Congress wants to know how social media affects childhood development

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The National Institutes of Health may soon receive as much as $95 million to study how social media, video games and mobile devices, among other technologies, affect children’s development.

The funding — $15 million annually from 2019-21 and $25 million annually for 2022 and 2023 — would be authorized by Congress via the Children and Media Research Advancement (CAMRA) Act, a bipartisan bill introduced in both chambers last month.

The goal is to examine how exposure to a bevy of devices and interfaces can actually change how adolescent brains grow — the factors listed include “social media, applications, websites, television, motion pictures, artificial intelligence, mobile devices, computers, video games, virtual and augmented reality,” and more “as they become available.” The research will specifically examine cognitive, physical and socio-emotional development through its five-year duration.

Though Congress has unsuccessfully tried this before in 2005 and 2007 , the evidence that such research is necessary is as strong as ever. A 2017 study from the nonprofit Common Sense Media revealed that 42 percent of children 8 and younger now have their own tablet devices, compared to just 7 percent in 2013 and less than 1 percent in 2011.

Lawmakers are also optimistic that added stakeholder support for this legislation will set it apart from its predecessors. The bill is co-sponsored in the Senate by Ed Markey, D-Mass., Ben Sasse, R-Neb., Roy Blunt, R-Mo., Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, and in the House by John Delaney, D-Md., and Ted Budd, R-N.C. It also claims more than a dozen endorsements from companies, nonprofits and researchers, including Facebook, the Internet Association (IA) and the American Association of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

“Existing research lacks the rigor, quality and independence of an NIH study into this important topic. IA members invest in programs, partnerships, policies, controls, and resources to promote a safe and positive online experience for people of all ages, and look forward to identifying more ways to enhance people’s well-being on and offline,” said Melika Carroll, senior vice president of global government affairs at the Internet Association, in a statement.

A progress report detailing the research conducted by the NIH will also be due exactly one year after the bill is signed into law.

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