State Moves To Criminalize Screen Time for Kids, Parents to Face $20K Fine for Violation

[7/11/17  CLAIRE BERNISH]  Should Colorado legislators get their way, smartphones and other electronic devices capable of connecting to the Internet would be verboten for kids under the age of 13 — and parents could face up to $20,000 in fines for violating the proposed law.

Intended “to make children free,” Initiative 29 is the brainchild of Parents Against Underage Smartphones (PAUS), a group of concerned parents whose mission statement includes ending “the insane practice of giving children smartphones”; but — while the spirit of the proposed law might be considered a laudable attempt to reconnect kids with nature — in actuality, its Nanny State overtones trump the unabashed appeal to emotion.

If successful in Colorado’s Legislature, the proposed strictures governing children’s use of Internet-connected devices will inculcate parents as de facto agents of the U.S. Police State in holding them accountable for kids’ screen time through an inexcusable, untenable quandary — shared in part with cell phone and electronics retailers.

Indeed, Initiative 29 requires store owners “verbally inquire about the age of the intended primary owner of the smartphone” — a mandated interrogation conditional to the voluntary exchange of goods for payment will undeniably turn parents who feel the question none of the State’s business into potential liars and, thus, criminals.

PAUS president and founder Dr. Timothy Farnum grew disheartened at the deleterious effects on his own children, which, he surmised, stemmed from their constant use of cell phones and forays into the sometimes wild Internet.

“They would get the phone and lock themselves in their room and change who they were,” lamentedFarnum, board-certified anesthesiologist, to The Coloradan. “They 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.”

“(With smartphones), the internet is always begging for your attention,” he added“The apps are all designed to addict you. … For children, it’s not a good thing.”

However, what Farnum and the initiative’s supporters seemingly fail to grasp is the inordinate overreach by a State so invasive and burdened by excessive law, Big Brother already commands a seat at every family’s dinner table. To additionally mandate retailer interrogation and parental restriction, to boot, not only robs parents of the right to raise children how they see fit, it veritably secures the State as a coercive, fine-imposing babysitter.

“Frankly, I think it should remain a family matter,” asserted Senator John Kefalas, noting the commendable motive behind the legislation does not negate its boundary-trampling reach into our private lives. “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.”

Kefalas speaks to an increased dependence on government to step in where parents may fall short — Farnum’s proposal clears guardians of inherent responsibility for children’s activities and development, instead placing the onus on store owners to perform the tasks of, in essence, State spies — all at the barrel of a weighty financial gun.

Of PAUS, Salon notes,

“On their website, the group points to pediatricians who recommend limiting handheld screen time for kids and an article about Bill Gates’ thoughts on adolescent development and smart phones. They also have a YouTube embed of a Louis C.K. bit about cell phones.

“Among pictures of falling rain, sunflowers, crowds and the random image of Mel Gibson in ‘Braveheart,’ PAUS lays out its argument on their website: the internet is a dangerous place for children.

“PAUS explains, without sourcing much of their information, that the ‘damage begins in the cradle,’ citing parental negligence an overflow of electronic stimulation as the cause for future ‘physical damage’ and ‘stunted social, emotional, and cognitive development.’ Additionally, the group pins pornography and a ‘lack of meaningful connections in a digital society’ as reasons for higher rates of suicide in young girls from ages 10-14.”

To reiterate, the group’s goals might bubble from a place of concern for children’s wellbeing and an apathy becoming entrenched in society that could facilely evince its peril — but, to place a burden of financial culpability as steep as $20,000 after a single verbal warning for 13-and-unders’ use of electronic devices unduly penalizes their access to an entire planet’s wealth of online information.

In fact, the positive benefits reaped in youth having Internet access at the ready comprise a damning counter-narrative to Initiative 29’s foisting of any damaging effects onto the backs of guardians and business owners, who might otherwise engage in a voluntary exchange on their terms.

As Greg Pulscher points out for FEE“Children’s inactivity is a major rallying cry for the advocates of the initiative. However, smartphones are not the cause of this idleness, smartphones are the symptom. Decades of regulations and cultural norms are treating children as delicate flowers which leads to these unintended consequences.”

Notably, educational psychologist Dr. Peter Gray observes in Free to Learn,

“Surveys of game players in the general population, indicate that kids who are free to play outdoors as well as with video games usually, over time, choose a balance between the two […]

“Video-game play appears to compete much more with television watching than with outdoor play for children’s free time.”

Further, Initiative 29 and PAUS fail to account for an interminable list of reasons parents might provide children with cell phones and other smart devices beyond the simple pleasures of arguably addicting games and apps — whether for safety while alone, purely for portable connectivity to their guardians, or security in ability to summon necessary emergency services — kids’ possession of Internet-ready devices can encompass virtually any sound justification.

None of which deserve any additional excuses by the State to intervene in our private lives.

As with nearly any legislation, examining a slurry of negative ramifications expeditiously destroys any possible positives — particularly in the context of an invasive government, which seems intent only on watching our every move.

Indeed, the Nanny State’s onerous presence in children’s lives as they learn, grow, explore, and adapt to the modern digital world, is far more inclined than any amount of screen time to stunt natural curiosity, foster ambivalence, and strew resentment — particularly if parents are forced to dole out tens of thousands for the ‘crime.’

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After all, unless a communist regime usurps power, it is the job of parents, not the State, and certainly not retailers, to see children prepared for the perils of adulthood — whether or not that preparation includes responsible use of the Internet.