DENVER — We see smartphones everywhere. In school hallways, at the family dinner table and plugged in at the bedside table.
But how young is too young to be constantly connected to the rest of the world through sleek apps, social media and video messaging?
One Colorado man has decided that age 13 seems like a good cutoff.
Tim Farnum is leading the charge on a proposed ballot initiative in Colorado that would be the first of its kind in the country. Farnum’s proposal would ban the sale of smartphones to children younger than 13, or more likely, to parents who intend to give the smartphone to kids in that age bracket.
Farnum, a Denver-area anesthesiologist, is the founder of Parents Against Underage Smartphones, or PAUS, the nonprofit group pushing the proposal.
The proposal would require retailers to submit reports to the state government verifying that they had inquired about who each sold smartphone was intended to be used by, and fine those that repeatedly sell phones to be used by young children and preteens.
“Eventually kids are going to get phones and join the world, and I think we all know that, but little children, there’s just no good that comes from that,” he said.
Farnum’s proposal is still a long ways off from becoming reality. Last month, PAUS got the go-ahead on its proposed ballot language from the Secretary of State and now can start work on gathering the nearly 300,000 signatures required to get on the ballot in November 2018.
But already, the idea has ruffled feathers across the state.
“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?” Cyndy Bowman Odenwald posted on Facebook in reaction to the proposal.
Farnum said he was inspired to make the push after watching his own kids struggle with the psychological effects of always having device in hand.
“They would get the phone and lock themselves in their room and change who they were,” he said.
With one of his sons, then 12, he thought the problem became bad enough to warrant taking the phone away.
“(With smartphones), the internet is always begging for your attention,” he said. “The apps are all designed to addict you. … For children, it’s not a good thing.”
Colorado Sen. John Kefalas, D-Fort Collins, said he understands the reasoning behind the proposed law, but that he thinks it oversteps the government’s role into private family life.
“Frankly, I think it should remain a family matter,” he said. “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.”
Enforcing the proposed law could also present a logistical nightmare, he said.
As it is written, the ban would require cellphone retailers to ask customers how old the primary user of the smartphone is. They would have to submit a monthly report to the Colorado Department of Revenue stating they had done this.
After their first warning for failing to comply with the law, these retailers could face fines. If they sell a phone for a youngster’s intended use again within two years, retailers would face a $500 fine.
“I don’t think it’s the most effective way to deal with a real problem that our children spend too much time on the computer or too much time looking down at their phones,” Kefalas said.
How much screen time is too much?
Last fall, the American Academy of Pediatrics released new guidelines for children’s media use, including smartphones. Here’s a look at those suggestions:
For children younger than 18 months: Avoid screen time, except video chatting.
For children 18 to 24 months: High-quality programming (think PBS) is OK, but watch it with your child to help them understand what they’re seeing.
For children between 2 and 5 years old: Limit screen time to 1 hour a day of “high quality” programs. Watch it with your kids and help them understand how it connects to the world around them.
For children 6 and older: Have consistent time limits on screen time and make sure that it isn’t taking time away from sleep or physical activity.
Have “media-free” times with your kids and “media-free” spots in the house like bedrooms.