In recent years, the Republican Party has placed significant attention on parents’ rights. Republicans have pledged to fight the political indoctrination of children in public schools, and conservative politicians across the country have pushed for school choice in their respective states. Earlier this month, Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), the new chairwoman of the House’s Education and Workforce Committee, stated, “It’s time for the education complex to understand that children belong to their parents, not the state.” Amen to that.
Even though Republicans are having a moment with parents’ rights, Senator Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) just proposed the Making Age-Verification Technology Uniform, Robust, and Effective (MATURE) Act, which completely flies in the face of the party’s push to empower parents.
The MATURE Act would ban children under the age of 16 from creating accounts on social media platforms. To enforce the ban, the bill would require social media companies to implement an age verification system that would obtain an individual’s full legal name, date of birth, and imagery of their state-issued ID.
How can any member of the GOP that has fought for the rights of parents to guide their children’s development support this bill? Hawley’s legislation represents an attempt to use the same levers of control that the Left has become so attracted to. What comes next? Does Hawley also believe that the state should dictate the age at which children can watch television, use music streaming platforms, listen to podcasts, or watch certain movies? These decisions should be the subject of parental discretion, not politicians’ edicts. (READ MORE by Benjamin Ayanian: The Urge to Legislate Lives Loudly Within Politicians)
Hawley’s legislation represents an attempt to use the same levers of control that the Left has become so attracted to.
To justify his quest to parent the children of others, Hawley cites research that suggests social media use is connected to worsening mental health in young people, especially girls. Too much time on social media might harm the mental health of some, but that doesn’t mean that social media should be completely off limits for an entire age demographic. The connection that social media provides can also be of great benefit to young people.
According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, students who were virtually connected to others during the pandemic had better mental health than those who were not. The loneliness of young people stemming from school closures and lockdowns would have been exacerbated without access to social media.
Furthermore, Hawley’s bill could create an awkward social situation where many young people have social media accounts while other individuals of the same age do not. As currently constructed, the bill exempts already existing social media accounts and ones that are made six months following the date of the bill’s passage from any age verification requirements. So only those under 16 who currently have social media accounts or those who make an account in a timely manner would be allowed on social media, while many of their friends and acquaintances would be barred. It’s not hard to imagine this discrepancy leading to uncomfortable gaps in communication and trouble relating to one another for some groups of children.
Ultimately, the MATURE Act is an affront to the rights of parents and would present its own risks to the mental health of young people. Republicans ought to oppose Hawley’s bill and reiterate their commitment to the rights of parents to rear their own children.
Benjamin Ayanian is a graduate of the University of Minnesota, where he studied philosophy, business law, and political science. He has also been published in the Star Tribune and the Wall Street Journal. Follow him on Twitter at @BenjaminAyanian.
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