Screen-addicted teens are unhappy A new study finds that more screen time is coincides with less happiness in youths

Science Daily

Date: January 22, 2018

Source: San Diego State University

Summary: Researchers found that teens who spent a lot of time in front of screen devices — playing computer games, using more social media, texting and video chatting — were less happy than those who invested time in non-screen activities like sports, reading newspapers and magazines, and face-to-face social interaction. The happiest teens used digital media for less than an hour per day. But after a daily hour of screen time, unhappiness rises steadily along with increasing screen time.

Happiness is not a warm phone, according to a new study exploring the link between adolescent life satisfaction and screen time. Teens whose eyes are habitually glued to their smartphones are markedly unhappier, said study lead author and San Diego State University and professor of psychology Jean M. Twenge.

To investigate this link, Twenge, along with colleagues Gabrielle Martin at SDSU and W. Keith Campbell at the University of Georgia, crunched data from the Monitoring the Future (MtF) longitudinal study, a nationally representative survey of more than a million U.S. 8th-, 10th-, and 12th-graders. The survey asked students questions about how often they spent time on their phones, tablets and computers, as well as questions about their in-the-flesh social interactions and their overall happiness.

On average, they found that teens who spent more time in front of screen devices — playing computer games, using social media, texting and video chatting — were less happy than those who invested more time in non-screen activities like sports, reading newspapers and magazines, and face-to-face social interaction.

Twenge believes this screen time is driving unhappiness rather than the other way around.

“Although this study can’t show causation, several other studies have shown that more social media use leads to unhappiness, but unhappiness does not lead to more social media use,” said Twenge, author of “iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy — And Completely Unprepared for Adulthood.”

Total screen abstinence doesn’t lead to happiness either, Twenge found. The happiest teens used digital media a little less than an hour per day. But after a daily hour of screen time, unhappiness rises steadily along with increasing screen time, the researchers report today in the journal Emotion.

“The key to digital media use and happiness is limited use,” Twenge said. “Aim to spend no more than two hours a day on digital media, and try to increase the amount of time you spend seeing friends face-to-face and exercising — two activities reliably linked to greater happiness.”

Looking at historical trends from the same age groups since the 1990s, the researchers found that the proliferation of screen devices over time coincided with a general drop-off in reported happiness in U.S. teens. Specifically, young people’s life satisfaction, self-esteem and happiness plummeted after 2012. That’s the year that the percentage of Americans who owned a smartphone rose above 50 percent, Twenge noted.

“By far the largest change in teens’ lives between 2012 and 2016 was the increase in the amount of time they spent on digital media, and the subsequent decline in in-person social activities and sleep,” she said. “The advent of the smartphone is the most plausible explanation for the sudden decrease in teens’ psychological well-being.”

Story Source:

Materials provided by San Diego State UniversityNote: Content may be edited for style and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Jean M. Twenge, Gabrielle N. Martin, W. Keith Campbell. Decreases in Psychological Well-Being Among American Adolescents After 2012 and Links to Screen Time During the Rise of Smartphone Technology.Emotion, 2018; DOI: 10.1037/emo0000403

Is Your Child a Phone ‘Addict’?

Photo

CreditiStock

On the heels of two large Apple investors urging the company to address kids’ phone addiction, many parents may be wondering: How do I know if my child is addicted to his or her smartphone? And how can I prevent problematic overuse?

There are reasons for concern. A 2016 survey from Common Sense Media found that half of teenagers felt addicted to their devices, and 78 percent checked their devices at least hourly. Seventy-two percent of teens felt pressured to respond immediately to texts, notifications and social media messaging. A 2015 Pew Research report found that 73 percent of 13- to 17-year-olds had their own smartphones or had access to one, and 24 percent said they were online “almost constantly.”

I have spent the past 15 years helping teens with organization and time management. Many parents of kids I work with are conflicted about their teens’ smartphone use. They appreciate the convenience of having access to their children and the potential safety benefits. And, in an age of social media socialization, teenagers use messaging apps to stay in touch with friends and make social plans, some of which can be positive.

When a high school student I work with broke his neck playing football this past fall, his smartphone became a crucial link not just to friends, but also to others dealing with similar injuries. After watching videos of others documenting their recovery on YouTube, he connected with some via Facebook Messenger and began conversations he found “incredibly helpful.”

