Apple urged to tackle child smartphone addiction

Two major Apple investors have urged the iPhone maker to help curb smartphone addiction among children.

A baby girl plays with a mobile phone while riding the New York subway. Two major Apple investors have urged the iPhone maker to take action to curb growing smartphone use among children.

Two major Apple investors have urged the iPhone maker to help curb smartphone addiction among children.

New York-based Jana Partners LLC and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System said in an open letter to Apple that the company must offer more choices to help children fight addiction to its devices. The two investors collectively control US$2 billion worth of Apple shares.

“Apple can play a defining role in signaling to the industry that paying special attention to the health and development of the next generation is both good business and the right thing to do,” the letter said.

Their proposals to Apple include establishing a committee of experts with child development specialists, offering Apple’s “vast information resources” to researchers and enhancing mobile device software so that parents have more options to protect their children’s health.

Apple said the iPhone and other devices running on its mobile software already offer a variety of controls that enable parents to restrict or block anything a child could access online.

The letter cited various studies on the negative effects of smartphones and social media on children’s mental and physical health. Examples include distractions by digital technologies in the classroom, a decreased ability of students to focus on educational tasks and higher risks of suicide and depression.

A study published in November suggested heavy smartphone use and social media exposure among teens may contribute to depression and other traits linked with suicide. But similarly designed research cannot rule out that already troubled teens may be more likely than others to be frequent users of smartphones and social media.

The American Academy of Pediatrics said in 2016 that social media and Internet use have benefits and potential risks for teens. The American Psychiatric Association does not consider heavy Internet use a true mental addiction and says more research is needed.

Facebook’s founding president, Sean Parker, said the company exploits a “vulnerability in human psychology” to addict its users. He called its stream of comments, “likes” and reactions a “social validation feedback loop that exploits how human brains work.” And, he said, “God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains.”

James Steyer, the CEO of Common Sense Media, a nonprofit that studies kids’ technology use, said the bigger problem lies with social media companies “designing platforms to grab and retain your children.” 

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