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Allow Tennessee parents to protect their children

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Giving parents more power to protect their children online is a political success issue that cuts across party lines.

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  • Patrick T. Brown (@PTBwrites) is a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. Brad Wilcox is a Future of Freedom Fellow at the Institute for Family Studies.

In a polarized America, it sometimes feels like there isn't much that can bring progressives and conservatives together.

But one threat is keeping parents from all walks of life increasingly sleepless: figuring out how to protect their child online and prevent social media content from having undue influence on their child's well-being. A new report shows that tools designed to help parents protect their children online are extremely popular with Tennessee voters.

A national survey by our two organizations found that 86% of parents agreed that it is “too easy” for children to find explicit content online. And a recent survey from the University of Michigan found that parents' top two concerns about their children's well-being were monitoring screen time and social media.

Here's what the two bills on parental rights do

Tennessee's recent growth, economic vibrancy and family-friendly culture have made the state one of the best places in the country to raise a family. But parents shouldn't be technology experts in order to raise their children healthily. The recently introduced Protecting Children from Social Media Act (House Bill 1891/Senate Bill 2097), which would require social media companies to obtain permission from a minor's parents before allowing them to open an account, would be a welcome start .

Another major bill recently introduced in Tennessee is the Protect Tennessee Minors Act (House Bill 1614/Senate Bill 1792), which would require internet users to verify their age in order to access pornography online. Almost every parent has the story of a child who accidentally stumbled across offensive content or images simply because they mistyped a Google search, and the bill's approach is incredibly popular.

In our survey, four in five Tennesseans said they somewhat or strongly support the idea of ​​requiring age verification to view sexually explicit content online, including large majorities of Democrats, Republicans and political independents. And about a dozen states from Virginia to Montana have enacted laws to impose age limits on Internet porn—a political no-brainer.

Children should be supervised when going online

But in addition to online pornography, parents are grappling with how to ensure their children interact with social media and the Internet in healthy ways. From cyberbullying to mental health concerns, parents are often confused by the variety of user settings and options to keep them safe. And most of today's most popular apps, like TikTok and Snapchat, use algorithmic content and direct messaging that make traditional content-based filters inappropriate.

More: How TN Democrats and GOP representatives voted on the House TikTok bill that could ban the app in the US

To remedy the situation, Tennessee's social media bill requires platforms to provide parents with the appropriate means to monitor their child's account, including clearer access to privacy settings and other measures. Tennessee should go further and require that parents be given administrator-level access so they can see what their children have seen, who they have sent private messages to, and what ads have targeted them. Many parents who trust that their children are trying to do the right thing want to prevent their child from falling into content that encourages self-harm, violence, or substance abuse before it is too late.

Giving parents more power to protect their children online is a political success issue that cuts across party lines. In our survey, only 17% — and 12% of Republican-leaning parents — said the problem of helping children use technology was “not a problem the government should try to solve.”

The ultimate responsibility for educating their children and keeping them safe online always lies with parents. But given the power that social media has to influence the lives of America's children, parents need the right tools to do the job.

Patrick T. Brown (@PTBwrites) is a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. Brad Wilcox is a Future of Freedom Fellow at the Institute for Family Studies.