Instead of becoming overly fixated on teens’ smartphone use in general, it is important to think about “what are the applications on the smartphone and how is your particular child using the applications on that smartphone,” said Katie Davis, assistant professor at the University of Washington and co-director of the UW Digital Youth Lab, whose research explores the role of new media technologies in young people’s personal, social and academic lives. Parents trying to monitor use can have difficulty distinguishing abusive behavior from appropriate use, especially since teens use their devices for both schoolwork and free time, often simultaneously.

For some teens, the constant potential feedback loop from notifications and messaging might create a fear of missing out, or FOMO. And although there is currently no official medical recognition of “smartphone addiction” as a disease or disorder, the term refers to obsessive behaviors that disturb the course of daily activities in a way that mirrors patterns similar to substance abuse.

Here are some questions to ask: Does your teenager’s mood suddenly change and become intensely anxious, irritable, angry or even violent when the phone is taken away or unavailable for use? Does your teen skip or not participate in social events because of time spent on the phone? Another red flag is spending so much time on a smartphone that it affects personal hygiene and normal daily activities (most notably, sleep). Lying, hiding and breaking family rules to spend more time on a smartphone can be cause for alarm, said Hilarie Cash, a psychotherapist and the chief clinical officer at reSTART, an internet addiction rehabilitation program outside of Seattle.

In my work with students, I’ve found that even teenagers who want to curb their phone use may find it difficult to self-regulate without parental guidance. Creating daily and weekly offline time as part of the family routine is helpful, and finding a way to have a once- or twice-yearly extended period of time off — at a summer camp or outdoor expedition without Wi-Fi, or on a family trip — may provide the reset teens need to break negative habits.

South Korean researchers developed and tested a 10-item questionnaireto determine adolescent smartphone addiction. The brief questionnaire, published in the journal PLOS One in December 2013, asks users to answer statements like whether they have missed work because of smartphone use, have had a hard time concentrating in class because they were thinking about their phones and whether they became impatient when not using a smartphone.

For parents thinking of getting their kids smartphones, providing incremental and compartmentalized access can help establish good habits and prevent problematic dependency. Parents sometimes hand down their old iPhones as a first phone for a child in elementary school. I encourage parents to get their kids flip phones first, and wait until they have developed good overall habits before giving them a smartphone.

Just as kids learn to ride bikes with training wheels or get junior licenses when they learn to drive, kids shouldn’t be expected to manage their first smartphones all by themselves. Fortunately, there are ways to manage use and help kids develop better tendencies, and much of it requires a delicate balance of parental modeling and involvement.

Make a Plan

Taking the time to discuss appropriate use, establish guidelines and come up with a family agreement before kids get a phone is ideal, because it can be harder to put rules in place afterward. Family agreements can include rules about when and how the phone may be used, and potential consequences for broken rules. Agreements are more likely to be successful if they are followed consistently and revisited frequently as kids grow older and new apps become available.

Monitor Use

For parents of teens who have smartphones, making the effort to understand how, where and why kids are spending time on their phone is critical.

It can be helpful to think about imbalances over a span of time rather than on a single evening or weekend. After all, binge-watching a television series on a smartphone while feeling sick or heartbroken isn’t the same as lying about phone use over an extended period of time. An app like Moment can help track usage and display the time spent in each app.

Take a Time Out

Apple’s Family Sharing and Google Play have settings to help parents monitor use, and most phone carriers have their own parental control options. Devices like Circle and apps like OurPact give parents the ability to automate access, disable access to certain apps after a certain hour and build in structured time off to promote rest. The psychologist Larry Rosen, who has researched technology and the brain and is a co-author of “The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World,” said one of the most important steps is to remove the phone from the bedroom at night.

Be a Role Model

Of course, parents trying to set healthy guidelines for smartphone use may themselves be struggling with similar issues: The 2015 Pew survey found that 46 percent of American adults believed they could not live without their smartphones. Teens aren’t the only ones we need to worry about when it comes to smartphone addiction — adults should consider their habits as well.

How to Have Honest Conversations About Social Media with Students

Common Sense Media

When young people feel seen, heard, and respected, they will want to engage.

January 11, 2018

Rosalind Wiseman

Founder, Cultures of Dignity

Who hasn’t sent a text or email to the wrong person? Who hasn’t posted something online they later regretted or seen something in their feed that made them uncomfortable? These are difficult moments for people, no matter their age, and it’s natural to be unsure what to do. But the most common advice young people get about social media is usually limited to “Think before you send” and “Once you post something, it’s always there.” These clichés may be true, but they don’t help young people address the situation they’re in.

