From the moment Sammy was born, it was my job as his mother to tend his cries, meet his needs, and nurture his growth. In the months since his death, I have found that the hardest part of my grief journey is not the sorrow or rage, but the helplessness that has rocked me to my core. My role as Sammy’s mother was robbed from me, and so too was my ability to nurture him, protect him, and love him as my heart was built to do.
It was this helplessness, and my need to cope with that lack of power, which led me start becoming very proactive about sharing my son’s story and advocating for better social media protections. But the deeper I get into this piece of my grief, the angrier and more terrified I get, because the more I learn about these dangerous drugs and how little our government is doing to protect kids from these risks. And the more I hear from other parents who say that their child was also poisoned by illicitly manufactured fentanyl or synthetic opioids, often sold to them on social media, often laced with fentanyl without their knowledge.
And during the pandemic, these deaths have increased dramatically. From August 2019 to August 2020, there were 88,000 overdose deaths reported. According to the CDC, that is the highest ever recorded in a 12-month period. And the Border Patrol just reported a 233 percent increase in fentanyl seizures at the southern border just in the last year. President Biden recently extended the temporary classification of H.R. 1910 (which makes fentanyl-like substances a class A drug, the most strictly controlled drug category with the highest penalties) into October, but refused to make the classification permanent. Meanwhile, civil rights groups are putting pressure on the administration to remove the classification altogether. So, come October, we will be seeing yet another political battle over how to classify fentanyl-like substances and how to approach the selling and manufacture of these drugs.
I can’t describe how angry this makes me. The substance that robbed me of my son is being used as a political bargaining chip. Legislation that could actually effect real change and save other kids’ lives is getting lost in the polarizing partisan nature of our government. Politicians’ egos and bottom lines are taking precedent over creating real policies that would have kept my son safe, that would keep other families safe in the future. It’s so hard to live with these feelings of helplessness.
One thing that is helping me right now is focusing all of my effort on doing what I can on a personal level to impact change. That is why I created the hashtag #LetParentsProtect on social media, and this petition which I am asking you to sign right now. Currently, TikTok and Snapchat do not allow parents to protect their kids on their apps, because they prevent parents from using third-party software to monitor when their child is exposed to dangerous content.
One of the most effective ways for us to protect our children is by using third-party safety apps (like Bark). These apps can provide alerts to parents when dangerous content is shared through children’s social media accounts, enabling a parent to provide life-saving interventions at a critical moment. For example, if a child is expressing thoughts of suicide via social media, then a parent, who has received an alert through a third-party safety app, can immediately provide mental health support. We know from the statistics that these alerts have saved thousands of children’s lives.
Unfortunately, for third-party safety apps to work, the social media companies need to give them permission. While many social media platforms, like Twitter and Instagram, do provide this access, unfortunately, Snapchat and TikTok (two of the most popular apps among tweens and teens) do not. We need to put pressure on Snapchat and TikTok to allow parents this necessary and life-saving access.
To save lives, parents need to be the ones who make the choice about whether they want to use safety apps. That is why we are calling on social media companies to #LetParentsProtect our children.
Watch our PSA: https://vimeo.com/548594963/65548d77b5
Please share this petition far and wide. We have a real opportunity to make the world a safer place for this next generation. Thank you.