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Denver area doctors seek to ban smartphone sales to preteens

Impact of technology on developing youth a concern

DENVER – On the dark side of the Colorado Legislature’s website, there are some interesting proposals that voters might see on upcoming ballots.

Examples include more than 12 transportation funding proposals, an effort to ban gay conversion therapy and ballot measure No. 29, which would prohibit the sale of smartphones to children under the age of 13.

That ballot initiative would establish fines on retailers who sell smartphones to preteens after having been warned. The fines begin at $500 and go to a maximum of $20,000 for fifth and subsequent offenses.

It was introduced by a trio of doctors in the Denver area who want to hit pause on the sale of smartphones, which they believe are “addictive, harmful and dangerous in the hands of children.”

Tim Farnum, a doctor from Sheridan and father of five, said he has seen first hand the effects of excessive technology use on his own children and believes something needed to be done.

After seeing increased isolation in his children, he began researching the link between unfettered access to technology and childhood development.

“Pretty much every piece of research I could find was showing it was harming kids, and there was almost none that showed any benefit,” Farnum said.

So he started a nonprofit, Parents Against Underage Smartphones, and began looking into legislation.

“The idea was ‘let’s just stop to consider what we’re doing and let’s take a moment and think about how much tech our kids really need, and how can we optimize what’s best for their development,” Farnum said.

Farnum and his co-sponsors are gathering signatures – they need roughly 100,000 – to get the initiative on the 2018 ballot.

Dan Snowberger, superintendent of Durango School District 9-R, said he is unsure if legislating parental responsibility was the right step, but he understands the thought process behind the initiative.

“Today, you can be exposed to things without even trying, and if we can’t help ensure our kids are safe at all times then maybe it’s best that we close the door to that for them,” Snowberger said.

Suzanne Null, associate professor of teacher education at Fort Lewis College, said there are occasions where mobile technology is influential in education and perhaps a “hamfisted” approach of removing it from children’s lives is not appropriate.

“Legislating against it I don’t think is the way to go about solving that problem ... it seems to me like it needs to be more of a cultural conversation that’s more nuanced than that,” Null said.


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