Durable Human (2 book series)

Congress and Angry Parents Make Progress Fighting Social Media Harms. You Can, too.

Teen girl lying in bed looking at her phone

Social media platforms may soon need to acquiesce to the demands of Congress and upset parents. 

The prospect comes after the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee called for testimony by Snap, X, TikTok, Discord, and Meta.

As their executives responded to angry questioning, parents stood silently behind them, holding up photographs of their children whose deaths are related to using the platforms.

“You have blood on your hands,” ranking member Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) accused Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg as the hearing began. “You have a product that’s killing people.”  

Later, after a challenge by Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO.), Zuckerberg turned around and apologized to grieving parents.

Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg apologizes at Senator Judiciary Committee hearing to parents of children who died following interactions on social media platforms. Photo by Kenny Holston of the New York Times.

by Kenny Holston of the New York Times

Even at the hearing, Zuckerberg continued to maintain there no evidence proving his products harm children’s mental health.

Support Surges for KOSA

Days after the hearing, 15 senators joined 47 others in bi-partisan support of the Kids Online Safety Act.

KOSA would create a “duty of care” that services like social media, video games and messaging apps would have to take reasonable measures to prevent harms to child users.

Platforms would also be required to place all privacy settings at the highest level by default. Kids and teens could also turn off data-driven recommendation algorithms. Yearly independent audits would assess risks to minors.

New co-sponsors include Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.)—a clear sign the bill may get to a vote by the full Senate.    

“The recent watershed hearing with Big Tech CEOs showcased the urgent need for reform,” KOSA lead Senate sponsors Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) said in a statement. “With new changes to strengthen the bill and growing support, we should seize this moment to take action.”

In a Health Advisory, the U. S. Surgeon General states that social media is a contributor to the current crisis in children’s mental health.

Passing KOSA has been a longtime goal of Fairplay, a childrens tech safety advocacy group.

“This bill is incredibly strong and would be game-changing in disrupting social media’s toxic business model and forcing them to prioritize the safety, well-being, and privacy of children,” Fairplay executive director Josh Golin said in an interview.

Parents Become Tech Activists  

Before the Senate hearing, bereaved parents joined forces to launch ParentsSOS, a website where they tell the stories of their lost children.  

Some of the parents are also in the documentary, “Mark, What’s the Plan?” Watch the riveting trailer here.

ParentsSOS has an online form where U.S. voters can connect with their Congress members to urge them to pass KOSA.

Children primarily use social media on their smartphones.

Unfettered access to phones at school can distract students and teachers. The phones also channel the FOMO, social comparisons, and bullying that may occur on social media platforms.  

A slew of bills making schools phone-free are now being considered at the state level, including in Virginia, and Kentucky.

Advice for Talking with Schools about Technology

Some parents aren’t waiting for new laws to address harmful technology.   

Kailan Carr, a former teacher and mother of two from Bakersfield, California, convinced her public school system to eliminate the online math program, Prodigy.

After watching her first-grade son use the program, she saw it had very little math instruction. It was more of an addictive video game which pressured students to buy paid subscriptions.

“It serves up a big plate of manipulation and distraction in the guise of learning,” states Carr.

She marshalled a few other parents to join her to talk with her son’s school superintendent and head of curriculum. A few months later, the school system stopped using Prodigy.

Carr encourages all parents to be speak up on behalf of their children.   

“As a parent, there is a delicate balance between raising your concerns and making sure you’re not telling teachers and administrators how to do their jobs,” Carr wrote in a post for Fairplay. But, with some preparation and tact, she says, “You can make a difference!”

Her suggestions for success:

Be kind and polite. Your words will be heard more clearly.

Go with a group of like-minded parents. There is power in numbers.

Bring resources and research. Carr’s group brought printouts of Everyschool.org’s EdTech Report and Fairplay’s Prodigy Fact Page.

Remember you are planting seeds. “You may not see immediate change, but you are putting new thoughts in their head that may develop into something later on,” Carr says.

Request follow-up and be grateful. Ask to be updated about what they decide and thank them for their valuable time.

Fairplay also has a list of key questions to ask at your child’s school about screen time and technology use. 

New Picture Book offers Screen Time Alternatives

Carr has also written an enticing new picture book about what children can do instead of spending time online.

