- Lucas Jackson/Reuters
- Two major Apple shareholders recently wrote an open letter expressing concern about the addictive power of the company’s products.
- A growing body of research has found kids are particularly vulnerable to overuse of tech products, often suffering mental health issues as a result.
Two Apple shareholders with a collective $2 billion stake in the company recently wrote a letter expressing concern that kids were developing addictions to products like the iPhone.
“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,” wrote the shareholders, Jana Partners LLC and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System.
Kids get their empathy back when they go tech-free
The research isn’t conclusive that Apple products – or any consumer tech, for that matter – creates addiction, but it does present a picture in which young people experience extreme side effects from heavy technology use.
Studies have also shown big leaps in empathy and mental health when kids stop using their smartphones and other devices. Psychology experts tend to view these effects as signs that technology dampens kids’ natural tendency to feel compassion for others.
In addition to a wide body of research on smartphones affecting sleep quality, there were three main studies the authors of the recent Apple letter leaned on to make their case.
- Sean Gallup/Getty Images
The primary study was published in 2014 in Computers in Human Behavior. The study involved roughly 100 pre-teens, half of whom spent five days on a tech-free retreat. The other half served as the control, living their lives as they normally would.
After just five days, researchers saw huge gains in empathy and so-called “nonverbal emotional cues,” such as a child frowning and furrowing their brow if they saw another child gets hurt.
The second study, published in 2017 in the same journal, found in a survey of nearly 1,800 young adults a linear relationship between how many social media platforms they used and the poor quality of their mental health. The results held even after the research team controlled for the overall time spent on social media, isolating the platforms themselves as the main factor.
Their conclusion was that physicians and mental health professionals ought to ask about their patients’ social media use if they show depressive symptoms.
The final study determined that 86% of Americans reported checking their various devices “constantly” or “often,” generally resulting in increased stress. Constant checkers had higher stress levels overall compared to those who checked less often. More than half of parents – 58% – said they worried about the influence of social media on their child’s physical and mental health.
There’s still a chance to turn around
Authors of the recent letter expressed hope that Apple could change direction to accommodate these insights.
“As one of the most innovative companies in the history of technology,” the authors wrote, “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.”
In response, Apple agreed to introduce new features “to add functionality and make these tools even more robust,” a representative told Business Insider. The company didn’t go into any detail about what the new features and enhancements might involve.
“Apple has always looked out for kids,” the statement continued, “and we work hard to create powerful products that inspire, entertain, and educate children while also helping parents protect them online.”