Parenting in a Digital World Is Hard. Congress Can Make It Easier.

My daughter was 12 years old when we gave her her first phone. It wasn’t an easy decision, and I agonized over whether it was the right time. As a former teacher, advisor to a state attorney general, and now an executive at Meta — I’ve dedicated my career to protecting children online. You’d think I would be confident of the right rules and guardrails to put in place for my daughter, but I worried all the same.

Being a parent is hard. Parents have always had the constant worry of how their children are doing in school, on the playground, on the sports field, but today’s generation of parents have a whole new world to navigate with their children: their online lives. I think about these challenges every day as we work to develop safe, positive experiences for young people on apps like Instagram, and as we think about making things simpler for parents. 

Parents want to be involved in their teen’s online lives, and recent Pew research suggests that 81% of US adults support requiring parental consent for teens to create a social media account. But technology is constantly changing and keeping up with all the apps teens use can feel impossible. As an industry, we should come together with lawmakers to create simple, efficient ways for parents to oversee their teens’ online experiences.  

Technology companies are developing distinct, age-appropriate experiences for teens, while lawmakers consider new legislation designed to protect their safety and privacy online. Legislation is needed so all apps teens use can be held to the same standard. But what’s happening is much more complicated than that. 

US states are passing a patchwork of different laws, many of which require teens (of varying ages) to get their parent’s approval to use certain apps, and for everyone to verify their age to access them. Teens move interchangeably between many websites and apps, and social media laws that hold different platforms to different standards in different states will mean teens are inconsistently protected. 

Why does this affect parents? If laws are passed as written, every time your teen wants to sign up for an app (assuming the app follows the rules) you will need to go through different methods to sign up, provide your and your teen’s potentially sensitive identification information to apps with inconsistent security and privacy practices, and repeat that process over and over again. 

There’s a better way. Parents should approve their teen’s app downloads, and we support federal legislation that requires app stores to get parents’ approval whenever their teens under 16 download apps. With this solution, when a teen wants to download an app, app stores would be required to notify their parents, much like when parents are notified if their teen attempts to make a purchase. Parents can decide if they want to approve the download. They can also verify the age of their teen when setting up their phone, negating the need for everyone to verify their age multiple times across multiple apps. 

This way parents can oversee and approve their teen’s online activity in one place. They can ensure their teens are not accessing adult content or apps, or apps they just don’t want their teens to use. And where apps like ours offer age-appropriate features and settings, parents can help ensure their teens use them. 

This solution also helps to preserve privacy. By verifying a teen’s age on the app store, individual apps would not be required to collect potentially sensitive identifying information. Apps would only need the age from the app store to ensure teens are placed in the right experiences for their age group. Parents and teens won’t need to provide the hundreds of apps their teens use with sensitive information like government IDs.

The best way to help support parents and young people is a simple, industry-wide solution where all apps are held to the same, consistent standard. We are working with our industry peers and lawmakers directly to advocate for this concept, and to ease the burden on parents.  

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