I’ve found that my parenting is often a reflection of my own childhood. In teachable moments, I think of conversations I had with my own parents—lessons like ignoring strangers if they approached me on the sidewalk or yelling fire if someone were to grab me in a public setting. So much of teaching my children to safely navigate the world comes from my own experiences at the same age. But, sometimes, parenting in today’s world doesn’t lend itself to lessons learned during our own childhood. When it comes to social media, keeping my children safe doesn’t come from experience. Internet safety often feels like a threat I can’t protect my children from, no matter how hard I try. 

My childhood was defined by outdoor adventures and imaginative play because computers, cell phones and iPads were nonexistent. There was no Facebook or TikTok or Twitter—an absence I believe enhanced my youth. Our dangers could be seen by the naked eye. Internet risks, today, are hidden in the clouds of the web, making it a danger harder for younger children to grasp. A Texas state representative is proposing legislation that would ban everyone under the age of 18 from being allowed on social media. As a mother, I’m all for it.

Related: Quitting social media made me a better parent

Children are vulnerable in the abstract land of the internet. Predators can pose as someone they’re not and lies are easily believable when identity can be hidden. Explaining to a child how a person, unseen on their screen, can potentially gather personal information or find them in real life is no easy fet. Furthermore, social media is known to directly impact the mental health of children. Preparing them to safely use social media feels impractical. 

In 2021, Bark, a parental control app, analyzed more than 3.4 billion messages across texts, email, and 30+ apps and social media platforms. Their findings support the need for reform when it comes to keeping our children safe from internet dangers

Their data from 2021 showed that:

  • 72.09% of tweens and 85% of teens experienced bullying as a bully, victim or witness
  • 32.11% of tweens and 56.4% of teens engaged in conversations about depression
  • 68.97% of tweens and 90.73% of teens encountered nudity or content of a sexual nature
  • 43.09% of tweens and 74.61% of teens were involved in a self-harm/suicidal situation
  • 75.35% of tweens and 93.31% of teens engaged in conversation about drugs/alcohol
  • 80.82% of tweens and 94.5% of teens expressed or experienced violent subject matter/thoughts
  • 9.95% of tweens and 20.54% of teens encountered predatory behaviors from someone online
  • 19.69% of tweens and 42.05% of teens used language or were exposed to language about anxiety

As if this data isn’t enough, sexual exploitation—which is made easier via the internet—is a major issue (and is one of the most lucrative crimes in the world). Bark’s data also indicated that 40 percent of kids in grades 4 to 8 reported they connected with a stranger online. Many of these kids admitted to revealing personal information including a phone number, speaking with the stranger via phone, trying to meet with the stranger, successfully meeting with them, texting them, or revealing their home address. 

Related: It’s science: How you use social media may be associated with your parenting style

Our children are entering the world of the internet as kids and quickly finding themselves in a complicated adult domain they’re not mature enough to handle. 

The Texas proposed bill would ban all kids under the age of 18 from social media platforms including Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and Snapchat. State House Representative Jared Patterson noted concerns over mental health and self-harm among minors as motivation behind this bill. Age verification through a photo identification mechanism would be required when setting up a social media account. Social media companies would be held accountable for ensuring accuracy and required to provide pathways for parents to request removal of their kids’ accounts. This bill would also enable the Texas Attorney General’s Office to pursue Texas’ deceptive trade laws against companies failing to comply with these conditions.

This proposal comes at a time when headlines continue to warn parents of various types of internet dangers. Last year, the U.S. Congress’ Joint Economic Committee released a report showing a decline in mental health among teenage girls due to social media use. The Washington Post just released a warning from the FBI about an explosion of sextortion cases targeting teens, specifically boys. More than 7,000 reports related to sextortion have been received by authorities in the past year and 3,000 of the targets are confirmed to have been minors. 

Related: 6 essential apps that will keep your tweens safe online

Last year, my children stayed home from school on Friday, December 17. It wasn’t a day off or a holiday, and they weren’t sick. An anonymous social media threat suggested that kids initiate acts of violence at schools across the country. As the initial post was reshared by students and parents, this violent suggestion swept across our nation faster than the speed of light—all because of social media. 

Childhood without social media looks like childhood. Let’s help our children be kids for as long as possible.

Posts on social media continue to persuade children to participate in dangerous challenges, potentially leading to injury or death. Just last month, parents were warned of a game circulating on TikTok called the blackout challenge. The video challenged children to choke themselves with household items until they blacked out, while filming the incident and sharing the video on social media. This challenge has been linked to the deaths of at least 15 kids ages 12 or younger in the past 18 months. Without access to social media, those lives could have been saved.

Related: Social media is redefining the new motherhood—but is that a good thing?

As parents, we know what childhood without social media looks like. It looks like bike rides to the playground and walks to a friend’s house. It looks like catching fireflies during summer evenings and winter days spent building snow forts in the yard. It looks like playing with those treasured toys and engaging in imaginative play for a little longer. It looks like reading an entire book series in a week because you just can’t wait to find out what happens next. Childhood without social media looks like childhood. Let’s help our children be kids for as long as possible. Let’s prevent unnecessary mental health issues and exposure to language they can’t yet comprehend. Let’s eliminate the ease with which predators may connect with our children.

Childhood without social media looks like childhood.

Plain and simple, our children are not safe on social media. We can have the internet safety conversation with them until we’re blue in the face—we can post internet safety rules by the computer and be good role models, as The Cyber Security Awareness Alliance recommends. But these threats remain, and our children aren’t prepared to encounter them. 

Social media will be there waiting for them when they turn 18. There’s no rush. I’d rather see my children playing with friends, exploring the outdoors, and learning from their natural environment.