A couple of weeks ago, two investors in Apple called on the company to pay more attention to the mental and physical health of youths using their products, especially its iPhone. Daniel Shane reports that the two investors “pointed to a number of studies highlighting the detrimental effects of smartphone addiction”:

In an open letter posted online this weekend, the two shareholders called on Apple to set “an example about the obligations of technology companies to their youngest customers.” They want the company to add more sophisticated parental controls to its devices limit the time children can spend on them and what content they can access.”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.


Among the research cited indicating negative impacts on students’ mental health and school performance was a collaborative American and Canadian study from 2015. More than 2,200 teachers and principals in Alberta, Canada were surveyed to examine “the scope of physical, mental and social consequences of digital technologies in areas such as exercise, homework, identity formation, distraction, cognition, learning, nutrition, and sleep quality and quantity.” Not all the findings were negative regarding the use of electronic equipment for learning in the classroom:

Overall, teachers report that digital technologies enhance their teaching and learning activities, with inquiry-based learning (71%) being the area of greatest enrichment. The most common instructional uses of digital technologies on a weekly basis are to provide access to a variety of learning resources (79%), to enable communication with parents (79%), and to differentiate resources and materials to support students who have a variety of learning needs (69%).


It was the effect of digital technologies on the students’ ability to focus and stay engaged in the classroom that raised concerns. 67% of the teachers surveyed believe that digital technologies increasingly distract their students in the classroom. This is probably true in the U.S., too:

Generally teachers and principals perceive that Alberta students’ readiness to learn has been in steady decline. There is a strong sense among a majority of teaching professionals within this sample that over the past 3-5 years students across all grades are increasingly having a more difficult time focusing on educational tasks (76%), are coming to school tired (66%), and are less able to bounce back from adversity (ie lacking resilience) (62%). Concurrent to this, 44% of teachers note a decrease in student empathy, and over half of the sample (56%), reported an increase in the number of students who have discussed with them incidents of online harassment and/or cyberbullying.


The teachers also reported seeing an increase in the number of students diagnosed with anxiety, ADHD, and mood disorders like depression. This is supported by Jean M. Twenge’s research featured on The PediaBlog last year (“iGen”, November 7, 2017) showing that the risk of suicide in American teenagers is increased in proportion to the amount of time spent using electronic devices. (Teens who spent more time playing sports,  spending time with friends face-to-face, or doing homework had significantly lower risk.) The American Psychological Association found in a survey last year that parents are stressed out about health impacts from their children’s screen time:

Parents also seem to be feeling the pressure to balance their children’s technology use as it affects familial interactions. While 94 percent of parents say that they take at least one action to manage their child’s technology usage during the school year, such as not allowing cell phones at the dinner table (32 percent) or limiting screen time before bed (32 percent), almost half (48 percent) say that regulating their child’s screen time is a constant battle, and more than half of parents (58 percent) report feeling like their child is attached to their phone or tablet.

Additionally, almost half of parents (45 percent) say they feel disconnected from their families even when they are together because of technology. More than half of parents (58 percent) say they worry about the influence of social media on their child’s physical and mental health.


We’ll take a look at Apple’s response to the request by their investors to “offer parents more choices and tools to help them ensure that young consumers are using your products in an optimal manner,” tomorrow on The PediaBlog.


(Google Images)