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.

  • Tomc

    I disagree, and here is why.
    If we step back a few years ago there was a landline in every house. A phone booth on every corner. A mail box on the same. For a dime you could call a friend. and if it was an emergency a free call. Moms and dads taught the child how to use the rotary dial and how to speak loudly on the phone. Kids could play outdoors until the street light came on. After the late news the national anthem played and screen went to test pattern. At the office you could tell someone it’s in the mail.

    Back then life was simpler not today.

    Today not many people have landlines so of you don’t teach the child how to use the cell in an emergency – For example you go out on a mom/dad date and the 12yr old baby sitter trips falls hits her head. Your idea babysitter under 13yrs so no one can call for help.
    Your child walking home from school gets approached by creep in stereotypical white van what are they to do? no phone booth. both parents are probably working so no safe house they can run to. And no cell phone because she is only 12yr.

    These days everything is instant. Instant messages, instant mail (e-mail), Instant news (if you wait until 6 or 11 for the news you are behind ). Instant knowledge, a google search will bring up so much information. No need to go to the library and flip through the non-existent card catalogue drawer. Something I enjoyed as a kid. The librarian was like a God she knew everything and loved to show you how to learn.

    Unfortunately we can not turn the clock back. Our society is no longer just USA but a global economy. As much as I hate with a passion this instant world , I have to embrace it. I still have a couple of years till retirement I have to complete with techie people 30+ years my junior.

    So instead of taking away the cell phone teach them. Teach them how to use. If they are sending email they are writing. If they get a ton of emails, texts and have to do school research teach them prioritizing.
    Teach them phone settings to keep them safe. If they have facebook they could have friends all over the world. Teach them networking
    And at the end of the day teach them how to turn off the outside world and enjoy time with family or just themselves.

    Taking away the cell phone will hinder the child and not allow them to be competitive in today’s world.
    My thoughts