This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2007, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Cell phones, tanning booths, video games - they all pose potential threats to children, according to Utah lawmakers.
But ATVs and hunting rifles are apparently OK for even the youngest children to use, if parents say so.
Once again, the 2007 Utah Legislature is zigzagging its way around parental rights, the best interests of children and government policy. With some bills, they have decided parents really do know best.
With others, they have cast themselves as Supernanny, the parenting expert who throws down the law when Mom or Dad will not do so - particularly when it comes to guiding adolescent behavior.
In those cases, "They are trying to legislate for those 1 percent of parents who do a poor job when the other 99 percent of us are doing adequately," said Paula Smith, a University of Utah assistant professor of human development.
The common thread in the bills: They are tough to argue against and don't cost the state much - though a potentially expensive constitutional fight has lawmakers moving to transform the video game bill into a resolution.
To be sure, Utah legislators in the past have grappled with which decisions are best left to parents - a debate that surfaced more pointedly in 2005 with the so-called Parker Jensen bills, triggered by a standoff between the state and Daren and Barbara Jensen over their son's cancer treatment.
This year's bills are decidedly more innocuous.
"To me, a lot of the legislation is frivolous," Smith said. "Do I want kids talking on the phone? Not really, but I don't want anyone talking on the phone and driving."
Lawmakers see adolescents as particularly prone to dangerous, bad behavior, Smith points out.
"There is an increase in risky behavior, but the vast majority [of teens] aren't engaging in bad behavior," Smith said. "They are an easy target. They don't vote and they've been portrayed in the media as something dangerous, from a parenting perspective."
Rep. Aaron Tilton, R-Springville, acknowledges that tracing the line between governmental policy, children's well-being and parental rights can be tricky - even for legislators. Tilton will vote against the tanning bed, video game and cell phone bills because he considers them overly intrusive.
"I don't think it's government's place to tell people how, what or where they may do things that are choices," Tilton said.
At the same time, he is sponsoring one bill that would drop the age at which children can operate an ATV from 8 to 6 and another that would require parental notification when a child attends an extracurricular club. Both are aimed at returning control to parents, Tilton said, and reducing overencroachment by government.
"For me, it is extremely simple," he said. "I look at a bill and say, 'Fundamentally, does it support, encourage or foster parental control over the issue at hand?' "
Gayle Ruzicka, president of the conservative Utah Eagle Forum, often works to keep government from intruding on parental decision-making.
Some decisions, that is.
"We're supportive of parents running their own children and the right to choose," Ruzicka said. "Having said that, we should never allow parents to choose whether children can drink or smoke or watch pornography."
And violent video games fall into that category. ''It's material harmful to children,'' she said, which is why the proposal has the Eagle Forum's support.
The proposed laws that would bar teens from certain activities are less about not trusting parents and more about protecting children's well-being, Ruzicka said.
In other situations, it is ''very appropriate that parents choose what their children do,'' Ruzicka said. Parents, she said, should be allowed to decide if children as young as 12 hunt big game with a gun, as proposed by HB 67. Or whether 6-year-olds may operate an off-highway vehicle, as HB 237 would allow.
But to Smith, the behavior-control bills end up as a surrogate for taking action that might benefit Utah's children.
"They are not providing positive social outlets for adolescents to think about their identity, who they are and who they want to be," she said.
Amid all the debate, there is little discussion of boosting state funding for children's social clubs, parks or sports programs, Smith said.
And children's health programs are, once again, struggling for adequate state funding.
"That's about the rest of your life, if you get a healthy start," said Karen Crompton, executive director of the advocacy group Voices for Utah Children. "The heartache for a lot of advocates is: If legislators decided to, they could fund all the programs on the [health and human services] list and improve the quality of life for thousands of Utahns."
Crompton considers many of this year's proposals ''boutique bills'' that apply to a narrow slice of population.
''It is not that these things are good or bad in and of themselves, but in terms of improving lives of lots of children and families, they don't,'' Crompton said. ''If you look at things that will truly help large numbers of people, like health coverage, tax help through the earned income credit - those are the kinds of things that help support families.''
Legislators becoming nannies?
A sampling of bills that would affect Utah's children:
* SB52: Would require teens to get parental permission to use a tanning salon.
* HB50: Would bar access to video games that contain ''inappropriate'' violence.
* HB217: Would prohibit teens 18 or younger from using a cell phone while driving.
* HB236: Would require parental consent for a child's participation in an extracurricular club.
* HB322: Would require students in driver education classes to write a 10-page biographical essay on a fatal accident involving a teen driver.
* HB67: Would lower the age for hunting big game from 14 to 12.
* HB237: Would lower the age for operating an off-highway vehicle from 8 to 6.