In Utah, we care deeply about teen mental health. As a parent, I have seen firsthand how social media can have a negative impact on our teens, especially our daughters.
In February, the CDC released data showing that nearly three in five (57%) U.S. teen girls persistently felt sad or hopeless in 2021, doubling that of boys. Additionally, the data showed that nearly one in three girls seriously contemplated suicide. These are staggering statistics.
Since 2010, rates of depression and mental health crises in American teens have nearly doubled, whereas before, rates remained stagnant. Social media creation and use have been linked to these increased rates.
After reviewing the data and listening to many Utah parents, I introduced and passed S.B. 152 Social Media Regulation Amendments during Utah’s legislative session, giving parents the tools necessary to protect their kids from the harms of social media.
S.B. 152 does the following:
- Enacts a strict age verification process.
- Allows parents or legal guardians to set time restrictions on social media use and allows them to access their child’s account.
- Blocks direct messages to minors without being “friends” on the platform.
- Prevents social media companies from collecting and selling data on minors.
Social media is not just a problem in Utah, but for teens nationwide. Both democrats and republicans have seen the harmful effects and agree on this issue. During President Biden’s State of the Union address, he spoke about holding social media companies accountable “for the experiment they are running on our children for profit.” As a conservative, I couldn’t agree more with the president.
As outlined in the bill, the Utah Division of Consumer Protection will work with social media companies over the next year to ensure that our teens are protected and that social media companies are held accountable. The enforcement includes placing a $2,500 fine per violation and providing parents the option to sue Big Tech through a private right of action.
Some critics have said this bill takes away children’s ability to connect with peers when struggling. However, over the last decade, Utah has taken a holistic approach to increasing mental health resources, including creating SafeUT. In this app, teens can message or speak with a licensed counselor. Social media is not the best platform for our struggling teens; instead, we want them to turn to those best equipped to help.
Utah is leading the way to fight back against Big Tech by empowering parents with the tools to prevent their kids from falling prey to social media’s negative and sometimes life-threatening effects. I hope other states notice and follow suit, sending a clear message to social media companies that they cannot continue manipulating our children.
Sen. Mike McKell
Sen. Mike McKell served in the Utah House of Representatives from 2013-2021 before being elected to the Utah Senate representing District 25. Sen. McKell is the chair of the Business, Economic Development, and Labor Appropriations Subcommittee. He earned a B.A. from Southern Utah University and a J.D. from the University of Idaho. Sen. McKell and his wife, Brandi, are the proud parents of four children.