Home & Leisure

Lisa Jarvis: Parents alone can't protect kids from social media

Lisa Jarvis, Bloomberg Opinion on

Published in Parenting News

Some parents will quibble with that. I’ve had many friends tell me that, without a phone, their kids would be left out of social gatherings or friend group chats. Fair point, but what about a smart watch? Or a “dumb” phone that makes them reachable without introducing social media? There are workarounds.

But there’s a problem: This phone-free movement only really works if the majority participates. Friends’ phones at recess or at a sleepover are like second-hand smoke: your kid might not have the cigarette in their mouth, but they’re still exposed.

That leads me to another missing piece in the discussion: Parents urgently need help in giving kids the tools for establishing a healthy digital life, one where they eventually can safely navigate these spaces without being under constant parental surveillance — something, I’d argue, is also an essential component to the modern transition to adulthood. The genie is already out of the bottle for most of today’s tweens and teens (and likely for their younger siblings, too), and schools, community programs, even doctors can be partners in helping children find their way.

Parents alone can’t fix this problem. It feels fantastical to think collective parental will can override the immense power of social media companies getting rich on the backs of teens’ scrolling.

We need the government and all the social institutions that help nurture children’s development to do their part. Haidt’s main suggestion for social media companies is to raise the age account access from 13 to 16 and to put more work into verifying users’ ages.

That’s a fair suggestion, but one that doesn’t do enough. Haidt’s bigger impact on the problem will likely be his work in dispelling the myth that the data don’t prove that social media is contributing to teens’ mental decline. In his testimony before Congress in February, Meta Inc. CEO Mark Zuckerberg claimed, to immediate ridicule, that, “The existing body of scientific work has not shown a causal link between using social media and young people having worse mental health.”


That word “causal” is at the heart of the strategy Meta, TikTok, Alphabet Inc. and Snap Inc. are using to maintain the status quo. They lean on “correlation not causation” so they can keep kids hooked and resist calls for regulation. And they preserve those seeds of doubt by preventing researchers from studying their usage data. It’s a page straight out of the playbook long used by tobacco companies and climate deniers, and unfortunately has proven very effective.

We can’t let social media companies so easily off the hook. Parents can and should do their part by proceeding with more caution, but they need governments, schools and other institutions to show some real spine. Our kids’ lives are at stake. We shouldn’t have to defend them alone.


This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Lisa Jarvis is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering biotech, health care and the pharmaceutical industry. Previously, she was executive editor of Chemical & Engineering News.

©2024 Bloomberg L.P. Visit Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


blog comments powered by Disqus