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Social media

Should parents be able to snoop on their kids?


Last week, says Natasha Singer on The Daily, officials in Utah signed a bill that will “fundamentally change” how teenagers use the internet. The measures prohibit under 18s from opening social media accounts without the “explicit permission” of their parents; allow parents to access their child’s profile, including posts, private messages and search history; and block kids from using apps at night without parental consent. It’s like “mandating that parents should have access to their kids’ diaries”. This sweeping landmark law will effectively make social media a “controlled substance” in the state. Texas lawmakers, meanwhile, have filed a bill that would go even further, banning kids from social media altogether.

Few parents are oblivious to the dangers of the internet, and many believe that the higher rates of depression, suicidal thoughts and anxiety in young people today are caused by social media. So it’s no surprise some see the Utah bill as a “parental fantasy come to life”. But this isn’t the whole story. At its best, social media lets teens find support on issues and experiences they can’t talk to their parents about. Think of young people struggling with their sexuality or working up the courage to escape abusive homes; under this new law, disapproving parents can peer into their every conversation. There are plenty of ways apps can be made less problematic ­– time limits, for example, or requiring young people’s accounts to have the highest privacy settings – while still acknowledging that for some kids, social media “is the last refuge”.