Let Tennessee parents police their children on social media by passing these two laws

Published April 5, 2024

The Tennessean

In a polarized America, it can sometimes feel like there isn’t a lot that can bring progressives and conservatives together.

But one threat increasingly keeps parents from all walks of life up at night – figuring out how to keep their kid safe online, and preventing social media content from having undue influence on their child’s well-being. A new report shows tools to help parents protect their kids online are wildly popular with Tennessee voters.

A national poll from our two organizations found 86% of parents agreed it is “too easy” for kids to find explicit content online. And a recent poll from the University of Michigan found that parents’ top two concerns about their children’s well-being were monitoring screen time and social media.

Here is what the two parental rights bills do

Tennessee’s recent growth, economic dynamism, and family-friendly culture has made the state one of the best places to raise a family in the nation. But parents shouldn’t have to be tech experts to be able to raise their kids in a healthy manner. The recently-introduced Protecting Children from Social Media Act (House Bill 1891/Senate Bill 2097), which would require social media companies to obtain permission for a minor’s parent before allowing them to open an account, would be a welcome start.

Another key bill recently introduced in Tennessee is the Protect Tennessee Minors Act (House Bill 1614/Senate Bill 1792), which would require internet users to verify their age in order to access pornography online. Nearly every parent has a story of a kid accidentally stumbling across raunchy content or explicit images just from a mistyped Google search, and the bill’s approach is incredibly popular.

In our poll, four out of five Tennesseans said they somewhat or strongly supported the idea of requiring age-verification to view sexually explicit content online, including a strong majority of Democrats, Republicans, and political independents. And roughly a dozen states from Virginia to Montana have passed legislation to put internet porn behind an age gate – a political no-brainer.

Children should be supervised when going online

But in addition to online pornography, parents are wrestling with how to ensure their kids are engaging with social media and the internet in healthy ways. From cyberbullying to concerns about mental health, parents are often bewildered by the array of user settings and options to protect them. And most of today’s most popular apps, like TikTok and Snapchat, use algorithmic content and direct messaging that make traditional content-based filters inadequate. 

To remedy this, Tennessee’s social media bill requires that platforms provide parents with the appropriate means to supervise their child’s account, including giving them clearer access to privacy settings and other measures. Tennessee should go further, requiring that parents be granted administrator-level access, allowing them to see what their kids have been viewing, who they’ve been private messaging, and what ads they’ve been targeted by. Many parents, who trust their children to try to do the right thing, want greater confidence that their child is not spiraling into content pushing self-harm, violence, or addictive substances before it’s too late.

Giving parents more power to protect kids online is a winning political issue that cuts across partisan lines. In our poll, only 17% – and 12% of Republican-leaning parents – said the problem of helping navigate kids and tech use was “not a problem government should try to solve.”

Parents will always bear the ultimate responsibility for their kids’ formation and keeping them safe online. But given the power that social media has to influence the lives of America’s kids, parents need the right tools to live up to this charge.

Patrick T. Brown is a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, where his work with the Life and Family Initiative focuses on developing a robust pro-family economic agenda and supporting families as the cornerstone of a healthy and flourishing society.

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