Dr. Tim Farnum, a Denver anesthesiologist and father of five, has come up with an exciting new way to “save the children” from a modern threat to childhood that makes sugary soda pop look like an innocent indulgence: smartphones.
He wants to pass a citizen-initiated state law to ban the sale of smartphones to kids under the age of 13, or to any adult who buys one with the intent of giving one to a child under 13 years old.
The proposed statute states that “no retailer shall sell or permit the sale of a smartphone to any person of any age if the purchaser states the smartphone will be wholly, or primarily owned by a preteen minor.”
Smartphone vendors who knowingly violate the statute would be subject to fines ranging up to $2,000.
Why does Dr. Farnum think this sort of ban is necessary?
The initiative’s legislative declaration, which appears below in its entirety, spells it out:
“(1) We the parents and concerned citizens of this most magnificent state through firsthand experience and mounting scientific data have come to believe that smartphones are addictive, harmful and dangerous in the hands of children.
“(2) The manufacturers and service providers of smartphones have continued unabated to promote their use in a reckless and wanton manner, with no concern for our children’s health or safety.
“(3) Our government bodies on all levels have failed to grasp the level of addiction, the severity of the harm or the unmentionable stark depravity of the dangers.
“(4) We as parents find this matter to be so widespread, so insidious and of the very highest priority [sic]. No half measures, ineffectual education campaigns, new applications or promises from mega-corporations of improvement will suffice to cause the great change necessary to rescue this and generations of children to come from the careless and experimental introduction of similar technologic devices and advancements by profit-driven corporations.”
The initiative’s short title is the “Preservation of Natural Childhood” initiative.
Judging by the legislative declaration, if I had to describe Dr. Farnum with one word, it would be “unhinged.”
“addictive… harmful… unmentionable stark depravity… careless and experimental… mega-corporations… natural childhood?”
Where in the name of sanity did he get this stuff? Out of a Jeff Sessions’ reefer madness comic book? Hey, what we’re talking about here is a freaking telephone, not Fentanyl.
So what caused Doc Farnum to contract an acute case of Smartphone Derangement Syndrome (SDS)?
Well, it turns out that a while back he gave his two youngest sons, aged 11 and 13, smartphones. And darned if the kids didn’t fall in love with them.
“There were some real problems,” Farnum told The Washington Post. “If you tell them to watch the screen time, all of a sudden the fangs come out.”
The once energetic and outgoing boys became moody, quiet and reclusive, he told the paper. They never left their bedrooms, and when he tried to take away the phones, one of the kids “launched into a temper tantrum that the dad described as equivalent of the withdrawals of a crack addict.”
So the good doctor started researching the subject (probably on the internet) and found dozens of articles about the dangers smartphones pose to kids. “The psychologic evidence is showing some real damage happening to a high proportion of kids who have smartphones,” he told Westword. “You have cognitive damage, social damage, speech and language problems, attention-deficit disorder — and all these things have accelerated in the last ten years, since smartphones.”
And he just knew He Had To Do Something About It.
So he got together with some other like-minded “adults” and formed Parents Against Underage Smartphones (PAUS), which has a website (which can be conveniently accessed with a smartphone) to push his initiative.
Thirty years ago, cranks like Doc Farnum were hyperventilating about how personal computers and video games were corrupting the youth (the internet hadn’t been invented yet). Before that they were targeting television, and before that comic books, and before that radio, and before radio it was magazines and pulp novels.
Somehow, in the end, the kids were always OK.
So can the internet and smart phones be addictive? Sure. Pretty much anything can be addictive, if you happen to have an addictive personality or if you start obsessing about it and craving it because it’s forbidden.
Dr. Farnum’s kids are going to live in a world where smartphones and the internet are ubiquitous and define how human interaction takes place. I think a case can be made for the proposition that the earlier they become familiar with the technology, learn to use it, learn its limitations, dangers and potentials, the earlier they master it, the better they will function in the world in which they will live as adults.
Looked at from that angle, Farnum isn’t doing his kids, and Colorado kids generally, any favors by trying to take smartphones away from them.
What he is proposing isn’t just petty nanny-statism. It’s a form of child abuse.
The tech website Gizmodo put a headline on its story about Farnum’s crusade that may have nailed what’s really bothering him. It said, “Dad Regrets Buying Kids Something More Interesting Than He Is.”
This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.