Investors Urge Apple To Address Youth Addiction To iPhones

Apple is responding to concerns about how its products are used by kids

Earlier this week, Jana Partners LLC and the California State Teachers' Retirement System issued an open letter to Apple asking the company to take specific actions to reduce potential harm to youngsters.

Addressing this issue now would enhance the value of Apple in the long-term for all shareholders, the two large shareholders contend.

Apple might be in the hot seat right now, but the USA, on the whole, has been late to the game on preventative measures to curb overuse.

In the letter, the shareholders noted that Apple had been setting precedents in the innovation of smartphone technology, and this time, they are hoping that the iPhone maker would once again set the bar in terms of "setting an example about the obligations of technology companies to their youngest customers".

"Professor Twenge's research shows that USA teenagers who spend 3 hours a day or more on electronic devices are 35 percent more likely, and those who spend 5 hours or more are 71 percent more likely, to have a risk factor for suicide than those who spend less than 1 hour", the letter said.

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The "growing societal unease" over children's overuse of smartphones is "at some point likely to impact even Apple", the letter warned.

They urged the company to design more intuitive ways for parents to safeguard their children's devices, and called for them to build a committee of experts "to assist additional research efforts". A junior high teacher noticed that more students chose to "sit all lunch hour and play on their personal devices" instead of spending their lunch breaks socializing with other children. Neither investor wants Apple to aggressively restrict youth use - rather, they propose the company divine the "developmentally optimal amount and type of access" given the educational opportunities devices provide.

Professor Twenge's research shows that US teenagers who spend 3 hours a day or more on electronic devices are 35% more likely, and those who spend 5 hours or more are 71% more likely, to have a risk factor for suicide than those who spend less than 1 hour.

An increased risk factor for suicide. Kids get a net benefit from using them, but only in moderation, with one study the investors quoted claiming peak teenager mental health with one hour or less of device use per day. 78% of teens check their phones at least hourly and 50% report feeling "addicted" to their phones. "Over time, if a child's screen-time use means spending too little time on activities that are critical for development - such as completing homework, playing sports or socializing with friends - that child can fall behind peers in these critical areas and can develop low self-esteem and anxiety or withdrawal when faced with situations that test competence in these areas".

While two of Apple's biggest shareholders are pushing for new features to help limit damaging screen time for children, tech observers say there's no easy fix and the responsibility will remain with parents to do what's best for their kids.

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