We are beginning to understand exactly how much of an adverse effect some of these new technologies are having on the well-being of society, especially on our children.
There are serious concerns about their effects on our kids’ brains, socio-emotional states, and cognitive and physical development at a time when 22% of young children, 60% of tweens, and 84% of teenagers currently use a smartphone and social media apps.
Without real accountability, platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are ignoring the negative impact of their services on our children. As the father of two young boys, I worry about what this will mean for the generations growing up with these technologies. Our kids have access from infancy. They’re getting glued on apps and devices that are functioning as dopamine slot machines.
I look back at my childhood and I remember riding a bike around the neighborhood, but now tablets, computers, and mobile devices have shifted the attention of youth. Today, more than half of children aged 8-12 have their own tablet and a quarter of them have their own smartphone.
The effects are worrying. There has been an unprecedented surge in depression, anxiety, and suicide, and a marked decrease in sociability. Teenagers are spending more time worrying about whether their online acquaintances like their recent post than spending time with their friends in person and developing social skills. The average teenager spends Friday nights at home, interacting with a machine, instead of out with friends.
Even the content for children on these platforms isn’t subject to any rules and standards the way they are on TV. This lack of regulation means that our children are exposed to extreme and inappropriate content at younger and younger ages.
It’s also causing other risks to health. Studies have found adverse associations between screen time and sleep deprivation. Extended screen time has also been linked with obesity in children. The health of our kids, and potentially of generations after, are at risk. We must take action.
Those who have worked within the industry describe the work they’ve done in stark terms. They say that the smartest minds of a generation are spending their time getting teenagers to click on ads and obsess over social media posts.
In short, many experts are worrying that the widespread adoption of a poorly understood technology has caused mental health and developmental problems for an entire generation. We can’t just accept that our kids aren’t all right—we need to do something about it.
Problems to be Solved
- checkTrillion dollar companies have purposefully designed addictive platforms without considering their effects on developing brains.
- checkOur kids are spending hours every day on social media and becoming more tired, stressed out, and depressed because of it.
- checkSmartphones are having an untold impact on our children that will affect them throughout their lifetimes.
- checkThere is little regulation or accountability on what type of content is being presented to our kids.
- Technology, smartphones, and tablets are ubiquitous. Our kids have access to them from infancy. They’re getting hooked, from a young age, on apps and platforms that function as dopamine slot machines, potentially destroying the psyches of a generation. It’s affecting our kids’ mental and physical health, contributing to obesity, sleep deprivation, posture issues, stunting social skills, and blurring the lines between real and virtual relationships. Smartphones are turning our kids into anxious zombies. Asking technology companies to regulate themselves is unfeasible - they will always want to maximize engagement regardless of social impact. It’s time to take action.
- checkHelp make social media platforms less harmful and addictive to our kids
- checkReverse the rising rates of teenage anxiety, depression, and suicide
- checkHold platforms accountable for the type of content they show to kids
- checkWork to understand the impact of emerging technologies on human health and behavior
- checkFind a way to promote responsible smartphone usage both within the industry and within the users
As President I will...
- Create a Department of the Attention Economy that focuses specifically on how to responsibly design and use smartphones, social media, gaming, and chat apps. It will include overall guidelines, as well as age-based ones.
- Direct the Department to investigate the regulation of certain companies and apps. Many of these companies essentially function as public utilities and news sources - we used to regulate broadcast networks, newspapers, and phone companies. We need to do the same with technology companies now that they are the primary way people both receive information and communicate with each other.
- Provide guidance (and regulation, if needed) on design features that maximize screen time for young people, like removing autoplay video for children under 16, removing the queues that allow infinite scrolling, capping the number of recommendations per day, reducing notification signs and “like” counts, and using artificial intelligence and machine learning to determine when children are using devices to cap screen hours per day.
- Establish rules and standards around kid-targeted content to protect them from extreme or inappropriate content.
- Incentivize content production of high-quality and positive kids programming similar to broadcast TV.
- Require platforms to provide guidance on kid-healthy content for parents, and provide incentives for companies that work to make user data of minors available to their parents.
- Include classes on the responsible use of technology in public school curricula and teach children how to distinguish reliable from unreliable news sources online.