The Dad Who Wants an Age Limit for Cellphones Might Be on to Something

We have age requirements to purchase alcohol, cigarettes and even Sudafed. So perhaps it was inevitable someone would suggest that you should need to be a certain age before you can purchase what has become the real scourge of youth—the cell phone.

Tim Farnum, an anesthesiologist in Colorado, is trying get enough signatures for a ballot measure that would make it illegal for retailers to sell phones if the intended owner is younger than thirteen. Farnum, who would need to collect 300,000 signatures to get the measure on the 2018 ballot, says that kids with phones “go from being outgoing, energetic, interested in the world and happy, to reclusive, they want to spend all their time in their room, they lose interest in outside activities.”

Farnum is right in his claim that little kids who spend too much time looking at screens can experience speech and other learning problems. “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 told the Tech Times.

Farnum has been subject to plenty of ridicule for his idea, with folks on Twitter joking that Colorado will be the state where your child can smoke pot but not buy a phone. Others, reasonably enough, noted that even if you think that little kids shouldn’t have phones, government intervention may not be the best way to fix this. Democratic state Sen. John Kefalas, for instance, said, “I think it should remain a family matter… Ultimately, this comes down to parents … making sure their kids are not putting themselves at risk.”

Of course, this comes down to parents and this campaign seems bound to fail. Still, it speaks to a problem many parents have faced. Even if they ban phones for their own children, other parents giving their kids phones can make life pretty difficult. None of us parent in a vacuum. When all of the other kids are making plans on their phones, will your child be an outcast if he or she doesn’t have one? When you are carpooling with parents whose kids have cell phones but yours doesn’t, will it cause logistical problems? Who wants their kid to be the odd man out? If you tell your kid to spend time outside playing but everyone else is at home on their iPad, your child will be the one without playmates.

A decision to cut back on screens is ideally a decision made by a community or at least by a small group of families.

According to the American Family Survey, parents with children living at home say kids can “be trusted to have their own cell phone” at the average age of 13.8 years old. But according to one 2016 survey, the average age at which American kids get a cell phone is ten. Maybe it’s something about the wording of the question. Americans trust their own kids earlier but other kids should wait until they’re older. It’s similar to what parents tell their kids about driving—we trust you. We just don’t trust the other drivers.

But just as we don’t give kids a license before they turn sixteen, imagining that there’s no one else on the road; so we shouldn’t assume that our kids’ use of phones is going to happen in a world with responsible peers. Rather, they will be sending and receiving texts and messages over social media and photos from kids who may not be mature enough to know what’s appropriate, what’s mean, what’s embarrassing and what’s illegal.

Instead of collecting signatures for a ballot initiative, maybe it’s time to start having conversations with our friends and neighbors about the standards we want to enforce for all of our kids.

Image: futurestreet (CC)

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  • Alicia Westberry

    I agree with this post. Getting the government involved is a terrible idea, but parents should wait to give their children cell phones. All technology should be limited, monitored, or, children should, simply, be older when they are given access. Even during carpooling, a child does not need a personal cell phone. A child needs to cultivate and nurture his or her imagination and familial bonds to ensure that technology, when it is introduced, keeps it’s proper place.