Mother sues Facebook, claiming harm to addicted teenage daughter

A Colorado mother has filed a lawsuit against Facebook and its parent company, Meta, alleging the social media platform harmed her 13-year-old daughter. 

Cecelia Tesch of Pueblo filed the federal lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Denver last month on behalf of her daughter— listed as "R.P." in court documents obtained by FOX Television Stations. 

Kevin Hannon, an attorney for Tesch, said Facebook thwarted brain development in R.P. 

In court documents, R.P. is described as a heavy user of Facebook who started using the online platform at seven years old and began exhibiting addictive behavior. 

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"R.P. interest in any activity other than viewing and posting on Facebook progressively declined," the lawsuit stated. 

Because of her addiction, Tesch’s attorneys said the teenager "subsequently developed injuries including, but not limited to, body dysmorphia eating disorder, self-harm, severe anxiety, depression, and a decrease in motivation to do school work or socialize with her family and peers."

Attorneys allege Facebook was designed "to allow children and adolescents to use, become addicted to, and abuse their product without the consent of the users’ parents, like Cecelia Tesch."

They further claim Facebook failed to alert parents of the dangers of addictive behavior and failed to exercise "ordinary care" to prevent the harmful effects of overusing the platform. 

"The algorithms in Defendants’ social media products exploit adolescent users’ diminished decision-making capacity, impulse control, emotional maturity, and psychological resiliency caused by users’ incomplete brain development," the lawsuit read.

RELATED: Instagram lawsuits claim platform fuels eating disorders, mental health issues for young users

Tesch is suing for liability, negligence, fraud, and intentional infliction of emotional distress among other causes of actions. 

FOX Television Stations has reached out to Meta for comment. 

Meta continues to come under fire over teenage users

Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen sparked global attention and confirmed parents' fears regarding social media when she leaked information about the tech giant.

"The choices being made inside of Facebook are disastrous for our children, for our public safety, for our privacy, and for our democracy," Haugen said in her opening statement before lawmakers in October 2021. "I saw Facebook repeatedly encounter conflicts between its own profits and our safety. Facebook consistently resolved these conflicts in favor of its own profits."

Last November, a group of state attorneys general announced they are investigating the photo-sharing platform Instagram and its effects on children and young adults, saying its parent company Facebook — now called Meta Platforms — ignored internal research about the physical and mental health dangers it posed to young people.

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The investigation targets, among other things, the techniques Meta uses to keep young people on its platforms — and the harms that extended time spent on Instagram can cause.

In a statement, Meta spokesperson Liza Crenshaw called the accusations "false" and said they demonstrate "a deep misunderstanding of the facts."

With regards to Instagram, Meta company leaders said they’re developing features that will stop people from tagging or mentioning teens that don’t follow them, nudge young users to other things if they have been focused on one topic for a while and be stricter about what posts, hashtags and accounts it recommends to try to cut down on potentially harmful or sensitive content.

What can parents do to protect their children?

Experts say open lines of communication, age limits and, if necessary, activity monitoring are some of the steps parents can take to help kids navigate the dangers of social media while still allowing them to chat with peers on their own terms.

Experts also suggest that parents go through their own social media feeds with their children before they are old enough to be online and have open discussions on what they see. How would your child handle a situation where a friend of a friend asks them to send a photo? Or if they see an article that makes them so angry they just want to share it right away?

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Don’t say things like "turn that thing off" when your kid has been scrolling for a long time, says Jean Rogers, the director of Fairplay, a nonprofit that advocates for kids to spend less time on digital devices.

"That’s not respectful," Rogers said. "It doesn’t respect that they have a whole life and a whole world in that device."

Instead, Rogers suggests asking them questions about what they do on their phone, and see what your child is willing to share.

Kids are also likely to respond to parents and educators "pulling back the curtains" on social media and the sometimes insidious tools companies use to keep people online and engaged. Watch a documentary like "The Social Dilemma" that explores algorithms, dark patterns and dopamine feedback cycles of social media. Or read up with them how Facebook and TikTok make money.

Parents may need their own limits on phone use. Rogers said it’s helpful to explain what you are doing when you do have a phone in hand around your child so they understand you are not aimlessly scrolling through sites like Instagram. Tell your child that you’re checking work email, looking up a recipe for dinner or paying a bill so they understand you’re not on there just for fun. Then tell them when you plan to put the phone down.

FOX News and the Associated Press contributed to this report. This story was reported from Los Angeles.