Vermont AG joins opposition to ‘Instagram Kids’ as experts warn of potential harm

Vermont News

MONTPELIER, Vt. (WFFF) — Facebook wants to develop “Instagram Kids” that would be aimed at children 13 and under.

But more than 40 attorneys general, including Vermont’s T.J. Donovan, are urging the social media giant to abandon the plan. “I think creating this platform for kids younger than 13 just doesn’t seem like a good idea to me,” said AG Donovan.

Vermont was one of 44 states that sent a letter to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to express concerns about the app. The letter cites a 2017 study that reported 42 percent of young Instagram users had experienced cyberbullying, the highest percentage of any platform measured.

Donovan—also a parent to children under 13—said he is concerned a kid version of Instagram will do more harm than good. 

“Social media, I think we’ve seen, carries some risks,” he said. “Especially when talking about our kids. Talking about the issue of anxiety, those issues of the fear of missing out, the idea of cyberbullying.”  

Speech language pathologist Danielle Kent helps children in Central Vermont understand their thoughts and behaviors. She runs a private practice called Piece of Mind Therapy and Consulting, LLC and is a contributing writer for Vermont Mom.

Social media, Kent says, can be risky for the developing brain. “If you look at the brain science behind social media, there’s actually brain chemicals—brain changes —that happen when you use social media that make you more inclined to want to go check. When you get a “Like” it actually releases a hit of dopamine in your brain,” said Kent.

Kent says an app like “Instagram Kids” would target children just as they are beginning to learn essential cognitive functions.

“They’re growing up and they’re learning how to do something called self-regulate: connect the dots between their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. If they start using it early, they start to use social media as a regulation tool. Like ‘Oh, I feel crummy, I’m going to go check my phone.’ You know, we see adults doing that. I’ve done that before,” said Kent.

Child psychiatrist Dr. Jeremiah Dickerson from the University of Vermont Medical Center says while social media can help young users connect with others, he also has concerns. In a statement, he said: 

“For youth that may already struggle with mental health concerns (i.e. anxiety and depression), there’s evidence that these individuals may be especially vulnerable to the negative aspects of social media use, particularly Instagram. Without clear parental guidance and positive role-modeling around use, as a mental health provider, I do have worries about social media platforms geared towards children.”

AG Donovan says he hopes to hear from a Facebook representative in the coming weeks.

“Forty-four states coming together I think sends the clear message that there is widespread and bipartisan concern about this new product,” said Donovan.

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