Washington News Bureau

Parents, teacher groups are urging social media companies to make apps safer for kids

WASHINGTON — With kids now back to school, there are new concerns about how much time they’re spending and what they’re seeing on social media sites.

A nationwide survey just highlighted how damaging these apps could be to kids’ mental health.

“It’s her face superimposed onto Emmett Till’s body being hung from a tree. It is her in a coffin, like her face superimposed on someone in a coffin with the KKK behind her,” said Laquanta Bivens-Hernandez, a Texas mother.

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Bivens-Hernandez is describing one of several racist images cyberbullies made of her daughter when she was just in 8th grade. She said the images were shared on TikTok and Instagram.

She said her daughter was out of school for weeks and worked with a counselor.

“I was worried about suicide attempts, you know, different things because that does affect children mentally,” Bivens-Hernandez said.


Bivens-Hernandez along with ParentsTogether, the American Federation of Teachers, the American Psychological Association, Fairplay and Design It For Us are calling on social media companies to take action.

This month, those groups collectively sent letters to Snap, Meta, Google, TikTok and X, formerly known as Twitter, outlining their concerns about the potential harm of these apps.

“How are things like that getting through - the algorithms and all those things?” Bivens-Hernandez said. “How are we protecting the children?”

The groups are also recommending several changes like eliminating endless scrolling and suspending push notifications to students during the school day and at night.

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“They can do this now. They don’t have to wait for regulation. That’s what parents and teachers are saying together,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.

Channel 2 Action News’ Washington Bureau contacted all the social media apps for comment on this story.

Snap sent a statement, saying:

“As a messaging service for real friends, we care deeply about protecting teens from the ills of traditional social media platforms. Snapchat doesn’t encourage popularity or stranger contact, and we don’t broadly distribute unmoderated public content, which helps prevent the discovery of potentially harmful material.”

Earlier this summer, Meta announced new tools for parents and teens.

They include showing parents how much time teens spend on Messenger. It also started notifying teens when they’ve spent 20 minutes on Facebook as a prompt to take a break.

But teachers believe more protections are desperately needed.

“How many times are kids going to get cyberbullied? How many issues around potential suicide? How much is too much where somebody says enough? And I would say we have far reached that point,” Weingarten said.