When I was a child, a popular comic strip was “There Oughta Be a Law.” It ran in the paper that came to our doorstep every morning, and it was one of the first things I went to when it was my turn to get ink all over my fingers. I later realized that the cartoonist was satirizing people who have great faith in the ability of the government to solve social problems.
I thought of the comic when I read that a group of well-intentioned folks in Colorado — Parents Against Underage Smartphones — are lobbying state lawmakers to draft a law that would prevent smartphone sales to children younger than 13. Their rationale is unimpeachable: They maintain that smartphone use by pre- and young teens quickly becomes an obsession that can harm ongoing brain development, hinder social skills, and create addiction. The best research confirms all of that.
The Colorado law would create a bureaucracy that would be charged with enforcing the law, which cannot be done with any reliability. The proposed law would require smartphone retailers to ask the age of the primary user before making a sale. The question then becomes: What prevents the purchaser (presumably a parent) from telling a lie? Does Colorado then create another law that imposes fines on parents who break the law? Those who govern us cannot resist any opportunity to expand the powers of the state.
This legislation, should it pass, will be paid for with taxes ,which means that nearly everyone in Colorado will be punished, because many of those who have children want their children to like them, cannot manage to articulate the word “no,” and prefer to take the easy way out with child rearing.
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It is not even clear that the lobbyists understand that the solution to the smartphone problem is for parents to take full responsibility for it and not allow them. When parents ask what I think about restricting their use, I ask, “Why would you want the hassle?” No smartphone, no need to police it. Much easier for all concerned to simply confiscate it and make sure it permanently disappears. And yes, some parents prefer to stick their heads and even most of their bodies in the ground. No law is going to change that, not one that a rational judge would find constitutional, anyway.
I'll repeat the recommendation I’ve given in previous columns: Until your child is no longer living in your home and can afford the purchase of a smartphone and the monthly bill, refuse to pay for anything more than a standard cellphone that will only make and receive calls (most of them also will text, but only laboriously). I know more than a few adults who own nothing more and manage to live full and satisfying lives.
“But smartphones are how today’s kids all communicate, John.”
That’s not true, either. I know of teens who have only old-fashioned cellphones. If their parents are to be believed, most of them don’t like it, but they get over it, and they end up acting more like authentic human beings than their glassy-eyed peers.
Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions on his website, Rosemond.com.
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