My heart broke for OWN TV host Dr. Laura Berman when she lost her 16-year-old son Sammy in February. In a heartbreaking Instagram post, she said, “My beautiful boy is gone. 16 years old. Sheltering at home. A drug dealer connected with him on Snapchat and gave him fentinyl [sic] laced Xanax or Percocet (toxicology will tell) and he overdosed in his room.” As the mom of two teens myself, Sammy’s easy access to drugs and his accidental death under the watch of very involved and careful parents scared and moved me. None of us are immune to this type of tragedy.
Incidents like this are part of the reason my teens, 17 and 14, do not have any social media. It’s also the reason I monitor their phones with an app that alerts me to any concerning texts or google searches. These monitoring apps are great, but only work well if the social media apps your kids use allow parental monitoring through third party apps. Many, like Snapchat, do not—and Snapchat is how a drug dealer contacted Dr. Berman’s son with the offer to deliver drugs straight to his home.
In a new Change.org petition, Dr. Berman is advocating for several popular social media apps to allow parental monitoring apps access to their platforms.
“Our son Sammy was an amazing kid—sweet, funny, curious, an A student. And like all parents, we worked hard to keep him away from dangerous people and places. But, like most parents, we had no idea that drug dealers were preying on our children using Snapchat and other social media platforms. And we had no idea illegal, untested drugs could be delivered to our house as easily as a pizza.”
Honestly, before I read Berman’s story in February, I also had no idea this was possible. The grieving mom went on to detail exactly what caused her Sammy’s death, saying:
“On February 7, 2021, an online drug dealer reached out to our son Sammy on Snapchat and delivered drugs to him at our home. He snuck out after we were asleep to meet the dealer, who gave him what turned out to be a lethal dose of fentanyl. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid twice as addictive as heroin, 100 times more powerful than morphine—and fatal even in microscopic doses. Sammy had no idea he was taking it.”
“As a result, we experienced every parent’s worst pain —we lost our son.”
Dr. Berman goes on to urge parents and anyone who loves a child to sign her petition to ask Snapchat, TikTok, and other social media companies to allow parental monitoring through a third-party app (she mentions the Bark app, which is what I use for my children as well). She explains that, “While many social media platforms, like Twitter and Instagram, do provide this access, unfortunately, a number of others, like Snapchat and TikTok, do not. Why? Well, 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, less money for Big Social Media.”
Here’s what you can do to protect your kids:
- Sign and share Dr. Berman’s petition here at Change.org. You can also post with her hashtag #LetParentsProtect.
- Don’t allow your kids to have apps that don’t allow parental monitoring.
- Check their phones and tablets often and/or monitor them with a third-party app.
Parents, it’s so very true that you and I have a lot of child-rearing challenges to deal with that our parents didn’t have. They had no way to prepare us for protecting our kids from the different kinds of predators who use social media. Now that we know the dangers, we have to act—we can’t just sit by crossing our fingers and hoping all will be well. Even if our kids are “good,” they are still naive and trusting. Science tells us that their frontal lobes aren’t fully formed yet and that they may not be capable of adequately assessing the consequences of their risky behaviors.
So, moms and dads, let’s protect them. It’s our privilege and duty to do so. We can’t control everything, but we can make every good faith effort to keep them safe.