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Colorado seeks to ban smartphone sales to children

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by Lucinda Shen
Alarmed by the number of preteens typing away on smartphones?
So is a Denver-area anesthesiologist and dad of five, Tim Farnum, who is helming a proposal in Colorado to establish legal limits on smartphone sales to those under the age of 13, according to the Washington Post. If passed, it would be the first U.S. state with legal limits on smartphone sales to children.
Under the ballot initiative proposal, selling a smartphone to a preteen or younger minor would incur a written warning, while a second offense would be met with a $500 fine. Each future incident would then result in the fine doubling each time.
The proposal still needs about 300,000 voter signatures to make it onto the 2018 ballot, according to the Denver Post.Farnum was inspired to start the organization that submitted the proposal, Parents Against Underage Smartphones, after he noticed his children becoming moody, quiet, and reclusive on their phones, the Post reports.
“There were some real problems,” Farnum, 49, told The Washington Post. “If you tell them to watch the screen time, all of a sudden the fangs come out.”
As he tells it, his 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.
So Farnum started researching the side effects of screen time on kids and found statistics that astonished him. Too much technology too soon can impair brain development, hinder social skills and trigger an unhealthy reliance on the neurotransmitter dopamine, a high similar to what drug and alcohol addicts feel.
Farnum read it all, then said he thought to himself: “Someone has got to do something.”
In February, he formed the nonprofit PAUS (Parents Against Underage Smartphones) with a few other medical professionals and began drafting a ballot initiative that, if passed, would make Colorado the first state in the nation to establish legal limits on smartphones sales to children.
Farnum’s proposal, ballot initiative no. 29, would make it illegal for cellphone providers to sell smartphones to children under the age of 13. The ban would require retailers to ask customers the age of the primary user of the smartphone and submit monthly adherence reports to the Colorado Department of Revenue.
The department would be responsible for creating a website portal for the reports and would investigate violations and collect penalties. The first violation would incur a written warning. A second would produce a $500 fine, and the amount would double with each subsequent incident.
The initiative has garnered “overwhelming” support from parents and grandparents who worry that too much technology can stunt imaginations and appreciation for the outdoors, he claims. But Farnum also faces opposition from others, including some lawmakers, who believe that it’s a parental responsibility, not one for government.
“Frankly, I think it should remain a family matter,” Colorado state Sen. John Kefalas (D-Fort Collins) told the Coloradan. “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.”
Farnum told The Post he understands the pushback from those who see this as a parental responsibility and a law as an encroachment on parental power, but said his group sees premature smartphone access as a danger equivalent to smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol or watching pornography.
“We have age restrictions on all those things because they’re harmful to kids,” Farnum said. “This is no different, in my opinion.”
The proposal also distinguishes smartphones from other cellular devices like standard flip phones that cannot access the Internet, because many parents just want to be able to contact their children for safety reasons.
Though the goal is to curb what Farnum described as the corporate interest of cellphone companies and app makers from latching onto the younger generations, he admitted that there is also an educational component his crusade. Many parents don’t know the dangers of excessive technology usage, he said, or the permanent damage it can do to their children. (-Fortune)


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