Cell Phone Ban Would Diminish Parents’ Rights, Hurt Businesses

Published June 1, 2017

Colorado is known for its unique and obscure political initiatives, some of which have proven beneficial for the state. However, it has also seen its fair share of outlandish proposals, the newest being one group’s effort to ban cell phone use for children under the age of 13.

Started by activist and father Tim Farnum, a local Denver doctor, there’s no denying the well-intentioned nature of the proposal or that Farnum is well within his rights to stand against what he views as a widespread problem. But empowering the state government to control when and whether children should have mobile devices is ultimately nothing more than a broad violation of parental rights that would be tremendously burdensome for many of Colorado’s businesses.

Farnum’s proposed ban suggests parents are too dumb to know what is best for their own kids. That shouldn’t be the basis of any law. Rather, laws should be encouraged that empower parents to have greater control of their children’s lives, so long as they aren’t neglecting or abusing them.

This notion is nothing new. In fact, it has its foundation in long-established legal principles that go all the way back to England, and U.S. courts have often bolstered parents’ rights through caselaw. For instance, in Doe v. Irwin (1985), a case brought before a federal court in Michigan, it was determined, “The rights of parents to the care, custody and nurture of their children is of such character that it cannot be denied without violating those fundamental principles of liberty and justice which lie at the base of all our civil and political institutions, and such right is a fundamental right” protected by the First, Fifth, Ninth, and 14th Amendments.

If voters put this initiative on the 2018 ballot and pass it into law, parents’ liberty to determine something as simple as whether their kids should have a cell phone would be utterly dismantled, but more importantly, the state could end up on a path toward substantially reducing the rights of parents in other areas as well.

At the heart of the issue is the reality that the parenting choices made by one person are inevitably going to be totally different than the choices made by another. Each household is unique, and if we don’t celebrate and learn from the parental diversity that exists within the state, tyranny of the majority will eventually become the norm.  

Further, if passed into law, businesses would be required to verbally ask for the age of people buying cell phones before a transaction would be allowed. Some parents desiring to give their children cell phones would inevitably lie, turning otherwise law-abiding citizens into criminals.

Parental rights aren’t the only issue at stake. The proposed regulation would also negatively impact many retail businesses. Beyond the reduced cell phone sales, stores—from mom and pop shops to major retail chains—would be forced to comply with yet another set of bureaucratic rules and required to submit periodic reports. Businesses that fail to meet these requirements or are found to engage in illegal underage cell phone sales could eventually be made to pay a fine, ranging from $500 to $20,000.

While some evidence exists showing high levels of cell phone use can cause problems for many young kids, cell phones aren’t tobacco, alcohol, or dangerous drugs, all of which pose real threats to children. Before supporting a ban on cell phone use for kids, consider that if something as relatively innocuous as a cell phone can be banned to “protect kids,” almost anything believed to be dangerous by enough people could also be banned. Is that the sort of state you want your family to call home?