There are numerous problems with children and adolescents using social media from mental health and deterioration to dangerous and age-inappropriate content and the lackluster efforts tech companies employ to enforce their own age verification rules.

ALGORITHMS are making kids desperately unhappy. Kids are even more in the bag of social media  companies than we think.

So many of them have ceded their online autonomy so fully to their phones that they even balk at the idea of searching the internet - for them, the only acceptable online environment is one customized by big tech algorithms, which feed them customized content.

As our children's free time and imaginations become more and more tightly fused to the social media they consume, we need to understand that unregulated access to the internet comes at a cost.

Something similar is happening for adults, too. With the advent of  A.I., a spiritual loss awaits us as we outsource countless human rituals - exploration and trial and error - to machines. But it isn't too late to change this story.

This spring, I visited with a group of high school students in suburban Connecticut to have a conversation about the role that social media plays in their daily lives and in their mental health.

More children today report feeling depressed, lonely and disconnected than ever before. More teens, especially teen girls and L.G.B.T.Q. teens, are seriously considering suicide. I wanted to speak candidly about how social media helps and hurts mental health.

By the end of the 90-minute dialogue, I was more worried than ever about the well-being of our kids -and of the society they will inherit.

But the high schoolers with whom I met alerted me to even more insidious results of minors' growing addiction to social media : the death of exploration, trial and errors and discovery.

Algorithmic recommendations now do the work of discovering and pursuing interests, finding community and learning about the world.

Kids today are, simply put, not learning how to be curious, critical adults - and they don't seem to know what they've lost.

A week before meeting the students, I introduced the  Protecting Kids on Social Media Act with three of my colleagues in the Senate, Brian Schatz, Democrat of Hawaii, and the Republican Kate Britt of Alabama and Tom Cotton of Arkansas.

The bill is a comprehensive attempt to protect young people on social media, prioritizing stronger age verification practices and placing a ban on children under 13 using social media altogether.

But there was one provision of the bill that was particularly alarming to this group of students : a prohibition on social media companies using the data [what they watch and swipe on] they collect on kids to build and fuel algorithms that spoon-feed individualized content back to users.

These high school students had become reliant maybe, maybe even dependent, on social media companies algorithms.

Their dependence on technology sounds familiar to most of us. So many of us can hardly remember when we didn't have Amazon to fall back on when we needed a last-minute gift or when we waited by the radio for our favorite songs to play.

Today, information, entertainment and connection are delivered to us on a conveyor belt, with less effort and exploration required of us than ever before.

A retreat from the rituals of discovery comes with a cost. We all know instinctively that the journeys in life matter just as much as the destinations. It's in the wondering that we learn what we like and what we don't like.

The sweat to get the outcome makes the outcome more fulfilling and satisfying.

The Publishing of this Master Essay continues. The World Students Society thanks author Chris Murphy.


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