March 29, 2024

Florida and Colorado social media bills remind us how important it is to equip students with the skills to navigate social media positively

Be sure to check out the suggested Huddle question at the bottom of this article to discuss this important topic with your students in class, if you feel it is appropriate.

Social media is an important part of many students’ lives, with nearly 60% of students having at least one social media account by the time they turn 13, and over half of 13-to-19-year-olds using social media for over four hours a day. As social media becomes more prevalent, critics are increasingly worried that social media is addictive and negatively affects students’ well-being. While here at The Social Institute we believe social media can enrich students’ lives, it’s important to understand these perspectives as recent laws reflect growing concerns.

This week, these concerns reached a high in Florida and Colorado, where state legislatures passed restrictions on how teens can access and use social platforms. Florida is limiting social media use for students under 16, banning children 13 and younger from creating social media profiles, and requiring parental consent for 14- and 15-year-olds. Colorado will require platforms to display pop-up warnings to users under 18 who have spent over an hour on social media and provide resources for all users about social media’s potential negative impact on well-being.

While these restrictions and new features may keep students off social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram, students will keep using their devices to connect and, with the case of the Florida bill, eventually age into social media. Even now, more than 35% of students of all ages regularly use devices for gaming, FaceTiming, texting, and YouTube. 

With these restrictions, Florida and Colorado join other states that have curbed students’ social media use. This trend reflects a growing understanding of how important it is to empower students to navigate social media thoughtfully, making it more important than ever for educators to empower students to navigate social media in high-character ways. That way, students are prepared to use social media responsibly now or in the future.

What the laws in Colorado and Florida will do

Florida’s new regulations are meant to address growing concerns about students’ online safety and well-being. Specifically, the bill’s supporters claim that high social media use can increase students’ risk of developing anxiety, depression, and eating disorders, while the potential vulnerability of students’ data and personal information creates a safety concern. 

Alongside restricting younger students’ ability to sign up for profiles, the new law requires social media platforms to delete accounts for children under 14, with 90 days for account holders to dispute any terminations. Any companies “knowingly or recklessly” violating the law could face fines of up to $50,000 per violation. Arkansas, Louisiana, Ohio, and Utah have passed or are developing similar bills.

While Florida lawmakers are generally positive about the bill, critics are concerned that it violates the First Amendment right to free speech by limiting who can access or share content. Supporters and opponents alike expect that the law will face legal challenges when it takes effect next January.

Colorado’s law also responds to concerns about student well-being, with supporters citing the statistic that three or more hours of social media use per day doubles students’ risk of mental health challenges like depression and anxiety. As this bill focuses on keeping students from excessively scrolling by notifying them once they have spent more than an hour online and providing educational resources — rather than completely keeping them off social platforms — lawmakers don’t anticipate a legal challenge. The bill passed the Colorado Senate Education Committee and is moving to the Senate Appropriations Committee for additional review.

The research backing these bills supports the idea that spending too much time online can cause challenges. However, when students are empowered to make high-character decisions online and live up to high standards as they navigate their tech, social media can positively impact their lives in multiple ways. For example, students report that social platforms help them build community with others who share their interests, access important information, express themselves creatively, and feel more confident. By encouraging students to navigate social media in positive, high-character ways, educators can help make sure they enjoy social media’s benefits and avoid the challenges.

Strategies for educators to empower students to navigate tech in healthy, high-character ways

By empowering students to use their tech wisely, educators equip them to enjoy online time while excelling in their offline lives as well. Social media is here to stay, so when we empower and equip rather than scare and restrict, we are more likely to meet students where they are and build healthy habits and overall well-being and success in our students. Here are our tips for helping students do just that:

  • Challenge students to change their screen time routine and note how it makes them feel. When it comes to screen time, shaking things up or cutting back even a little bit can make a big difference in sleep quality, energy, focus, and more. When students notice a difference, it can inspire them to keep working on striking the perfect balance.
  • Encourage students to explore positive role models and to find positive influences: By following individuals and groups that promote positivity, creativity, and personal growth, students can cultivate a healthier online environment that uplifts and inspires them. 
  • Teach students about the power their voices have: Encourage students to navigate social media platforms positively and to advocate for causes they care about, spread awareness, and connect with individuals to make a positive impact in their communities and beyond. 
  • Promote positivity and cyberbacking online: Empower students to understand the impact of their online interactions. Encourage them to cyberback each other by spreading kindness, respect, and empathy in their online actions, fostering a supportive and inclusive environment for all. 

Interested in learning more about how The Social Institute can help your school prepare students for a world that is tech-fueled and social media-filled? Request a demo of our peer-to-peer learning platform that uses a positive and proactive approach to empowering students to make high-character decisions as they navigate their well-being, social media, and technology. 

#WinAtSocial Huddle Question

Huddle with your students
In this discussion, we’ve learned how Florida and Colorado are responding to the issues social media causes some students. In your opinion, are social media platforms responsible for how their platforms impact users, or is it the responsibility of individuals to use social media in a way that supports their well-being? 

The Social Institute (TSI) is the leader in empowering students by understanding students. Through #WinAtSocial, our gamified, peer-to-peer learning platform, we equip students, educators, and families to navigate their social world – in the classroom and beyond, online and offline – in healthy, high-character ways. Our unique, student-respected approach empowers and equips, rather than scares and restricts. We incorporate timely topics about social media, tech use, and current events that are impacting student well-being and learning. #WinAtSocial Lessons teach life skills for the modern day, capture student voice, and provide school leaders with actionable insights. Through these insights, students play an essential role in school efforts to support their own health, happiness, and future success as we enable high-impact teaching, meaningful family conversations, and a healthy school culture.