Recent debates on how to best protect children from the potential harms of social media have led to the introduction of the Kids Online Safety Act, otherwise known as KOSA. As the most sweeping legislation dealing with minors online since the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, it begs the question of whether such massive reform is needed or if it would be duplicative of existing private options.

KOSA, as written, would do several things specifically targeting social media platforms and online children’s games that allow communication between players. Among other things, it would establish a duty of care for these platforms to avoid showing minors things that could exasperate mental health issues such as anxiety and depression as well as other material harmful to children. It would also prevent strangers from being able to contact minors, give parents the option to have their children’s data deleted from the platform, and allow children to opt out of algorithms designed to create targeted advertisements. 

Many of KOSA’s mandates are already privately available to parents through existing options, such as application settings and standalone software that gives parents extensive and customizable options. Media education and technology non-profit Common Sense Media offers a high-level overview of the options that parents have for protecting children online and monitoring behavior as much or as little as they deem necessary. In addition, they note that many devices and browsers come with settings that allow parents to block mature or harmful content.

Many popular social media platforms have already taken steps to protect minors online. For example, Meta offers parents the ability to supervise accounts. Meta also provides control over who may chat with their child and access to free resources such as an educational hub. It also offers similar services for other applications like Instagram and Meta Horizon Worlds.

KOSA would duplicate many of these same services such as requiring message notifications to be sent to parents and providing parents with the ability to approve or deny those requests. 

There are more expansive monitoring options for parents to buy or download. For example, Bark is one of the leading services in this market and has options that use AI to detect possible bullying and inappropriate content in children’s phones. Such features go well beyond what KOSA would mandate. 

Whether imposed by legislation or available through private options, questions inevitably arise about how well these programs work and what internet practices are best for minors. 

For example, it is hard to determine exactly how effective parental controls are. A report by EU Kids Online found that there is not yet conclusive evidence about how effective parental control software is and that a “big brother” approach can do more harm than good. Common Sense Media agrees with this assessment and recommends using parental controls in conjunction with teaching young people to use the internet responsibly.

A one-size-fits-all approach cannot possibly consider all the differences in maturity among youth. The American Psychological Association released a health advisory on social media use and discussed both its positive and negative impacts on the welfare of young people. They argued that parents should monitor kids more when they are young, being careful to balance children’s safety with their need for privacy and allowing more freedom as they get older. Ultimately, private sector options offer more flexibility than top-down legislation and would be better suited to handle the large variation of family needs. 

 Many of KOSAs most highly touted features are already available to parents concerned with their child’s online activity. For any additional safety concerns, a less sweeping approach should suffice. For everything else, parents know better than anyone the individual needs of their child.

Trey Price is a policy analyst with the American Consumer Institute, a nonprofit education and research organization. For more information about the Institute, visit us at www.TheAmericanConsumer.Org or follow us on X @ConsumerPal.