Are iPhones bad for kids?


NEGOTIATING screen time is becoming as classic a parent-child debate as golden oldies like “Vegetables v. Dessert” and “Bedtime v. One More Story.” But what role, if any, should the manufacturers of phones and tablets take in regulating children’s access to the products?
According to an open letter released Saturday (Jan. 6) by Apple investors JANA Partners LLC and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System, the time has come for tech giants like Apple to take a direct and research-backed role in safeguarding the health of their youngest customers. The letter cites a collection of studies that show that as little as 3 hours spent on smartphones every day can harm children’s physical and mental well-being. [11 Facts Every Parent Should Know About Their Baby’s Brain]
“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,” the letter said.
The investors, who collectively own about $2 billion in the company’s stock,urged Apple in the letter to support research initiatives that study the effects of smartphones on the mental health of children, to implement more-sophisticated parental controls that help parents regulate screen time, and to develop educational materials to make parents more aware of the potential negative effects of excessive phone usage.
The shareholders’ concerns don’t come out of nowhere. Recent studies have shown that “pathological” internet use (characterized by behavior that resembles addiction) has been linked to depression in teens and may even shrink gray matter.
In November, a small study presented at the Radiological Society of North America’s annual meeting found that teenagers who scored highly on tests designed to detect smartphone addiction had chemical imbalances in their brains similar to those seen in people experiencing anxiety and depression. (The good news is that the imbalance was shown to be reversible after nine weeks of cognitive behavioral therapy.)
In crafting their letter, the two investors collaborated with researchers Michael Rich, the founding director of the Center on Media and Child Health at Boston Children’s Hospital/Harvard Medical School Teaching Hospital, and Jean Twenge, a psychologist at San Diego State University, to summarize half a dozen similar studies that linked excessive screen time to negative mental health effects in children and teenagers.
“Professor Twenge’s research shows that U.S. teenagers who spend 3 hours a day or more on electronic devices are 35 percent more likely, and those who spend 5 hours or more are 71 percent more likely, to have a risk factor for suicide than those who spend less than 1 hour,” the letter said.
The shareholders also cited research that observed a correlation between excessive screen time (more than 5 hours a day) and sleep deprivation , depression and social challenges.

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