If you work with young people in any capacity, you are also teaching social media norms and expectations. But what do norms mean in the context of social media? Norms are a standard or pattern of social behavior that is typical or expected of a group. Our social media use is still so new that we are all trying to figure out what our social media norms are and should be. From when we use it to how and where, we are all trying to figure it out as we go.

We start by looking in the mirror. We must reflect on how we use social media ourselves. What is true for our students is also true for us.

When it comes to issues that impact their lives, young people are equal to us in subject-matter expertise, if not more so. But this is easy to forget. When we do, we miss the larger context and therefore the opportunity to actually accomplish our goals: teaching them how to apply critical thinking to the information they receive, recognizing when it is being used to manipulate their opinions and perceptions, defining what responsible social interactions online look like, and developing awareness about how its use can impact their sense of self and understanding of the world.

So how do we do this? We start by looking in the mirror. We must reflect on how we use social media ourselves. What is true for our students is also true for us. Social media is a constant social exchange (for better and worse), a way to maintain important connections and relationships, a place to find support and share interests with like-minded people (especially when you can’t find it in real life), and a source of information that profoundly impacts the way you see yourself and the world around you.

Reflecting on Your Own Experiences

At Cultures of Dignity, we believe that successfully teaching any kind of social and emotional learning requires teachers to ask themselves the same questions they ask their students. Before initiating a discussion with your students on topics of responsible social media use, take some time to reflect on your own experiences with this exercise:

Part One:
Put a check next to the question if you can answer “yes.” Have you …

  • Posted something, then checked repeatedly to see how many people liked it or made a comment?
  • Accidentally sent an email or text to the wrong person?
  • Been in school when someone showed you a post about you, a colleague, a parent, or a child that made you feel sad or anxious and didn’t know what to do next?
  • Had a friend or someone in your family post something that made you really upset and affected your relationship with that person?
  • Now write down a few sentences that describe your experiences and feelings to any of these questions.

Part Two:
Look back on your social media posts of the last six months and ask yourself the following questions:

  • If a stranger saw the posts you just looked at, what would they think about you?
  • What do you want people to think about you and your life?
  • How accurately do your online posts and interactions reflect what’s going on in your life?
  • Do you take steps to protect your online privacy? How important is privacy to you?
  • Is the way you handle conflict online similar to the way you handle conflict in real life? Are you proud of how you conduct yourself in either or both contexts?

Bringing Your Reflection into the Classroom

Now take a step back and remember that the majority of young people are extremely skeptical about anything we tell them regarding how to use social media. We have to show them that we are doing the work we are asking them to do. We have to show them that we acknowledge we are affected by social media too. So no matter what you teach — math, social studies, Spanish, language arts, or computer coding — sit down with your students and say something along the lines of:

I know I’m your math teacher, so technically my responsibility is to teach you math, but I also want the time we spend together to be good. And I know that I can be the best math teacher in the world, but if something comes through your phone that upsets you, you’re going to have a really hard time focusing on what I’m teaching you. I’ve been thinking about the technology rules we have in the school and in the class. I want to take a few minutes of our class time to dig a little deeper because I think it’s more than me nagging you to put away your phones and not being mean to someone. So we’re going to take 15 minutes to answer a few questions and then have a discussion. This doesn’t have to be the only time we talk about this. If what we do seems like a good use of time, let me know.

You can do the same exercises above and then have a discussion. Share some of your own insights — which shows them that you don’t think you’re above these issues because you’re an adult. Your goal is to approach the topic from a place of curiosity instead of blame and judgment. From there, you can fine-tune your class agreements about how social media is used in and outside of class.

Remember what you know: When young people feel seen, heard, and respected, they will want to engage. When they see that you hold each of them to high standards and you implement those standards fairly, they engage. When we admit adults’ hypocrisy, they engage. And when they are given a voice to express their own experiences and opinions, they will hold themselves to higher standards then we can ever impose.

Vaping Can Be Addictive and May Lure Teenagers to Smoking, Science Panel Concludes

Photo

A man vaped during lunch time in central London. CreditTolga Akmen/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

WASHINGTON — A national panel of public health experts concluded in a report released on Tuesday that vaping with e-cigarettes that contain nicotine can be addictive and that teenagers who use the devices may be put at higher risk of switching to traditional smoking.

