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Apple responds to shareholder plea on children’s exposure to iPhones

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It’s easy to forget that smartphones haven’t really been around for all that long. The first iPhone launched only ten years ago, and the constantly evolving nature of technology has meant that tech from a decade ago is totally different from what’s embedded in the latest iPhone X. As such, it’s important to remember that we don’t know everything there is to know about the impact of our favorite pocket companions.

The dangers of smartphones have been suspected for a while now, whether it be indirectly from people trying to take the best selfie, or simply the effect that smartphone use has on conversations. The impact that smartphone use has on children is of particular interest, and two major shareholder groups have written an open letter urging Apple to take a larger role in researching the impact that smartphone use has on young children.

The two shareholder groups, JANA Partners LLC and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS), hold $2 billion in shares from the Cupertino giant, and while that number is a small fraction of the overall $860+ billion worth that Apple commands, JANA has proven to be highly influential in the past, while CalSTRS is the eleventh-largest pension fund in the world.

The letter is focused on various studies and groups that have found negative links between consistent smartphone use in children, including a reduction in children participating in lunchtime activities, a higher risk of depression, and an increase in sleep deprivation. While the letter admits the seeming shortcomings of these devices on children’s overall health, its also quick to point out that smartphones and tablets also have many educational benefits for the young, and an “all or nothing” approach is not what they’re looking for.

The letter goes on to point out an APA report that 94-percent of parents have taken actions to somehow limit their children’s access to smart devices, and postulates that parents would be far more effective in helping their children to avoid the negative side effects of smart devices if they were backed up by research and tools created by Apple. And while it may seem counterproductive for Apple to restrict audiences from its premier products, the letter insists that the goodwill from such an act would put Apple in good stead in a future connected by these smart devices. It finally goes on to list the various ways that the company could start to make progress.

Apple clearly appreciates the enormity of this situation, and was quick to respond with a statement to the Wall Street Journal and iMore that highlights the existing parental controls built into iOS, and acknowledges that the company is always thinking of the ways that its devices affect people, especially children. It’s worth noting that while Apple has expressed that it will be adding new features in the future to make these tools even better, the original open letter already dismissed iOS’s parental controls as offering an “all-or-nothing” approach that was too binary in design.

If you’re a parent and looking for ways to introduce your children to smart devices, or you want to rethink how they see them, then we’ve written some great guides on introducing your children to devices, as well as on some of the best phones for kids.

Update: Added Apple’s response to the open letter.

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