In Screens Away, Time to Play!, illustrator Rebecca Sinclair’s delightful art and Carr’s simple messages combine for a fun, meaningful, and totally fresh experience families can enjoy together.

Cover and interior page of Screens Away, Time to Play! book depicting children having fun doing non-tech activities

To help older kids understand the value of device management, offline activities, sleeping well, and other durable practices, check out the Durable Human post, How to Boost Children’s Mental Health.  

About the author:

Jenifer Joy Madden is a mom of three, certified Digital Wellness Educator, lifelong health journalist, and the founder of DurableHuman.com. She is the author of The Durable Human Manifesto and How to Be a Durable Human, and host of the online parenting classroom, Durable U.  

How AI and Writing Can Co-Exist

Young girl looks intently at computer screen perhaps contemplating using an AI suggestion in her writing

With the arrival of ChatGPT, one of the biggest worries in education is if students will ever be honest again. Victor Lee of Stanford Graduate School of Education has seen new data on the practice of cheating. His bottom line: “Pandora’s box didn’t get opened.”

The non-profit Challenge Success education research group polled kids at 3 different types of high schools. Cheating remains at about the same hefty rate it was before chatbots: about 60%. Among public school kids, the cheating rate has even dropped a little.

Regarding ChatGPT and writing, turns out that students—like all of us—know about the chatbot, but many choose not to use it.

As Lee told the Children and Screens Digital Media and Developing Minds Scientific International Congress, “Students do know about it, but they are exercising restraint.”

At this point, students mainly use a chatbot to get started on a paper or make a summary. As Lee says, “It might help [students] write an abstract, but not the entire paper.

How Students Can Write with AI

Much-respected linguist Naomi Baron followed Lee’s setup at Children and Screens. The American University emerita professor is not too pessimistic. She believes humans can be thoughtful as well as sentient.

The key is “to think about writing and why we do it,” as she tells her students. ChatGPT can be part of the process.

Baron comes from a position of respect: that students who have basic writing skills will have enough self-respect they won’t automatically hand over their expressive capabilities to the large language overlords.

5 Considerations for Writing with AI

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New Tools Help Parents of Young Children Manage and Question Screen Use

3 preschool age kids have lumch. photo by Nappy

The Screen Aware Early Childhood Kit is a game changer for caregivers of young children who’ve lacked the words and wherewithal to talk with daycares, schools, babysitters, and relatives about the role of screens.

It’s so satisfying to have the right tool for the right job. A flathead won’t do when you need a phillips screwdriver. Plyers are different from a wrench.

But since the arrival of digital devices, parents have had precious few tools to work with. They quickly learned, for instance, there’s no lunchbox to contain social media.

Now comes a fact-filled fleet of info products to help caregivers manage screen use by and around children from birth until at least age 8. The toolkit arrives just as alarming new evidence floods in about how screen use can harm babies, toddlers, and young children.

The kit’s 10 research-backed fact-and-action sheets not only give parents a hand, but teachers, schools, and daycare providers, too.   

5 Fact and Action Sheets from the Screen Aware Early Childhood Kit

Meeting Children’s Real Needs

Fact Sheet 1 answers to basic question “What do young children need?”

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Bad News Arrives about Babies, Toddlers and Screens

Infant looks off into the distance from the arms of his mother who is on her mobile phone. Photo by Sarah Chai on Pexels

A cascade of new scientific evidence from all over the world shows how screen use can badly hurt the development of babies and toddlers. The news comes as more parents rely on tablets, phones, and TVs to calm, distract, or entertain their little children.

Studies published in just the past year paint a dire picture.

The World Health Organization recommends that children under age 2 have no “sedentary screen time.” Instead, babies and toddlers should engage with loving caregivers, move and explore their surroundings using all their senses, and get plenty of sleep.

Screens Disrupt it All

In a US study of mothers during the pandemic, those who allowed their 6-month-olds to use screens let them watch an average of 3 hours a day. “Screen use was relatively common during meals, when going to sleep, while waiting, and to help calm the infant,” the authors write.

That, they conclude, is “an impediment to the relationship between a parent and a child, disrupting maternal responsiveness and interfering with parent-child interactions.” 

Language Delays

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