Mental health bill aims to alleviate student stress


Chana Kim

Social media use has contributed to increased stress among young people. The Protecting Kids on Social Media Act aims to alleviate this by enforcing age limits on various social media platforms, though the bill has sparked debate regarding the limitation of rights like freedom of assembly.

Justine Pascutti, News Editor

In response to a growing trend to limit how social platforms engage with young users, a new federal bill was unveiled on April 26 to establish a national minimum age for social media use and mandate tech companies to obtain parental consent before creating accounts for teens. Bipartisan U.S. senators have proposed legislation to address what is claimed to be a social media-fueled mental health crisis, according to policymakers, mental health advocates, and tech platform critics.

Bridge USA member Violet Paull said, “The mental health crisis encompasses so many things and has taken so many forms. I think mental health isn’t something that has a one-size-fits-all solution, but this bill would help some people for sure. It just also takes initiative from the kids, parents, and those who create content. I would hope that more mental health support aids would follow this bill.”

According to the draft text of the legislation, known as the Protecting Kids on Social Media Act, social media platforms would not be permitted to allow children under the age of 13 to create accounts or interact with other users. But children would still be allowed to view content without logging into an account. 

For users under the age of 18, tech sites affected by the law would also have to get their parents’ or guardians’ permission before opening new accounts. Companies would not be allowed to target minors with material or advertisements using their personal information, but they could still make certain targeted suggestions to teens based on other contextual indicators. 

After similar legislation was passed this year in places such as Utah and Arkansas, the Protecting Kids on Social Media Act is the latest step that legislators have taken to create national age restrictions for internet platforms. However, the bill may also spark a wider discussion and lead to potential future legal challenges, raising concerns about the constitutional rights and privacy of young Americans.

In reaction to the measure, The Youth Alliance, Design it For Us, said that rather than implementing usage restrictions, policymakers should concentrate on shaping the fundamental product design of social media platforms. 

“We believe that any legislation addressing harm on social media should put the onus on companies to make their platforms safer, instead of preventing kids and teens from being on platforms at all,” Zamaan Qureshi, a co-chair of the group, said.

Restrictions on teenagers, according to opponents of the legislation, pose a threat to their constitutional rights. For instance, the tech sector and campaigners for digital rights have claimed that Utah’s legislation mandating age verification and parental authorization would violate young Americans’ First Amendment rights to access information and restrict everyone’s freedom of speech.

Paull said, “I think this [bill] falls under the “freedom of assembly” clause, and in a most direct way does limit free speech. I don’t think this means that the bill is without merit, as it intends to protect young people, but it does limit free assembly of young people. However, kids are banned from places on the grounds of their age frequently. We don’t let kids into bars and no one is organizing around that as a restriction of free speech.” 

Paull also said, “I think it is easier to talk about this as someone who is both older than 13 and only got social media once I was 13, but I think it would be really great. Kids growing up on social media today are really struggling and many don’t recognize the damage that they’re doing to themselves as well as the experiences they’re missing out on.” She continued, “The bill seems hard to enforce, as people could just lie about their age. But I also feel like in some regards, it isn’t the government’s job to parent people. Parents have discretion to restrict or permit the media that their kids consume, and I think it could set worrying precedents about restricting media for kids.”