Whether teenage use of e-cigarettes may lead to conventional smoking has been intensely debated in the United States and elsewhere. While the industry argues that vaping is not a steppingstone to conventional cigarettes or addiction, some antismoking advocates contend that young people become hooked on nicotine, and are enticed to cancer-causing tobacco-based cigarettes over time.

The new report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine is the most comprehensive analysis of existing research on e-cigarettes. It concluded the devices are safer than traditional smoking products and that they do help smokers quit, citing conclusive proof that switching can reduce smokers’ exposure to deadly tar, numerous dangerous chemicals and other carcinogens.

But it stopped short of declaring e-cigarettes are safe, noting that there are no long-term scientific studies of the devices’ addictive potential or their effects on the heart, lungs or on reproduction.

The panel found evidence among studies it reviewed that vaping may prompt teenagers or young adults to try regular cigarettes, putting them at higher risk for addiction, but that any significant linkage between e-cigarettes and long-term smoking has not been established. It said it was unable to determine whether young people were just trying cigarettes or becoming habitual smokers.

“When it got down to answering the questions about what the impacts on health are, there is still a lot to be learned,” said David Eaton, of the University of Washington, who led the committee that reviewed existing research and issued the report. “E-cigarettes cannot be simply categorized as either beneficial or harmful.”

The report was commissioned in 2016, after the F.D.A. gained the authority to regulate tobacco products that had previously been outside its jurisdiction, such as e-cigarettes, cigars and other goods.

Mitch Zeller, head of the agency’s tobacco division, said the committee was assigned to assess the existing science, and to point out where research gaps suggest more study was needed. The report will aid the agency in its review of applications for lower-risk tobacco products and the potential harm or benefits those pose to individuals and the public.

On Wednesday, an F.D.A. advisory panel will review an application from Philip Morris International for iQOS, an electronic device that unlike e-cigarettes, contains tobacco in a stick that the company says heats it but does not burn it. It releases nicotine vapor the company says is less hazardous than smoke. If approved, it would be the first company allowed by the government to claim its product is less harmful than cigarettes.

Also this week, on Friday, the agency’s new nicotine steering committee will hold a public hearing on over-the-counter therapeutic products, among them gums, patches and lozenges, designed to help smokers quit.

Cessation was one area where the committee’s report did give the booming e-cigarette industry some good news. It pointed out the benefits for smokers of tobacco-based cigarettes who are trying to quit. and. But people who continue to smoke cigarettes, alternating with e-cigarettes, do not gain the same health benefits, the committee said. That’s especially important given that most adults who vape also still smoke or use other tobacco products.

While there is no evidence at this time that e-cigarettes or their components cause cancer, the committee recommended more long-term research. Some e-cigarettes do contain chemicals and metals whose long-term effects — including on pregnancy — also require additional research, the committee said.

Smoking rates among adults and teenagers have declined significantly over the last few decades. In 2015, the last year for which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has statistics, about 37 million Americans, 15 percent of adults aged 18 and older, smoked cigarettes. The number has declined from nearly 21 percent of every 100 adults in 2005; and 42 percent in 1965.

With that decline, the e-cigarette industry has emerged as a potential substitute and Big Tobacco has been among the device developers enjoying new profits from the tobacco alternatives. Bonnie Herzog, a well-known Wells Fargo tobacco analyst, predicted the industry will grow about 15 percent to $5.1 billion in retail sales in the United States, in 2018. Of that, she noted that $1.6 billion will be spent on the pre-filled cartridges sold mostly by the big tobacco companies, and $3.5 billion on open vapor systems; the liquid refill products, most of which are sold at vape shops.

The vaping industry, as well as traditional tobacco companies, are also gearing up for a lengthy fight with the F.D.A. over the campaign by the agency’s commissioner, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, to slash levels of nicotine in traditional cigarettes to nonaddictive or minimally addictive levels.

Dr. Gottlieb is expected to issue an initial proposal, calling for public comment on lower nicotine levels, in the near future.

The new report reflects the complexity of the issues surrounding e-cigarettes and the balancing act tobacco regulators face over the pros and cons of the many alternatives to conventional cigarettes. The notion of e-cigarettes as a gateway to conventional cigarettes for youths has been a sticking point.

