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EDITORIAL: Parents, not Colorado voters, should manage kids

By: Gazette editorial board
June 21, 2017 Updated: June 21, 2017 at 12:09 pm
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Colorado officials have cleared the language of a proposed ballot measure that would establish the nation's first legal limits on buying smartphones for children. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Beware of the supermarket parking lot this summer. Petitioners will approach with clipboards, asking if we care about kids. If so, we must impose smartphone control.

Do not sign this petition.

They want a ballot measure that would forbid the sale of smartphones to children under age 13. The law would require retailers to interrogate adult customers about the intended primary user of each phone. If that user is younger than 13, the transaction would stop or punishment could ensue.

Retailers would endure the burden and cost of submitting monthly compliance reports to the Colorado Department of Revenue, to prove their innocence.

Oh, of course the petitioners mean well. It is for the children.

The whole thing came about because a busy Front Range anesthesiologist could not keep two of his five kids from wasting time on their smartphones.

"There were some real problems," said Dr. Tim Farnum said, as quoted by The Washington Post. "If you tell them to watch the screen time, all of a sudden the fangs come out."

Physician, heal thy parenting style. If children revolt against discipline, and a parent allows it, voters and state regulation cannot solve the problem.

Farnum, who apparently allowed hours-on-end of smartphone time, said his boys became moody, quiet and reclusive. One boy had a temper tantrum when Farnum tried to take the phone.

The doctor's subsequent research found excessive exposure to technology may undermine a child's social skills and cause unhealthy reliance on the neurotransmitter dopamine. The physiological consequences of phone abuse, he found, are similar to those of drug and alcohol addiction.

Farnum formed Parents Against Underage Smartphones, which obtained state approval to petition for Ballot Initiative 29. The law would require the Colorado Department of Revenue to create a website portal for reports of smartphone sales. It would require the department to investigate suspicious sales and impose penalties that begin with $500 for the second offense and double with each subsequent violation.

Properly managed, smartphones can be assets for young children. Helpful apps use repetition to help kids learn math, spelling, reading and more.

Aside from a few potential benefits of smartphones, we concur with most concerns about children spending their days gawking at screens. Kids should spend more time playing baseball, reading books and building tree forts. We completely support the goal of limiting a child's time with tablets, cellphones, computers and TVs.

It takes vigilant parents, not the Department of Revenue.

If they impose this law, voters are remiss to overlook other concerns. They should involve the state in controlling what 12-year-olds see on TV. They should forbid video games and junk food.

The world entices children with countless horribles that complicate parenting.

Moms and dads must monitor and manage what children eat, drink and how they spend their time. When kids balk at the rules, parents must figure out how to lead. They cannot run to the ballot, hoping state law can parent their kids.

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