Apple must investigate iPhone addiction among children

By Oliver Smith 8 January 2018
Image: Getty/35007.

It’s high time.

A powerful group of Apple shareholders is calling on the tech giant to launch an unprecedented investigation into the potentially addictive and possibly harmful effects of their devices on children.

And they’re 100% right.

The big question

As we’ve argued before, social media is becoming ‘crack for kids’, and smartphones are the gateway to this drug.

That’s not to say smartphones should be demonised per se, not like cigarettes or alcohol, rather that parents need more information and support from schools, social networks and, today’s shareholders argue, from Apple to ensure iPhone usage is healthy.

The truth is right now we just don’t know how addictive and harmful these devices could be for our children.

“We have reviewed the evidence and we believe there is a clear need for Apple to offer parents more choices and tools to help them ensure that young consumers are using your products in an optimal manner,” write shareholders Jana Partners and California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS) in their letter to Apple.

For example, they point to the research of Professor Jean Twenge who found that among teenagers 1 hour a day of smartphone use was most optimum for mental health and happiness, with more, less or no use all eventually leading to less happy teens.

Unknown unknowns

The shareholders accept that much of the existing research is not definitive and is open to dispute – but they argue that this is exactly why Apple should investigate.

Furthermore, once Apple has this research, they call for the company to create more granular smart parental controls on devices to help them limit their children’s usage if they decide to.

“So that their child or teenager is not being handed the same phone as a 40-year old, just as most products are made safer for younger users,” they write.

“By doing so, we believe Apple would once again be playing a pioneering role, this time by setting an example about the obligations of technology companies to their youngest customers.”

As the creator of what we think of as the modern smartphone, and the largest and most profitable company on earth (largely due to that phone), Apple is uniquely responsible and perfectly positioned to research this issue.

Now it’s time for Apple to help parents support the growth of their kids around these devices, and to put the worries around technology’s impact on children to bed.

The Memo has reached out to Apple for comment.