Smartphones and tablets have long been linked to enough potentially harmful outcomes that should raise alarm bells for any devoted parent. Still, many parents see electronic devices as a necessary evil these days — a way to keep up with their kids' whereabouts while teaching important lessons about time management, money, and even morality. Figuring out the right age to introduce those lessons (and their associated risks) can be a difficult thing. But in one state, at least, a new law could take the decision almost entirely out of parents' hands: A Colorado bill would criminalize selling smartphones to kids under 13, and not everyone considers it great news.
Colorado nonprofit Parents Against Underage Smartphones (PAUS) is behind the proposal, according to The Washington Post. Ballot initiative 29 would require retailers to ask customers buying a smartphone for the age of the primary user. It would also require the Colorado Department of Revenue to collect monthly adherence reports from retailers, investigate violations, and issue penalties to parents who don’t comply. A first offence, according to the measure filing, would bring a written warning; and a second offence would carry a $500 fine, The Post reported.
Denver anesthesiologist and father of five Tim Farnum, who also heads PAUS, developed the proposal after witnessing the effects of smartphone addiction in his own kids. He told The Post that “real problems” developed when he got his 11- and 13-yearold sons cell phones late last year:
[...H]is once energetic and outgoing boys became moody, quiet and reclusive. They never left their bedrooms, and when he tried to take away the phones, one of Farnum’s sons launched into a temper tantrum that the dad described as equivalent to the withdrawals of a crack addict.
The comparison isn’t without merit, according to researchers. Studies have determined that using smartphones to play games or interact on social media creates a dopamine rush in young brains that approximates the basics of a nicotine, cocaine, or even gambling addiction. Beyond that, research has also shown that exposure to screen time at an early age can hinder a child’s ability to focus in the classroom, learn social cues, and develop empathy, according to a Psychology Today report.
With that research in mind, Farnum and PAUS have introduced a measure that, if passed, would be a first of its kind law to impose age limits on smartphone ownership. And, while it would dampen access to popular iOS and Android devices, it's important to note that the proposal wouldn’t bar children from owning all forms of cellular devices. Parents who want to be able to reach their children for emergencies and to coordinate schedules could still buy their kids a flip phone without internet access, the Post reported.
Still, some lawmakers raised concerns that the measure would bring government scrutiny too far into what, in their opinions, should be decisions left to families. Colorado state Sen. John Kefalas told The Coloradoan that he believed the decision “should be a family matter”:
I know there have been different proposals out there regarding the Internet and putting filters on websites that might put kids at risk. I think ultimately, this comes down to parents … making sure their kids are not putting themselves at risk.
According to that same report, local parents have echoed the senator’s statements, with one parent asking on Facebook, “If they are not your kids, how is it your business to decide whether or not they are responsible/mature enough to have a cellphone?”
The Coloradoan reported that the group will need to gather at least 300,000 signatures in order for the measure to be put up for a vote in November. Then, the voters of Colorado will get to have the final say on whether Colorado tweens should have cell phones.