Investors Demand Apple Combat 'Youth Phone Addiction' as Mental Health Risk for Kids Grows

REUTERS/Kim Hong-JiModels pose for photographs with a LG electronics' new V20 premium smartphone during its unveiling ceremony in Seoul, South Korea, September 7, 2016.

A rising number of influential voices are sounding the alarm about the dangers of smartphone technology, as major investors in Apple urge the company to address the public health crisis of youth phone addiction.

The Wall Street Journal reported this week that Jana Partners LLC and the California State Teachers' Retirement System, also known as Calstrs, are leveraging their influence with Apple. Together these two large shareholders, which control approximately $2 billion in company stock, submitted a letter on Saturday stressing that Apple needs to build new software tools to assist parents in limiting phone use. The letter also called on the company to further research how excessive use of smartphones impacts mental health.

"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 shareholders' letter reads.

"There is a developing consensus around the world including Silicon Valley that the potential long-term consequences of new technologies need to be factored in at the outset, and no company can outsource that responsibility."

The iPhone is considered Apple's "backbone," the WSJ noted. The company turned a $48.35 billion profit in its most recent fiscal year, and the iPhone helped turn the business into the world's largest publicly listed company by market value. Apple's stock grew by 50 percent in the past year, and approximately 86 million Americans older than 13 now have an iPhone.

"The investors believe that Apple's highflying stock could be hurt in coming decades if it faces a backlash and that proactive moves could generate goodwill and keep consumers loyal to Apple brands."

Silicon Valley's tech leaders seem to be aware of the harms their own products cause, because many employees enroll their children in schools that are devoid of tech gadgets, such as smartphones and computers. One such institution is the Waldorf School of the Peninsula in Los Altos, California. Employees of Google, Apple, Yahoo and Hewlett-Packard and the chief technology officer of eBay all reportedly send their children to this nine-classroom school. 

"[This] school's chief teaching tools are anything but high-tech: pens and paper, knitting needles and, occasionally, mud. Not a computer to be found. No screens at all. They are not allowed in the classroom, and the school even frowns on their use at home," The New York Times reported in 2011.

Yet aside from financial considerations, the well-being of children is arguably the most potent concern at present given how these devices can fuel unhealthy behaviors, author Naomi Schaefer Riley explains in her new book, Be the Parent, Please: Stop Banning Seesaws and Start Banning Snapchat, an excerpt of which was published on the blog of the Institute for Family Studies Monday.

"Giving kids cell phones may give parents peace of mind, but they also make kids more anxious. This has effects that are deeply harmful in some very obvious ways," Riley explained.

"When it comes to technology, parents must examine not only how they want their children to relate to the devices or how much of their time they want kids to spend texting or emailing or gaming or surfing. They need to decide something more fundamental — how their children are going to interact with the rest of the world."

"It is not an exaggeration to say that giving your kids a cell phone is giving them the keys to the kingdom. There is a whole world out there that they can now access without your knowledge. That world, which will be constantly beeping at your child, will forever change him or her. It may change how your child views friendships, how he or she interacts with the outdoors, how he or she experiences time alone."

When parents give children tablets and digital phones they are likely to be changing the information they can access, their habits, personalities, and tastes, the author added. They may view a child's online life as a privilege or a right, but it ought to be understood as a burden, she emphasized.

Riley's book also notes that researchers have found that narcissism is on the rise among high schoolers and college students, also exacerbated by technology, especially "the selfie."

"How can you take dozens of pictures of yourself a day and not become more self-involved?" she asks.

"For the sake of our own convenience and their entertainment, we are giving up their freedom and perhaps even some of their happiness."

Her words and the shareholders recent moves dovetail with The Christian Post's previous reporting that a smartphone fueled mental health crisis is already happening.

"The more [children] rely on the online world, the more they are going to find the rest of the world to be a bit boring," Danny Huerta, vice president of parenting and youth at Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs, said in an interview with CP in July 2017.

"The fact that virtual reality and augmented reality is around the corner, and Apple and Google and everybody is working on that because that is the next money maker, we have to be parents, I believe, to create kids that can think and understand why there are boundaries."

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