Priscilla Chan talks social media and how husband Mark Zuckerberg handles Facebook criticism

The philanthropist and mother of two talked on TODAY about mental health challenges children face and how her husband grapples with backlash as Facebook's CEO.
/ Source: TODAY

Priscilla Chan believes "a gradual release of responsibility" is an important factor when it comes to parents monitoring their children on social media, which has only heightened during the pandemic.

The philanthropist, doctor and wife of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg spoke with Sheinelle Jones about social media safeguards parents need for their children and what gives her hope during a difficult time in an exclusive interview on the 3rd hour of TODAY Friday, one day ahead of World Mental Health Day.

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With many more kids at home due to remote learning and use of social media apps increasing during the pandemic, health experts are concerned about the adverse affect on the mental health of children.

Priscilla Chan says she believes in "a gradual release of responsibility" as parents monitor their children on social media.Callaghan O'Hare / Bloomberg via Getty Images

"With everything, where there is danger or threats to their mental health, you teach them how to use it, use something safely," Chan said. "You give them a gradual release of responsibility.

"I think the same applies to social media, technology, like what are the expectations that I have as a parent? And as a parent, I also need tools. We're looking at their social media or whatever it might look like. We need to monitor, have a gradual release and expect tools to help us along the way."

The couple launched the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative in 2015, a philanthropic organization working to address challenges like disease, social justice and education by giving more than $2 billion in grants and investing more than $150 million to date.

However, the organization has also faced questions by critics that the problems it is trying to solve are the very ones exacerbated by social media companies like Facebook, which has come under scrutiny for being a platform that spreads misinformation and conspiracy theories.

"CZI is a deep reflection of the work that I want to do, Mark's values, and we have a ton of really amazing, smart people, working with us, championing their life's work," Chan said. "And I couldn't be more proud of that."

Zuckerberg has faced a backlash for not doing more to combat conspiracy theories, violent rhetoric, disinformation and threats to democratic elections on Facebook. The company most recently banned all mentions of and groups related to the conspiracy theory QAnon from its platforms on Wednesday.

"I see him at home and in his work, grappling with these massive questions that sometimes don't have clear answers," she said about her husband. "And I am proud of how he's been handling all of this, and I know he is doing his hardest, and I wish others could see that."

Despite the mental health challenges presented by the pandemic, Chan is hoping that more time as a family has had a silver lining as far as parents becoming more involved in their children's lives.

"I think what I'm so excited about is right now — every parent is thinking deeply about their kids’ education and their kids’ needs," she said. "We are being conscious, and thinking about, 'How do we create connection?' What is the best practice of how we apply learning science or research to this moment? What is the value of technology?'"

The mother of two is also motivated to support children's mental health by thinking back to her own childhood when she experienced bullying growing up.

"I'm a child of Chinese-Vietnamese refugees,'' she said. "Even though my parents didn't know exactly what to do, they were incredibly supportive. And I had these mentors that saw me, and when there were bad times of being bullied, I had a place to go. And I've been trying to give back in that way ever since."

Chan is hoping for "a period of healing" as a nation and believes children can lead the way to it.

"The resilience that I see in kids," she said. "Kids roll with things. And I know I believe in this nation, I believe in democracy. And so I know we're going to get to the other side of this."