Investment firm JANA Partners and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System–who own a combined $2 billion in Apple stock–recently issued a letter to Apple, asking the company to fund research into software that lets parents control their children’s screen time.
“The initial setup menu could be expanded so that, just as users choose a language and time zone, parents can enter the age of the user and be given age-appropriate setup options based on the best available research including limiting screen time, restricting use to certain hours, reducing the available number of social media sites, setting up parental monitoring, and many other options,” the letter reads.
The letter cited a study by the Center for Media and Child Health and the University of Alberta, which surveyed approximately 2,300 teachers. 67% of those surveyed reported that digital distraction is becoming a more pervasive issue in the classroom, and 75% reported that students have lost the ability to focus on educational tasks.(1)
But lack of focus isn’t the only behavioral issue educators are noticing. Within the last 3 to 5 years since technology has become more commonplace in classrooms, 90% of teachers surveyed said that the number of students with emotional challenges has increased, and 86% reported the number with social challenges has increased.(2)
According to James Steyer, CEO of Common Sense Media, a nonprofit that studies kids’ technology use, Apple is in a position to do more. He recommends that Apple fund independent research on the effects of technology use, launch campaigns to educate parents and kids on responsible technology use, and implement addiction-prevention features in software, such as an automatic shut-off that would power off the device after an hour of use.
But is it really Apple’s responsibility to combat tech addiction? Steyer raises an interesting point: the larger issue lies with the platforms we use on devices. Social media activates the brain’s reward center through a constant stream of comments, “likes” and social validation. However, companies like Facebook, Twitter and Snap Inc. will only change if the public pressures them to do so.
Apple responded to investors with a statement, asserting that their software has included parental control settings since 2008, and it takes they ways their products affect users seriously. Still, they will be working on new features that make these settings more robust.
While Apple develops new technology, parents can curb tech usage by more closely monitoring kids’ electronics use. Teach your kids to value face-to-face relationships with real people instead of getting lost in cyberspace. Have the whole family unplug for a few hours each night, don’t text at the dinner table. Enforcing these rules might not be a popular decision, but it’s the right decision.