Promoting children’s behavioral health: Why Idaho needs stricter access to technology in schools

As members of the Idaho Behavioral Health Council, we are deeply concerned about the increasing behavioral health issues among children, particularly those stemming from the misuse of technology and social media. House Bill 663 will provide for more restrictive access to phones and social media in schools for children, alongside the implementation of a digital literacy course. This bill aims to address the negative impacts of excessive screen time and empower students to navigate the digital world responsibly.

In recent years, we have witnessed a concerning rise in behavioral health issues among children, including anxiety, depression and cyberbullying. Incidents of suicide in Idaho children have been higher than ever. Much of this can be attributed to the pervasive influence of technology and social media in their lives. Excessive screen time has been linked to poor sleep quality, decreased physical activity and impaired social skills. Moreover, constant exposure to inappropriate content and online harassment can have serious repercussions on children’s mental and emotional well-being.

To combat these issues, our proposed bill includes provisions authorizing schools to implement stricter controls on internet access, social media and phone usage. This includes filtering or blocking access to obscene materials, harmful content and platforms that depict the sexual exploitation of minors. By creating a safer online environment within schools, we can mitigate the negative influences of technology and protect children from exposure to harmful content.

Furthermore, the bill mandates the introduction of a comprehensive digital literacy course for students in grades 6 through 12. This course will equip students with the necessary skills to navigate the digital landscape responsibly and critically evaluate online information. From understanding digital citizenship and online privacy to identifying cyber threats and practicing safe online behavior, this course will empower students to make informed decisions about their technology usage.

By integrating digital literacy education into the curriculum, we are not only preparing students for the realities of the digital age but also promoting their overall well-being. Digital literacy is essential for navigating the complexities of the modern world, and by providing students with the necessary knowledge and skills, we can help them thrive in both their academic and personal lives.

We understand that implementing these changes will require resources and support from both the state and local communities. Therefore, we urge policymakers to prioritize children’s behavioral health and allocate funding for the implementation of digital literacy programs in schools. Additionally, we call on parents and educators to support these efforts and actively engage in conversations about responsible technology use with their children.

House Bill 663 is a proactive step toward safeguarding the well-being of Idaho’s children in an increasingly digital world. By restricting access to technology in schools and promoting digital literacy education, we can empower students to become responsible digital citizens and protect them from the negative impacts of excessive screen time and social media use. It’s time to prioritize children’s behavioral health, and this bill is a critical first step in that direction.

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Idaho Sen. Doug Ricks, R-Rexburg; Rep. Chenele Dixon, R-Kimberly; Rep. Brooke Green, D-Boise; and Sen. Ali Rabe, D-Boise