Rarely a week goes by that we don’t hear about the dangers of screen time for kids. Some research has connected young children’s use of screens to speech delays while other warnings have linked early screen exposure to poor cognitive development. Just last week, the World Health Organization created a new diagnosis in its International Classification of Diseases: gaming disorder.
It’s surprising though when the people who profit from kids using smartphones and tablets start voicing concerns. Over the weekend, two major Apple shareholders sent a letter to the company imploring the tech giant to look at the effect smartphones are having on kids’ health.
While all screens are potentially problematic, mobile devices like smartphones and tablets have proven to be particularly detrimental to health—they go with us everywhere. They can be brought into bedrooms where they can affect kids’ sleep, they’re often looked at for hours on end and cause harm to kids’ eyes and, perhaps most concerning, they interrupt regular socializing and may even begin to affect kids’ mental health.
Barry Rosenstein and Anne Sheehan own about $2 billion in Apple shares. In their letter, they point out that research says the average teen gets their first smartphone at age 10 and spends 4.5 hours on it each day. They also note that more than half of kids say they’re addicted to their screens.
“It would defy common sense to argue that this level of usage, by children whose brains are still developing, is not having at least some impact, or that the maker of such a powerful product has no role to play in helping parents to ensure it is being used optimally,” write Rosenstein and Sheehan, who got help from experts like psychiatrist Jean M. Twenge, author of the book iGen, to research their letter.
One of the most striking pieces of evidence they present comes from Twenge’s own research, which found that U.S. teens who spend more than three hours on their devices each day are 35 percent more likely to have a risk factor for suicide than those who are on their screens for less than an hour a day. And kids who spend five hours on their phones daily are a whopping 71 percent more likely to have a risk factor.
Sheehan and Rosenstein are calling on Apple to offer parents more choices or tools to help manage kids’ screen time, and asking the company to study the effects of smartphones on kids. Some of the proposed solutions include offering progress reports on how kids are using their iPhones, and an option for parents to enter their kids’ ages to get guidelines on screen-time limits and appropriate social media.
Currently, the Canadian Paediatric Society recommends kids under two shouldn’t be using screens at all, and kids ages two to five should be using them for less than an hour a day. After that, experts recommend limiting screen time as much as possible, but most agree that screens are so ubiquitous that it’s hard for parents to meaningfully cap older kids’ usage. After all, even their school work is likely to include the use of screens.
“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,” write the investors.
We totally agree, and can’t wait for a little help in reducing screen time—for our kids and for ourselves.