It takes a village to keep children off of social media

Commentators on the Right and Left have been calling on the government for years to regulate social media to protect children from the apparent harms.

The most common retort worldwide is that the government should have no role and that parents who don’t want their children to have an iPhone or a TikTok account should simply not let their children have an iPhone or a TikTok account.

This irritates those who rightly say that parents can’t fight this fight alone. We need support.

Allow me to posit that something very significant exists between the state and the individual. It’s called community. Your understanding of community could include extended family, a school, a neighborhood, a church, or a circle of friends. Community is a necessary support for parents.

America has far too individualistic a view of parenting, I argue in my new book, Family Unfriendly. In the modern mindset, as writer Stephanie Murray put it, “children are a personal choice and therefore a personal problem.”

But parents have always needed support in raising children, I argue in the book, and this includes keeping children off of social media:  

“Countless parents have told me that they regret giving their children smartphones or access to social media. ‘I didn’t want to,’ they all say, ‘but Snapchat was the way all of her friends communicated.’”

“Too many parents feel they simply cannot deny their kids smartphones or social media accounts. They are fighting not only peer pressure or network effects, but the behavior of school districts and other youth-oriented organizations, too.”

For one thing, community institutions need to stop forcing children to have phones by setting up digital gates.

Then, schools and other community institutions need to tell parents they don’t need to get their children a smartphone and warn unwary parents that they might regret doing so. Just a handful of anti-social media and anti-smartphone parents will embolden those who want to keep these evils away from their children.

That is, it’s ultimately up to parents to do what’s right, but civil society can make that easier for children.

Also, local governments and community institutions can help parents detechify their children by making it easier for them to find other fun. Liberal New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg made that argument in an op-ed last week.

“I would much rather have my children, who are 9 and 11, roaming the neighborhood than spending hours interacting with friends remotely on apps like Roblox,” Goldberg wrote.

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“But it’s hard to make them go outside when there are no other kids around. One of my favorite days of the year is my Brooklyn neighborhood’s block party, when the street is closed to traffic and the kids play in packs, most ignored by their tipsy parents. It demonstrates how the right physical environment can encourage offscreen socializing,” Goldberg added.

Infrastructure and community activities are, again, public responsibilities rather than private ones. Parents need to keep their children off of social media, and the community needs to help.

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