One family grieves the loss of a son and speaks out about the possible harms of social media to young people.
Dr. Laura Berman, host of “In the Bedroom with Dr. Laura Berman” on the OWN Network, and her husband, Samuel Chapman, shared in February that their 16-year-old son Sammy died by drug overdose after being dealt fentanyl-laced drugs. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. A dealer who had corresponded with Sammy via Snapchat delivered the drugs to Sammy’s home overnight, as easily as delivering a pizza.
The important role of parents
“It’s so important for us as parents to know what our children are doing on social media now more than ever. New tools are making that knowledge easier than ever to gather,” Berman explains in a video PSA. The PSA is posted on the website for Parents for Safer Children, an organization Berman and her family created in honor of Sammy’s memory. They aim to raise awareness for apps such as Bark, which allow parents to monitor their children’s online activity.
The family has launched a Change.org petition, “You Can Help Us Save Children’s Lives: Call on Social Media to #LetParentsProtect,” to call on certain social media platforms, including Snapchat and TikTok, to allow third-party safety platform usage, as others like Twitter and Instagram do.
“Unfortunately, for third-party safety apps to work, the social media companies need to give them permission,” Berman wrote on the petition page. “Social media companies that have a lot of younger users seem to be the ones preventing parents from using safety apps. Possibly, these companies are concerned that children’s engagement with their platform generally would decrease should parents have the choice to supervise their children’s social media use — meaning less profits and less money for big social media.”
On social media, about a quarter of young people view illegal drug advertisements, 34 percent have experienced cyberbullying, between 71 and 88 percent encounter nudity and sexual content, and 64 percent have faced hate speech, the family reported on its petition page. What’s more, about 82 percent of child sex crimes can be traced back to social media, they write.
Berman and her family, including her two living sons, Ethan and Jackson, have appeared on TV shows such as “Today” to share their grief and raise awareness for their mission. “I didn’t intend for us to be on the news; I just felt helpless,” Berman said on “Today” in February. “All I was thinking about is that this couldn’t happen again, and I was so furious and helpless.”
As Berman explained in the PSA: “We may have lost Sammy, but we haven’t lost our fire to protect kids against these dangers.”