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Education Leaders, Kids' Health Advocates Want Social-Media Reform

Sankt-Petersburg Russia November 11, 2017: Apple iPhone 7 on woo
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In an April 2021 Pew Research Center poll, more than 40% of parents said they thought their child was "spending too much time" on their phone, up from 28% in April 2020.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and some education leaders and medical experts are urging parents to take a more active role in monitoring their kids' mental well-being, which includes their use of social media.

Dalia Hashad, director of online safety for ParentsTogether, in a recent discussion hosted by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), described the long-term impact overuse of social media can have on kids.

"The longer a child spends online, the higher their level of anxiety, the higher the level of mood swings, aggressive behavior, feelings of worthlessness," Hashad outlined. "It bears out in the statistics. Hospitalizations for eating disorders doubled last year."

This year in Congress, a bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced the Kids Online Safety Act, which would force tech platforms to, among other things, offer the option to disable certain addictive features and opt out of content chosen by algorithm. The bill was assigned to the Senate Commerce Committee in February, and has not seen action since then.

Frances Haugen, a former Facebook product manager turned whistleblower, leaked details last year about the platform's internal business practices. Meta, Facebook's parent company, argued it has adequate internal policies in place to protect users and kids.

But Haugen pointed out most consumer products used by children must adhere to federal regulations.

"If we hold children's toys to a product liability standard, where you need to demonstrate you did safety by design, you know, why aren't we asking the same thing of these virtual products for children?" Haugen asked. "Especially as we move into the land of the 'metaverse,' which is going to be an emergent harm."

The AFT also has an online archive of webinars and other resources for parents about kids' mental health and keeping them safe online.

Born and raised in Indiana, Jonah Chester has been covering issues in Wisconsin for the past several years. He previously worked at WORT 89.9 FM in Madison, where he earned awards for his coverage of everything from law enforcement and policing to the 2020 presidential election.
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