Protecting Our Kids from Social Media Addiction

Dear Constituent:

It’s well-documented that social media addiction is a serious problem, especially for our kids. Numerous studies have found that young people who spend many hours on social media have higher rates of depression, anxiety, lack of sleep, suicide, and low self-esteem

Research also shows that young people are particularly susceptible to psychologically manipulative algorithms that social media platforms use to keep users glued to the screen. These features have kids compulsively spending time on platforms, which is why researchers refer to it as “social media addiction.” Social media also keeps our kids hooked by using push notifications that lure young users back to the platform or app at all hours of the day. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that children in the U.S. spend between 6 to 14 hours a day in front of a screen, with much of that time viewing social media content.

Social media can be a valuable resource, enabling teens to make connections with online communities that can have a positive impact on their lives. It’s also true that many adults probably spend too much time on social media. But the impact of social media addiction on our kids is especially worrisome, because impulse control is something young brains have not yet fully developed. 

Social media companies count on that fact. They design their platforms to addict users, to specifically exploit the lack of impulse control.

As whistleblowers have revealed, social media companies know full well they are causing harm to our kids, but to date they’ve been unwilling to do anything about it.

That’s why this year I’ve authored Senate Bill 976, the Protecting Our Kids from Social Media Addiction Act. SB 976, which has bipartisan support, will establish sensible guardrails so parents can protect their kids from preventable harms. 

SB 976 would bar online platforms from sending an addictive social media feed to a minor without the consent of the youth’s parent or guardian. Under the bill, social media platforms would have a default setting for kids that would send youth a sequential feed, based on what the young person themselves liked or searched — much like the original version of Facebook. 

In the early days of Facebook, your feed was just the people you “liked” and the groups and information you sought out. Today, social media feeds send us all kinds of stuff we didn’t ask for — stuff the feed’s algorithm thinks we want to look at. For kids, that stuff can often be harmful, including images of body shaming, posts on self-harm or suicide, or so-called choking challenges or blackout challenges that have taken the lives of numerous children under the age of 12 around the globe.  

With SB 976, the default for kids will be the old Facebook 1.0, allowing them to interact with their friends and the communities they seek out — and not be fed dangerous information they never asked for by some algorithm. 

The bill would also prohibit a social media platform, without the consent of a parent or guardian, from sending notifications to youth during overnight hours and during the school day. SB 976 also mandates social media platforms to set a few other defaults for kid users, like a daily time limit of one hour and setting a minor’s account as “private” to further protect children’s privacy.  

SB 976 recently won bipartisan approval from the Senate on a vote of 35-2, and is now in the state Assembly. The legislation is sponsored by California Attorney General Rob Bonta, the Association of California School Administrators, and Public Health Advocates, and has strong support from the American Academy of Pediatrics and a large coalition of educators and advocates for families and children. 

The issue of social media addiction among our kids crosses party lines. In fact, I introduced SB 976 at about the same time that the U.S. Senate held a bipartisan hearing with five Big Tech CEOs on their failure to protect children online, and after California and dozens of other states filed a major lawsuit against Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, over deceptive features that hook teens and harm their mental health.

To be clear, nothing in SB 976 will stop youth from connecting with online communities that can positively affect their lives. SB 976 will also allow parents and guardians to adjust the default settings giving families more control. 

To date, New York is the only other state to introduce legislation similar to SB 976. If both New York and California enact these laws, it will send a clear message to the social media giants: When you won’t act to protect our children, we will.

It is an honor serving you in the state Senate.



Nancy Skinner
Senate District 9