I came across an article on The Wall Street Journal about a recent bill passed in California requiring social media companies to consider children's mental health. To summarize, this bill will require any business likely to be accessed by children to meet certain requirements. Those requirements include privacy settings in clear language suited to the age of the children who will access their platform. It will also prohibit social media platforms from using children's user information for any purpose other than intended and will ban platforms that use children's information in a way that could be detrimental to their health.
As a psychiatrist, I have seen a surge of mood and anxiety disorders in children and adolescents over the past 2 years. Before COVID, most parents were keeping some check on their children's internet usage. The pandemic changed this completely when virtual learning took over. The benefit was that children were able to continue their education and social interactions in the safety of their homes. On the other hand, internet and computer use increased to the extent that parents were unable to supervise. It became impossible to monitor when school assignments were completed and screens were switched to online games or virtual chat. Schools restrict certain sites so that children do not have access to inappropriate web content; however, at home those restrictions became blurred.
Children in their preteen or early teen years are more at risk. They are undergoing biological, psychological, and social changes and need more support at home and at school.
They are developing a sense of independence at this age but they are not mature enough to navigate complex situations and emotions. Due to excessive use of the internet and spending hours in front of screens, many children are unable to learn basic conversational and conflict-resolution skills.
Kids become very comfortable in their virtual world, which impairs their creativity. They gain effortless pleasure through social media and internet use, and may have little interest in exploring new hobbies essential to their social and emotional growth. Physical activity and exposure to sunlight are beneficial for mood and anxiety symptoms. Excessive internet use is depriving our children of these benefits as well.
One of the components of sleep hygiene that I emphasize with my patients is to restrict internet use at least a couple of hours before bedtime because it leads to sleep disturbances and insomnia. We all know that poor sleep is detrimental to both physical and emotional well-being.
Internet addiction or a high level of internet use is considered one of the dynamic risk factors for nonsuicidal self-injury in adolescents. Cyberbullying and access to websites with self-harm and suicidal content place our children at risk. This exposure has contributed to an increase in the number of incidents of self-injurious behavior during the past 2 years.
I am personally in favor of this bill for the well-being of our children. We need to help guide them with safe internet use practices. Social media platforms do have a responsibility to monitor or restrict certain content according to the age of the user. I am hopeful that other states will also consider these issues and take similar actions to protect our children, our future.
Connect with Dr Masuood:
© 2022 WebMD, LLC
Any views expressed above are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of WebMD or Medscape.
Cite this: Sirosh Masuood. Will a New Bill Protect Kids From Social Media? - Medscape - Oct 12, 2022.