Adam Leventhal, a professor of preventive medicine at the University of Southern California, and an author of the report, said his group did an exhaustive literature search, reviewing all studies on youths and e-cigarette use from around the world. Of those, they found 10 studies that they deemed strong enough to address the question. But these studies did not show that using e-cigarettes caused teens to move on to tobacco, only that the use of e-cigarettes was associated with later smoking of at least one traditional cigarette. The report noted that more than 11 percent of all high school students had used e-cigarettes within the past month, a total of nearly 1.7 million youths.

“The evidence was substantial that this association was consistent across a number of research methodologies, age ranges, locations, and research groups in and outside the U.S.,” Mr. Leventhal said.

More intriguing was the report’s finding of moderate evidence that youths who use e-cigarettes before trying tobacco, are more likely to become more frequent and intense smokers.

Critics have long contended that the flavored liquids for the devices are luring adolescents to the habit, at a time when nicotine is especially hazardous for their brain development. Three of the top-selling flavors at e-liquid.com, a large online retailer, include “Unicorn Milk” (strawberries and cream), “TNT” (strawberry, apple and peach) and “I Love Donuts” (blueberries and pastry).

The authors of the new report cite conclusive evidence that vaping can be addictive, and that exposure to nicotine from e-cigarettes is highly variable, depends on the characteristics of the device, as well as how it is used. They also cited conclusive proof that in addition to nicotine, most e-cigarettes also contain and emit numerous potentially toxic substances.

In terms of second hand vapor, the committee said there was conclusive evidence that e-cigarette use increases airborne concentrations of particulate matter and nicotine indoors.

The report concluded that much of the current research on e-cigarettes is lacking by scientific standards and that many important areas have not yet been studied. Dr. Eaton, in an interview, said that the authors did not distinguish between industry-funded, and independent research.

Many of the existing studies were also flawed, either in methodology or because of industry-financed bias. In addition, the levels of nicotine and other chemicals, including metals, vary in e-cigarettes from brand to brand, which has complicated some research findings.

Mr. Zeller praised the report and stressed its strong findings that youths who start on e-cigarettes are more likely to become heavier users of tobacco.

“And for kids who initiate on e-cigarettes, there’s a great chance of intensive use of cigarettes. As the regulator, we’ve got to factor all that in,” Mr. Zeller said.

In July, the F.D.A. delayed the deadline at least four years for e-cigarette companies to submit applications for currently marketed products to demonstrate that their public health benefit warrants agency approval. The agency did not delay other aspects of its tobacco control work, including requirements for mandatory age and photo-ID checks to prevent illegal sales to minors and the banning of free samples.

Public health advocates who objected to the July delay, said this report gave them further concern.

“What the report demonstrates is that despite the popularity of e-cigarettes, little is known about their overall health effects, and there is wide variability from product to product,” said Matthew L. Myers, President of Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. “That makes the case even stronger for F.D.A. regulation. This report makes very real the concern that e-cigarettes may well increase the use of combustive tobacco products.’’

The vaping industry was cautiously optimistic about the influence of the report. Gregory Conley, president of the American Vaping Association, a nonprofit that advocates for vapor products, said it was good news. He said the findings were consistent with those reached by the Royal College of Physicians and other institutions in Britain that have issued reports indicating e-cigarettes are less dangerous than traditional smoking and help with cessation.

“The committee’s findings also fall in line with F.D.A. Director Scott Gottlieb’s nicotine strategy, a key element of which involves adult smokers switching to lower risk products,” he said. “In the wake of this report, it is more apparent than ever that true leadership is needed in public health to ensure that adult smokers have access to truthful information about the benefits of switching to smoke-free products.”

How Exercise Helps Reduce ADHD Symptoms

Healthcentral https://www.healthcentral.com/article/exercise-reduces-adhd-symptoms

iStock-541272034.jpg
Credit: iStock

According to a number of recent studies, exercise, especially if it’s aerobic, can reduce symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Researchers are still working to identify the exact causes of ADHD, but it is generally thought to be caused by an imbalance of chemicals in the brain.

Scientists think that ADHD symptoms are caused by a deficiency in the chemicals norepinephrine and dopamine, which “play essential roles in thinking and attention,” according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

Stimulant medications are effective because they increase these chemicals, therefore reducing ADHD symptoms and increasing an individual’s ability to focus. Exercise increases dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin levels in the brain, which means exercise can have the same effect on the brain as stimulant medications.

