Sunday, July 16, 2017

Smart Phones and Kids in the Mile High State

We are struggling with technology, perceptions, and parenting. The world is changing around us and as individuals I think we are each struggling with change at some level and in some context. 

I recently read about a bit of a backlash against technology, particularly for kids. CNN reports on an effort by a Colorado physician to ban the sale of smartphones for children under 13 years of age. The motivation is Dr. Timothy Farnum's perceptions of his own son's "addictive behaviors toward the technology." Denial of the technology to his son resulted in "a pretty dramatic, very violent outburst." Dr. Farnum is also disturbed by "his 10- and 11-year-olds' loss of interest in activities such as playing outside."

I was reminded, as I read that, of the recent legislative debate in Florida regarding "addiction" and "compulsion." I  wonder if Dr. Farnum's son is actually "addicted" to technology as he asserts, or whether he is a "compulsive" user? However, I have heard the lament about how little time young people spend outside these days. And, video game pervasiveness is perhaps empirical. NBC news recently reporting young millennials are working less, and the young men are gaming more. Whether "addiction" or "compulsion," are gaming habits a product of early introduction to our youth?

An organization has been founded in Colorado, "Parents Against Underage Smartphones." The collective goal is to control parenting and thereby enforce the common good (good government, good parents, good kids). They are seeking "150,000 signatures in order to get Initiative 29 on Colorado's ballot." If passed, the law "would require retailers to ask a customer their age or the age of the intended primary owner of the smartphone before the sale." The stores would "have to file a monthly report" documenting who bought smartphones and "how old the owner was at the time of the purchase."

Selling a smartphone to be owned or primarily used by someone under 13 would "result in a written warning, the second violation would carry a $500 fine, and the fine would double for each subsequent violation." The import of this is that smartphones are allegedly seriously bad for children under 13. For comparison, the Colorado Department of Revenue website outlines retailer fines for selling cigarettes to minors, and those fines are $250.00 to $15,000.00, after the retailer has been issued a warning. The penalties for cell phone (with the doubling) might well exceed fines for cigarettes. 

Colorado has elected to decriminalize marijuana, allowing anyone over 21 years old to purchase and consume it at will. According to, adults that provide marijuana to kids "may face civil or criminal penalties" and retailers "can lose their license for selling marijuana to anyone underage." According to, the sale or transfer of "not more than 1 ounce" to a minor can be penalized by 6 to 24 months in jail and fine of $1,000 to $100,000.00 ("transfer" is broad, a parent might be imprisoned or fined for providing marijuana to a child; but no penalty for the parent that provides a smartphone?). So, distribution of marijuana to minors remains criminal, and potentially more expensive than the proposed cell phone penalties.

As an aside, I have wondered about second hand smoke from marijuana. But in a recent Florida court filing, it has been asserted that "there have been no reported medical cases of lung cancer" attributed to marijuana." Perhaps there is no risk from "second hand" smoke as regards marijuana. I have found no prohibitions on smoking weed around minors. 

I have also seen a trick where one shields the combustion portion of a pipe and blows air, causing a stream of smoke to emit from the mouthpiece of a marijuana pipe. The context of this action, sometimes referred to as "shotgunning" is to propel smoke into a second person's mouth and thereby lungs. There is also purportedly something called a "shotgun kiss" that accomplishes something similar. I have not found anything specific on this, but wonder if someone providing smoke to a minor in this way would incur similar penalties? assures us that exposure to secondhand smoke "is unlikely to make you 'high'." But, it also notes that "marijuana smoke, both firsthand and secondhand. contains many of the same cancer-causing chemicals as tobacco smoke." It encourages smokers to "protect your children and family from the effects of second-hand smoke." Now that may just confuse everyone in light of the assurances that "there have been no reported medical cases of lung cancer" attributed to marijuana."

But, putting concerns of weed and second-hand smoke aside, "Parents Against Underage Smartphones," have instead elected to take on what they see as a greater risk to Colorado's children, the smartphone. Dr. Farnum admits that some have been critical of the effort, suggesting that the smartphone decision should be left to the individual parent (the same parent perhaps that decides whether to blow dope around the kids). Cell phone industry groups have suggested an alternative approach in which parents would "talk with their children about responsible use and set rules that are right for their family." It is unclear why that solution is not preferred. A professor of pediatrics cited by CNN advocates for setting usage parameters, parental monitoring, and conversations between kids and adults.  

As I wrote this, I was reminded of a 2015 movie about video games, Pixels. In it, aliens attack Earth with an assortment of video game iterations from the 1980s. Confronted by this challenge, the President assembles the best and brightest at the White House for discussions. One leader, Admiral Porter, has a recurring solution to the challenge, to "bomb" whoever is responsible, eventually suggesting "let's bomb google." There is a viable solution, no matter what, let's bomb something, or should we just ban something?

There is general support for the concept of technology addiction. A recent study concluded that "over a third of Internet users worldwide agree they have a hard time disconnecting from technology." The study seems to support that the impact of technology, and the struggle to disconnect, is more prevalent with teenage users. But, in that broad concern is another question or two. Should this Colorado ban address tablets, laptops, desk tops, or consoles like the PS4, Wii, or XBox? Are games and gaming more addictive or more damaging if they are on a phone? Some will argue that phones are more accessible and portable. Perhaps. But the marketplace is full of an assortment of "handheld" video game devices. 

There is evidence that studies support "screen time" can present risks of "expressive speech delay" in children under 2. A demonstrable harm attributed to use by the very young. But, there is no data cited to suggest that "screen time" on a cell phone is any different than the "screen time" on any other type of handheld or console device. 

So, will the state that seemingly leads the nation in the unprosecuted production and distribution of marijuana be the first state to monitor and regulate children's possession of smartphones? Is there risk in secondhand smoke (intentional or inadvertent)? Is the distinction between the vast array of gaming options and the smartphone valid? Would the better answer in these contexts be better parenting, parameters, and conversations? If you had told me ten years ago that smartphones would be seen as a bigger risk to kids than marijuana, I would have laughed. But, who's laughing now?

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