‘We’re losing these kids’: Panel updates bill requiring social media safety lessons in public school

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‘These kids are walking around with a live digital hand grenade, and we’re not educating them on safe use.’

A bill requiring public school lessons on the perils of social media is again gaining traction — and input — in Tallahassee.

On Tuesday, the Senate Committee on Education Pre-K – 12 advanced a measure (SB 52) by Zephyrhills Republican Sen. Danny Burgess. The bill, a sequel to unsuccessful legislation Burgess carried last year, would require public schools to provide instruction on social media safety in existing courses. It would also define social media in state law for the first time.

The panel voted unanimously for the measure after Burgess amended it to include language specifying all lesson materials for students in grades 6-12 must be developmentally and age-appropriate and focus on social media’s social, emotional and physical effects.

Lessons must provide insights into the advantages of social media, like career- and resume-building and sharing information with friends and family, and the myriad risks that come with its use as well, including addiction, misinformation and “the permanent nature of content shared online.”

Students would also be required to be taught best practices of “digital citizenship,” a new term Burgess added to the bill, which the amendment defines as “the norms of appropriate, responsible, and health behavior related to social media, including digital literacy, ethics, etiquette and security.”

To that end, the panel Tuesday approved further lesson requirements on safe social media use, including ways to safeguard personal information and identify predatory online behaviors and human trafficking risks. Noneducational limits on access to social media platforms and apps through school-provided Wi-Fi advanced too.

Burgess, a Captain with the U.S. Army Reserve, repeatedly applied military terms to describe the dangers unfettered social media access poses to young people while advocating for the bill.

“We need to require this curriculum in school, and we can right the ship, turn it around and ensure that we’re capturing present (and) future generations of kids so that we can move forward, now understanding the battlefield as it’s played out,” he said.

He cited a 2021 University of Michigan study that found nearly half of all children aged 10-12 and a third aged 7-9 used social media apps in the past six months. And while nearly four of five parents were able to find the information needed to set up parental controls on internet-ready devices, 32% of children managed to find ways to get around those controls.

“That’s terrifying. And what’s happening to them when they’re doom-scrolling or binge-watching — some of the most notorious innovations of social media? We’re losing these kids, quite possibly forever, if we don’t try to take that back now,” he said. “These kids are walking around with a live digital hand grenade, and we’re not educating them on safe use. It’s like giving a kid keys to a car without making them take driver’s ed.”

Burgess welcomed suggestions to further improve the bill and received several offers.

Republican Sen. Erin Grall of Vero Beach said the bill’s exclusive reference “social media” is too restrictive and could allow loopholes as platforms offer broader arrays of services in addition to social interaction.

She floated using “apps” additionally or instead of “social media,” since the apps “can be classified in different ways.”

“It’s very difficult to keep up with it from a policy perspective,” she said.

One way to do that is to require “regular reviews” of the law and related policies to confirm current lessons are about new and present platforms, technologies and applications, said Sal Nuzzo, Vice President of The James Madison Institute.

Nuzzo said he backed Burgess’ measure. Nancy Lawther of the Florida PTA and Austin Stowers, the legislative affairs director for Florida CFO Jimmy Patronis, also signaled support.

“That (way),” he said, “we’re not teaching them about Myspace 10 years from now.”

Democratic Sen. Rosalind Osgood, who served for a decade on the Broward County School Board, praised the SB 52 as “great” and “much-needed” bill, adding that she is proud to be among a small bipartisan group of co-sponsors.

“This is a great start, where we can have our school systems begin to lead in this space with training around social media, and hopefully our communities, our faith-based institutions, will also come in line,” she said, adding that schools should also offer guidance to parents on how to protect their children at home.

Osgood referenced the broad array of shell applications available to mobile device users that kids can use to hide other apps, including social media like TikTok and Snapchat, from their parents.

“As we continue to roll this out, it’s going to be very important that we bring the parents along with us,” she said. “Parents don’t understand when their children have two calculators on their phone, how one that other calculator is connecting them to social media and just how vulnerable they are to human traffickers and predators.”

Jesse Scheckner

Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.

One comment

  • Jim Cline

    February 10, 2023 at 12:28 pm

    The kids need classroom time for their academic subjects; graduation from middle school should require completion of a series of professionally developed software modules on internet safety.

Comments are closed.


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