Biden calls for greater mental health care access in schools, limitations on social media companies

President Joe Biden called on lawmakers to enact new limitations on how tech industry giants can collect data from and advertise to kids. (Jacquelyn Martin / Pool / Getty Images)

Calling for increased mental health care access in schools, President Joe Biden pointed to social media companies as one factor contributing to the nation’s mental health challenges during Tuesday’s State of the Union address.

“When millions of young people are struggling with bullying, violence, trauma, we owe them greater access to mental health care at their schools,” he said. “We must finally hold social media companies accountable for the experimenting they’re running on children for profit.”

His comments come as some of the largest school districts in the nation have struggled to hire enough counselors and psychologists during the pandemic. Health officials have warned of a brewing mental health crisis, and schools across the country have sought to bolster access to telehealth and other resources.

Biden’s focus on social media companies follows a pair of lawsuits last month by two Washington school districts, which alleged such companies have fueled a mental health crisis among their students. The schools named giants of the tech industry — like Meta, Google, Snapchat, and ByteDance, the company behind TikTok — in the lawsuits.

Biden called for lawmakers to pass legislation limiting how tech companies can collect data from kids and prohibit advertising to minors.

He also touted other education measures — advocating Tuesday for higher teacher pay and expanded pre-K and higher education access.

Biden has attempted to increase funding for pre-K programs in prior legislation, but those proposals failed to gain traction among Republicans and Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin.

Research has found some positive signs associated with pre-K programs, with one study noting those enrolled were more likely to graduate high school and enroll in college. Tuesday, Biden said “children who go to preschool are nearly 50% more likely to finish high school and go on to earn a two- or four-year degree, no matter their background.”

“When we made public education — 12 years of it — universal in the last century, we became the best-educated, best-paid nation in the world,” he said. “If you want to have the best-educated workforce, let’s finish the job by providing access to pre-school for 3- and 4-year-olds.”

Julian Shen-Berro is a reporter covering national issues. Contact him at jshen-berro@chalkbeat.org.

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