Over the last few years, Republicans have claimed the mantle of the party of “parental rights.” Whether it’s fighting back against leftist political indoctrination in schools or school choice, the GOP has framed itself as the party that supports parents, not the government, deciding what’s best for their children.
One Republican senator wants to change that.
Sen. Josh Hawley, a “populist” Missouri Republican, is introducing legislation that would insert the federal government into your parenting decisions. He would federally mandate a minimum requirement age of 16 for social media users and require social media companies to verify that age before allowing a user on their site.
“Kids should have to be 16 to open a social media account,” the senator wrote.
“The whole aim of this agenda is: Let's do something real and tangible that is going to protect kids online and get power back to parents,” Hawley told NBC. (Emphasis added.)
Huh? Hawley wants to “give power back to the parents” by using the federal government to overrule their parenting decisions about social media use. Because that makes sense.
It’s worth pointing out how hilariously naive this legislative proposal is. If passed, it would take any teenager approximately two minutes to circumvent it. All they would have to do is download one of countless free VPN apps and set their location to Canada or anywhere else in the world where these laws are not in place (something teenagers already often do to circumvent content restrictions on platforms such as Netflix). And boom — they’d be able to access social media even under the age of 16.
But it’s not just a useless legislative proposal. It’s deeply hypocritical and insulting to conservative values.
Parents know their children best. Social media can be harmful for some teenagers, yes. Yet not all teenagers have negative experiences on social media. A one-size-fits-all ban on social media for teenagers would deprive the countless young people who have a healthy and positive relationship with these platforms of their many benefits. Some teenagers probably shouldn’t be allowed to use social media if it’s having an adverse effect on their mental health or self-esteem. Their parents have the best line of sight into that and know what’s best for their child.
And that’s the bigger point here. Who gets to make the call: the government or parents?
Obviously, everyone agrees that parental autonomy is not without its proper limits. That’s why child abuse and other such horrific acts are rightfully illegal and not considered within “parental rights.” But letting your 15-year-old have an Instagram account is a far, far cry from abuse. It’s simply a parenting decision you may or may not agree with.
Guess what? That’s part of the freedom that people such as Josh Hawley say they believe in.
Republicans should also seriously consider whether they want to further open this Pandora’s box. The average federal bureaucrat has the politics of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). Do we really want to give these people more power to invade family life and investigate parents?
The entire proposal is full of more holes than Swiss cheese. Either Hawley hasn’t fully thought this through, or he’s more concerned with anti-Big Tech virtue signaling than sound policy or actual conservative principles.