know that you're going to be a part of this," Sanborn emphasized. "This is not their diary. There's no privacy involved. Kids get this idea that their parents are looking over their shoulder. They understand that their parents care."

Sanborn acknowledged most Texas children use social media, with similar usage across race, income and other demographics, with nine out of 10 kids across the country using one or more platforms.

While acknowledging data clearly shows the risks of children using social media, Sanborn noted positive effects have also been documented.

"We see people have more and deeper relationships with their friends, which is almost counterintuitive, right?" Sanborn observed. "When we think about social media, we think it's all surface-y. But indeed, we saw a lot of bad things come out of the pandemic, but this was a way that kids were staying connected."

Frances Haugen, a social media reform activist and whistleblower became a household name after turning over data from her former employer, Facebook, to the U.S. government. In a recent online discussion hosted by the American Federation of Teachers, Haugen reiterated her position Facebook, and its parent company, Meta, which also owns Instagram, WhatsApp and other platforms, knows the damage it is inflicting on American children, and must be held accountable.

"No one inside of Facebook came in and said, 'This is what we want to do,' " Haugen recounted. "But what they did do is they turned a blind eye. If we hold children's toys to a product liability standard where you need to demonstrate you did safety by design, why aren't we asking the same thing of these virtual products for children? Especially as we move into the land of the 'metaverse.' "

Haugen explained rather than acting as a mirror to reflect what already is taking place in society, Facebook instead both amplifies certain ideas over others, while also inducing users to act in certain ways.

Disclosure: American Federation of Teachers contributes to our fund for reporting on Education, Health Issues, Livable Wages/Working Families, and Social Justice. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.

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