Gavin Newsom’s interest with banning smartphones in schools could lead to harsh outcome | Opinion

It seems the flavor of the week for the U.S. Surgeon General and Gavin Newsom is social media, smartphones and how government can better parent children.

As if Newsom doesn’t have more pressing issues — a multi-billion dollar deficit, a homeless crisis, retail theft legislation — he is aiming his attention at social media.

These two public officials are wading into some very deep waters, the every-day behavior of literally millions of American kids. Their reach may be limited. When you try to tell a teen what to do, sometimes you get the opposite response.

Yet the federal government is gearing up to take on social media with mere words.

Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy said Monday that he would push for a warning label on social media platforms advising parents that using the platforms might damage adolescents’ mental health.

“The mental health crisis among young people is an emergency -- and social media has emerged as an important contributor,” Murthy wrote in the New York Times. “Adolescents who spend more than three hours a day on social media face double the risk of anxiety and depression symptoms.”

According to Gallup, 51% of teens spent an average 4.8 hours a day on social media. The top apps they choose are YouTube, TikTok and Instagram. All these apps have parental guidance guidance features on their platform.

Not to be outdone by Washington, the California governor now wants to go further than labels. He wants to take smartphones away from students all together.

“As the surgeon general affirmed, social media is harming the mental health of our youth,” Newsom told Politico. “Building on legislation I signed in 2019, I look forward to working with the Legislature to restrict the use of smartphones during the school day. When children and teens are in school, they should be focused on their studies — not their screens.”

Will labels and regulations work?

The governor says that we must address the “problem” of social media, but his proposal doesn’t move the needle away from what’s already been done in the two generations since smartphones were created. Teachers have been taking phones away from students for the past two decades. And that has proven to not have that much success.

But even still, regulating social media is gaining popularity across the political spectrum. On top of the the governor’s push to ban smartphones in school, certain lawmaker have introduced a couple of bills that could restrict social media.

State Sen. Henry Stern, D-Calabasas, proposed a measure that would give school districts the ability to restrict students’ use of social media while they are on campus. Assembly member Josh Hoover, R-Folsom, is interested in requiring school districts to limit or ban smartphones on school campuses by 2026.

Now, when in American history has warning labels stopped a kid from being peered pressured into puffing a cigarette or using a fake identification to get alcohol? Never.

Banning smartphones opens up a can of worms that state lawmakers don’t want to have. Requiring schools to ban a device is a totalitarian move that will boost suspensions in school, leading to a overwhelmed staff. Not to mention there are students who do need to have a phone on them in case of family emergency.

There are answers to the problem

The issue should be about the algorithms that run the social media platforms. It is this sophisticated software that sends tons of content to a user’s doorstep at the tap of the screen. That has much more of an impact than the social media app alone. It would be noteworthy to see whether social media companies would be willing to partner with government to find common ground instead of putting it all on the kids.

As attempts at regulating social media remain works in progress, researchers should continue to look into the harm that social media content can have on youth. But the common denominator in this issue is the parent. Yes, the government can impose labels. But the real impact starts at home.