“There is no doubt that our country is facing a growing youth mental health crisis that is inextricably tied to the rise of social media usage by children and teenagers. Families are being devastated and futures are being destroyed in every corner of our nation. I’ll continue to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to enact the commonsense, age-appropriate solutions needed to tackle this generational challenge.” 

U.S. Sen. Katie Britt 

When I initially read that U.S. Sen. Katie Britt (R-Montgomery) was co-sponsoring the “Kids Off Social Media Act,” my first instinct was to think that Big Brother was finally undergoing that sex-change operation liberals have long wanted.  

"[L]iberalism defines government as tyrant father,” writes Camille Paglia in “Sexual Personae,” “but demands it behave as nurturant mother." 

Admittedly, my first instinct is always a bit juvenile, impish and unrefined. Pardon me. I am, if anything, a cynical, laughing dog when it comes to the use of government force to solve complex social problems. I am specially trained to bark and guffaw when the problem at hand stokes the most fundamental of human flames — in this case, parental fear and love for their children.  

I cannot think of a more admirable instinct than a parent’s passion to protect his or her kid. Yet, I also cannot think of a better way for the government to usurp personal liberty and responsibility than by appealing to the people’s most fundamental and admirable drives and fears.  

Upon reading the details of Britt’s “Kids Off Social Media Act,” my second instinct was to question the problem seriously. The bill sets a minimum age of 13 for social media usage, barring social media companies from feeding algorithmically-targeted content to users under 17. Is this just another moral panic or something very real that needs legal remedy?  

Even a childless bachelor like me can see what the Internet has become. Intrusively, a Bo Burnham song starts playing in my head: 

Welcome to the internet
Have a look around,
Anything that brain of yours can think of can be found.
We've got mountains of content,
Some better, some worse,
If none of it's of interest to you, you'd be the first.

In a way, the internet and I are in the same graduation class. We grew up together. 

I can remember a childhood before social media, before smartphones, before screen time cannibalized everyone’s minds. Back when dial-up made this noise.  

Movies, TV and video games certainly caught my eye as a kid, but I also recall memories of playing outside with friends as we let our imaginations run wild absent adult supervision or any connection to some intoxicating virtual world.  

I am grateful I was able to develop my personality at an early age unscathed by a digital world placed in the palm of my hand. That Bo Burnam song is still stuck in my head, especially the chorus: 

Could I interest you in everything?
All of the time?
A little bit of everything
All of the time
Apathy's a tragedy
And boredom is a crime,
Anything and everything
All of the time.

While writing this essay, my iPhone buzzes. I automatically peer at the screen, conditioned to involuntarily respond. 

A friend is texting a video of what she calls a “proud mommy” moment, one she just had to share. I’m happy she did. It’s simply beautiful.  

Trying not to let the wholesome distraction go to waste, I ask her, “Should kids 13 and under be banned from having a social media account?” 

“Yes, actually,” she responds, “I know it doesn’t go along with ‘freedom’ but it’s actually extremely damaging to their development.” 

My phone vibrates again. Someone has sent me a TikTok video. I’m tempted to click, but also tempted to throw my phone across the room out of frustration.  

I need to focus and write. 

“I mean, I do this myself. When I’m trying to write something and it’s hard,” psychologist Jonathan Haidt recently told The New Yorker, “I’m looking for anything that’s more interesting and easier than the thing I’m trying to do. But I have a fully-formed prefrontal cortex. Teenagers don’t. Theirs is still in the child form. It’s not very good at impulse control.” 

Haidt’s latest book, “The Anxious Generation: How the Great Rewiring of Childhood Is Causing an Epidemic of Mental Illness,” documents the breadth and depth the ill-effects of social media has had on kids. 

In light of Haidt’s work, the underlying problem is clearly a reality backed by evidence. This isn’t some run-of-the-mill moral panic. Rates of teenage anxiety, depression, self-harm and suicide all skyrocketed starting around 2012, especially in young girls. The problem is so evidently real that Britt is far from alone in trying to tackle what has become a bipartisan concern that will not disappear anytime soon.  

Yet, concerns for freedom also remain.  

“Parents exercise some oversight of what their kids view on the internet, what they view on television,” Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) recently told Wired. “[A]ll these things are important. I’m not sure I want the federal government [involved].” 

I agree. I, too, do not trust the federal government sinking its hooks further into the internet. A tyrant father, even one that pretends to be a nurturant mother, is no replacement for real flesh-and-blood mothers and fathers exercising their own influence over their children – and everyone knows it – including those who nevertheless want more government regulation to solve the problem.  

That said, I do not question the motives of lawmakers hoping to tackle this generational challenge. A new generation of young parents on Capitol Hill, like Britt, will have their say. The debate will no doubt continue, and I am willing to hear them out, as will the courts.  

But regardless of political priors, most of us sense something is off with our brave new world’s promised digital Garden of Eden. Nearly all of us have eaten the internet's forbidden fruit by now, and I can’t help but sense there’s something profoundly inhuman slithering beneath the surface of this digital revolution – something tempting us to be like gods so we may know good and evil and grope for the tree of life in vain hopes of living forever.

Joey Clark is a native Alabamian and is currently the host of the radio program News and Views on News Talk 93.1 FM WACV out of Montgomery, AL M-F 12 p.m. - 3 p.m. His column appears every Tuesday in 1819 News. To contact Joey for media or speaking appearances as well as any feedback, please email joeyclarklive@gmail.com. Follow him on X @TheJoeyClark or watch the radio show livestream.

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to Commentary@1819news.com

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