Opinion: As immaturity, hate brew online, Congress should move to protect children by raising internet use age to 16
By: Congressman Jake Auchincloss
BOSTON/WASHINGTON D.C. – As immaturity and hate brew online, Congress should move to protect children by raising, and enforcing, the age of Internet use to 16 and adopting the Massachusetts model of gun-safety legislation. Society can contribute by more openly discussing healthy masculinity.
Last week, federal officials descended on a small town that I represent in Congress to arrest Jack Teixeira, 21, an Air National Guard member, for allegedly leaking classified national defense information. If convicted, he rightfully faces stiff punishment. Outside the courtroom, the United States has to repair trust with allies, and the Pentagon has pointed questions to answer on Capitol Hill about why junior enlisted personnel can print out top-secret US intelligence about the war in Ukraine.
Here’s another tough question, though — not one for defense attorneys, diplomats, or generals, but for all of us: Is this young man an outlier, or an emblem? The Washington Post reported Teixeira recorded himself firing weapons while spouting antisemitic comments. His Discord group chat was allegedly riddled with misogyny and racism. And, it seems from early reporting, he dumped classified documents more to impress members of the group chat than to disrupt US foreign policy.
Immaturity and hate, brewing online. I’ve spent the past year speaking with experts and parents about the state of young men in this country, and I’m concerned that what’s unique about this situation is only that this individual had top-secret clearance. Over the last decade, too many young men have retreated from work, education, and family obligations while exhibiting antisocial behaviors. Instead, they are forging their identities online. Their avatars veer into perversity and extremism, with women and minority groups often the target of their conspiracies and bile.
As a father and a policy maker, I feel increasing urgency to address this issue head-on. I spent last summer on the road and on the phone throughout my district to listen and learn. I saw boys thrive in loosely structured after-school dodgeball games that impart self-efficacy. I heard about how many languished during the COVID-19 pandemic, turning to multiplayer online gaming, which cultivates the opposite qualities from that dodgeball game. Instead of gaining confidence and learning how to set and enforce healthy norms with peers, they are playing at pretend war while keyboarding anonymized vitriol in the associated chats.
I don’t want this for my son, and after meeting with constituents, I’m confident they agree. But parents feel helpless in the face of social media and video game behemoths that are turning their children into products for advertisers.
Congress must protect children online. As Surgeon General Vivek Murthy has advised, the United States should raise the age of Internet adulthood from 13 to at least 16. Further, as social psychologist Jonathan Haidt recommended in testimony to the Senate, Congress should adopt the United Kingdom’s Age Appropriate Design Code, a set of 15 standards that includes verifying age, protecting children’s privacy, and using positive behavioral nudges. To lay the groundwork for more evidence-based policy, Congress should also fund research on social media and video games’ effects on children’s mental health and compel companies to share the relevant data.
To prevent disturbed online behavior from morphing into violence, Congress also needs to adopt the Massachusetts model of gun-safety legislation: background checks, safe-storage laws, an assault weapons ban, and more.
Society must also build a positive image of masculinity, something to guide boys and young men toward. What does healthy masculinity look like in 2023? Every parent of sons whom I know is thinking about this. And yet it’s a fraught topic, often discussed quietly in the din of the culture wars. That’s beginning to change, with important contributions from scholars like Richard Reeves, who has explored education and workforce reforms. We should elevate the discussion, approaching different perspectives with curiosity.
Attention to the well-being of Gen Z men should not detract from equally vital work on the mental health of young women, people of color, and the LGBTQ community, who have been even more negatively affected by the compare-and-despair element of online culture than have young men. All of Gen Z, and the generations that follow, should get the best of technology while being spared its ills.
The Gen Zer who allegedly leaked classified information will have to own his mistakes if found guilty. But a thoughtful response would not just be punishment for an individual; it would be a call to action for all of us. Too many young men are failing online, and we must help them succeed in the real world.
US Representative Jake Auchincloss represents the Massachusetts 4th Congressional District.
April 20, 2023 at 12:59 pm
Wow, this guy is a pure fascist!
April 20, 2023 at 1:10 pm
This all stems from allegations and the opinions of experts! Great work Jake, you are single handedly saving us from the W.W.W. Meanwhile, the cost of living in Massachusetts is untenable due to Joe Bidens inflationary spiral. Jake loves Joe Biden and his spot in the Democrat party. Jake cares not about the real problems Ma. residents face daily. This is pure distraction. The Democrat party is full of people like Jake, always there to save us from the boogeyman, while enriching themselves by trading on info. from inside of the Federal legislature. Time to vote this guy out of his position, he is completely beholden to the globalists whom want nothing but complete control over your lives.
April 20, 2023 at 1:42 pm
Shouldn’t this be up to parents?
I’m sure there are boogies out there who think it is ok for their 12 year olds to smoke weed and ride illegal dirtbikes, but the government isn’t going to change things.
Maybe focus on some real legislation instead of things like this.
April 20, 2023 at 2:39 pm
Another blowhard who thinks he knows what’s best for the rest of us. Stop trying to socially engineer people how you want them to be.
SC Justice for Life lmao
April 20, 2023 at 5:05 pm
Good luck enforcing it.
I Hate Stupid Democrats
April 20, 2023 at 5:35 pm
Swore an oath to protect the Constitution of the United States wants to infringe on the 1st Amendment and the 2nd. And this is why I hate stupid Democrats. Any criticism of Women ” Misogyny ” Any criticism of minorities ” Racism ” Any criticism of LGBTQ ” Hate speech ”
This isn’t ” Protecting children ” this is about control nothing more. They want you unarmed , silent and obedient while the fleece America along with their corporate donors.