A Democrat legislator in Vermont is offering legislation that would make it illegal for those under the age of 21 to possess or use a cell phone, but there’s a catch. State Senator John Rodgers says he knows his bill isn’t going to pass, and has no intention of voting for it himself. As he explained to the Times Argus newspaper, he’s using the bill to make a point about newly enacted laws that prevent adults under the age of 21 from purchasing firearms.
The bill, S.212, would make such possession or use a misdemeanor punishable by a maximum of a year behind bars and a $1,000 fine.
It said cellphone use while driving is one of the leading killers of teenagers. It also said young people use cellphones frequently to bully and threaten each other, something that has been linked to suicides.
“The Internet and social media, accessed primarily through cell phones, are used to radicalize and recruit terrorists, fascists, and other extremists. Cell phones have often been used by mass shooters of younger ages for research on previous shootings,” the bill reads.
The bill said the Legislature has concluded those under 21 years old “aren’t mature enough” to possess guns, smoke cigarettes or drink alcohol and the same should apply to cellphone use. The state recently increased the smoking age to 21 and barred those under 21 from buying a gun unless they take a hunter safety course….
[Rodgers] said he’s a strong supporter of the Second Amendment and the Legislature “seems bent on taking away our Second Amendment rights.”
He said, based on the information presented in the bill, a cellphone is much more dangerous than a gun.
Again, Rodgers isn’t really trying to ban those under the age of 21 from using a cell phone. He just doesn’t think they should be prohibited from owning a firearm either.
What’s interesting is that there is research out there showing that the increase in teen suicides began right around the time the percentage of teenagers with smartphones surpassed the 50% mark. Psychologist Jean Twenge written extensively about what smartphones have done to what she dubs iGen, including fascinating piece in The Atlantic back in 2017.
Rates of teen depression and suicide have skyrocketed since 2011. It’s not an exaggeration to describe iGen as being on the brink of the worst mental-health crisis in decades. Much of this deterioration can be traced to their phones.
Even when a seismic event—a war, a technological leap, a free concert in the mud—plays an outsize role in shaping a group of young people, no single factor ever defines a generation. Parenting styles continue to change, as do school curricula and culture, and these things matter. But the twin rise of the smartphone and social media has caused an earthquake of a magnitude we’ve not seen in a very long time, if ever. There is compelling evidence that the devices we’ve placed in young people’s hands are having profound effects on their lives—and making them seriously unhappy.
The answer, of course, lies not in banning smart phones or trying to limit their usage to those over the age of 21, but in parents teaching their kids responsible habits with their smartphones. Of course, many parents aren’t so great about that when it comes to their own screen time and online behavior.
Still, you’ll never hear Michael Bloomberg or Beto O’Rourke demand that cell phones are taken away, no matter how much damage they might be doing and how ban-happy they might be. They’d never be taken seriously.
Why then should we take them seriously when they demand that you be 21 to smoke, or drink, or own a firearm? That’s the point that Senator Rodgers is trying to make. Treating adults as infants isn’t the way to go, and where does it actually end? The senator is right that we can’t ban our way to safety, but we can educate our way to a safer society. Part of that is treating adults like grown ups, since, you know, that’s what they are.