Tech & The Web

Do We Really Need a Smartphone Age Limit?

If a Denver group gets its way, a smartphone age limit will prevent retailers from selling the devices to children under the age of 13.

Some people will fight over anything.

A group in Denver is trying to collect enough signatures to bring a smartphone age limit to the ballot in 2018. Specifically, the group Parents Against Underage Smartphones wants to require cellphone retailers to ask customers the age of “primary user” of the smartphone they’re buying.

A retailer caught selling a smartphone for a primary user under the age of 13 could be fined. After a first-time written warning, the fine would be $500 for a second violation, $1,000 for a third, $2,000 for a fourth and between $2,000 and $20,000 for subsequent violations.

The idea behind the ban, KDVR-TV reports, is that children supposedly go from “outgoing, energetic and interested in the world around them” without a smartphone to wanting to spend all their time indoors (and in their room) with a smartphone.

The law would also require retailers to submit monthly reports proving they have made the necessary inquiries (and for the first 12 months of 2019, those reports will cost retailers $20 per month).

They’re a little late, folks.

One thing that strikes me is they may have waited a bit too long to come up with such an idea.

CBS News reported a 2012 study showed nearly 60 percent of parents offered cell phones to their kids at ages 10 or 11. A research director claimed 80 percent of teens between 12 and 17 own a cell phone and half of those own a smartphone.

A survey on WebMD found that 85% of kids between the ages of 14 and 17 have cell phones, while 69% of kids from 11 to 14 already have them. On top of that, 31% of kids aged 8 to 10 already have cell phones.

Parents who purchase phones for young kids often cite security as a big reason: it helps them keep track of their kids and helps their kids reach them in an emergency.

If kids are already that heavily exposed to the devices, it might be a tall order getting parents to suddenly stop buying them; they could just as easily drive across the border to a neighboring state where no such law is in existence.

The law does distinguish smartphones from cell phones. Selling a cell phone to a child isn’t an issue; it’s only smartphones the group has a problem with.

So from the communications issue, especially for parents who fear the possibility of some kind of emergency situation, that’s still an option.

But let’s face it: cell phone companies would be perfectly happy to do away with cell phones altogether since they can charge more for smartphones because of data plans, and smartphones, while they may be a distraction, can also be a great learning tool since they, unlike the more modest cell phone varieties, are much more powerful computers.

Should the government really impose a smartphone age limit?

I tend to agree with Democratic state Sen. John Kefalas, who was interviewed by The Coloradoan.

“Frankly, I think it should remain a family matter,” he said. “Ultimately, this comes down to parents… making sure their kids are not putting themselves at risk.”

If we’re worrying about kids becoming too attached to a smartphone, why aren’t we also worried about them having video games and television sets in their rooms?

How about laptops or desktop computers?

Where does it end? There is no end to the distractions awaiting kids (and adults, for that matter) these days.

But keeping communication open and having parents set their own times for their own children to put the devices down, no matter what those devices are, it seems to me, is a better idea than a law like this.

By the way, when I was a kid, cell phones weren’t an option: they weren’t around. But for me, television itself was the distraction. It was hypnotizing to a kid, and, from what I’ve seen of young kids these days perched in front of a television set, they’re still hypnotized. But when I was a kid, my parents had rules about when I could watch and when I couldn’t. And yes, we actually had dinner at a kitchen table, not around a TV. (And the TV was turned off during dinner.)

Imagine that.

Isn’t that part of how this is supposed to work, no matter what the device is?

Would you support a smartphone age limit?

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Patrick is a Christian with more than 27 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.