A bipartisan group of senators and representatives has introduced legislation that would fund research into the effects technology and media have on infants, children and adolescents. The funding would support research into the use of mobile devices, computers, social media, apps, websites, TV, films, AI, video games, VR and AR with a focus on cognitive, physical and socio-emotional development.
"While technology educates and entertains our children every day, we need a better understanding of how it impacts their social, psychological and physical well-being," Senator Edward Markey (D-MA) said in a statement. "This bill will enable experts to conduct critical research that will inform parents and policymakers about how best to protect American children's bodies and minds from issues such as tech addiction, bullying and depression in the digital age."
The lawmakers who introduced the bill include Senators Markey, Ben Sasse (R-NE), Roy Blunt (R-MO), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Susan Collins (R-ME) as well as Representatives John Delaney (D-MD) and Ted Budd (R-NC). "Children are increasingly using digital devices in their everyday lives, but little is known about the impact technology has on their health and development," said Senator Blunt. "Advancing research to better understand the impact of technology will help parents create a healthy environment for their children to learn and grow."
The move comes as a number of tech companies are introducing both more rigorous parental controls and more options for users to manage or limit the time they spend on the internet or using apps. Apple demonstrated its digital wellness features during WWDC in June as did Google during its I/O conference in May.
Additionally, while Facebook is toying with a "do not disturb" feature, it's also facing pushback over its Messenger Kids app. The messaging app, which is geared towards children younger than 13 years old, has been hit with criticism from those concerned about exposing young kids to social media. The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood wrote Facebook a letter earlier this year urging the company to disable the app. "A growing body of research demonstrates that excessive use of digital devices and social media is harmful to children and teens, making it very likely this new app will undermine children's healthy development," the group wrote.
The bill authorizes $15 million for research, led by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), each year from 2019 through 2021 as well as $25 million each for fiscal years 2022 and 2023. "Internet companies care deeply about the safety and well-being of their users and welcome scientific research on this important issue funded through the CAMRA Act," Melika Carroll, head of global government affairs at the Internet Association, said in a statement. "Existing research lacks the rigor, quality and independence of an NIH study into this important topic."
Other groups reportedly endorsing the bill include Facebook, Common Sense Media, the Center for Digital Democracy and Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.