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Proposed bill would ban anyone under 16 from using social media

Local leaders don't believe it will pass in Congress, but it is sparking an important conversation about teens' mental health.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Spectrum Health and Human Services opened up two additional help centers, one in Springville and one in Warsaw, last year for anyone dealing with a mental health crisis in Western New York.

Some of the youngest callers are 14 to 15 years old. 

"There was actually a girl a couple of weeks ago that just called. She was 15 years old," crisis clinician Carolyn Damon said.

"In the course of the conversation, we had come to learn that her mother was home during the call but didn't know who she was on the phone with. So a lot of times, they're just taking it upon themselves. They need that connection to someone."

Damon said Spectrum Health is seeing more teenagers develop depression and feelings of loneliness, consistent with what was just reported in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Youth Risk Behavior Study released last week. 

Damon said the pandemic and social media have played a factor. 

"You don't ever get a break from the barrage of comments, whether they're positive or negative and how they influence, especially at that age, the development and psyche of teenagers," Damon said. 

Now Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley is trying to protect kids online by proposing a bill that would make the legal age of anyone who has a social media account at least 16.

New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand doesn't think it will pass. 

"I share Senator Hawley's concerns about the harms of social media, but I don't think he has a teenager because if he did, he would know how hard that would be," Gillibrand said. 

She says it would be too difficult to enforce because kids will often lie about their age on social media to create an account on platforms with age limits.

"There's a lot of protections that we could put in place right now that's not an outright ban on use, and I think kids would get around it. So I'm interested in his focus, and I'll find out if there's anything we can do together," Gillibrand said. 

Gillibrand says Congress needs to define what constitutes "privacy harm" and then create a new government agency to monitor it all. 

Damon says parents know their kids the best and are going to be the first ones to notice some behavioral changes, and if you do notice something, there is help. 

If your child doesn't feel comfortable talking to a crisis clinician in-person, they can call either of Spectrum Health's locations and then will be connected with the right resources. 

Springville location: 716-566-6512

Warsaw location: 716-566-6513

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