In recent years, a number of studies have backed up the idea that exercise helps decrease ADHD symptoms.

study published in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology in 2015 looked specifically at the effects of aerobic exercise on children with ADHD. Children were enrolled in a before-school exercise program for 12 weeks. Parents and teachers provided ratings of ADHD symptoms, including inattentionhyperactivity, and impulsivity as well as ratings for oppositional behavior, moodiness, and social interactions. At the end of the trial, researchers noted reduced impairment at school and at home. Betsy Hoza, the lead researcher believes the study showed that before-school exercise could be a way of managing ADHD symptoms.

study published in Current Psychiatry Reports indicated that sustained exercise programs benefited children with ADHD, specifically by enhancing neural growth and development, and improving cognitive and behavioral functioning. Executive functioning skills, which are often difficult for people with ADHD, were found to improve after exercise.

Another study assigned some students to a nine-month after school physical activity program. Other students were placed on a waitlist as a control group. The researchers found that students who actively participated in the physical activity program had better results on cognitive performance and had better brain function on tasks requiring executive function skills.

Dr. John Ratey, M.D., the author of “Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain,” has advocated for exercise as a supplemental treatment for ADHD. Dr. Ratey discussed the study with Medscape Medical News and reported there have also been research in Taiwan and China supporting exercise for children with ADHD.

The study from China also found that balance training might be of benefit. Dr. Ratey explains that exercise increases dopamine and norepinephrine levels, which in turn decrease ADHD symptoms. “It also raises serotonin and all these other factors in the brain that really make for a nice recipe for an exercise pill, if we had such a thing,” Dr. Ratey said.

Besides improving cognitive functioning and executive functioning skills, exercise helps by:

  • Decreasing restless energy
  • Lowering stress levels
  • Improving concentration

In the studies, researchers mostly used aerobic exercises, such as running, cycling, and using elliptical machines, because this type of activity is known to increase the neurotransmitters in the brain.

Yoga might also help. In a review of studies, yoga was found to be effective as a supplemental or alternative therapy, with similar results as biofeedback or relaxation training for those with ADHD.

One of the major differences between exercise and medication in treating and managing ADHD symptoms is that the benefits from exercise are short-lived. It is recommended that a person continues to exercise to maintain benefits, and unfortunately, it isn’t always possible to stop what you are doing every hour or two to engage in aerobic exercise. However, building exercise into your everyday routine at a time that works for you can help to keep you consistent.

When to Worry About Your Teen & Social Media

Is social media damaging your teen? Here’s what to watch for 

Keeping your teenager out of the social media world is impossible. Whether we like it or not, our kids are growing up in a digital era — and although that creates major opportunities, it also comes with some pretty big risks. We saw this firsthand when we asked a group of tweens and teens to give up their phones and social media for a week; it was as though we’d asked them to part with a limb.

Even Barack Obama agreed that the internet can be both a “blessing and a curse” during an interview with Prince Harry aired as a BBC podcast on December 27. “On the internet, everything is simplified,” he said. “And when you meet people face-to-face, it turns out they’re complicated. There may be somebody who you think is diametrically opposed to you when it comes to their political views, but you root for the same sports team.” Obama may have been talking about complex political issues, but his words apply just as much to teenagers and social media.

A recent study of more than 10,000 sixth- to 12-grade girls carried out by nonprofit organization Ruling Our Experiences found that high school girls spend an average of six hours a day on social media. And the effect of too much logged-on time is clear. The study found kids who spend eight hours or more on technology per day are five times more likely to be sad or depressed. Adding to the pressure is that 2 out of 3 high school girls report being asked to send a revealing photo to another person, and most of them report that most students their age send sexually explicit texts and photos to each other.

“The more typical and sometimes subtle challenges of adolescence are even more amplified with social media and can be more damaging to a girl’s sense of self,” says Dr. Lisa Hinkelman, a licensed counselor, founder of Ruling Our Experiences and author of Girls Without Limits: Helping Girls Achieve Healthy Relationships, Academic Success and Interpersonal Strength. “During the teen years, girls experience drops in confidence and self-esteem, have difficulty navigating friendships and relationships and often come to dislike their body and appearance. These inherent insecurities of adolescence are exacerbated with the overlay of social media, with the constant comparison of self to others. When every aspect of a girl’s life is on display to be viewed, dissected and judged, her self-concept can be negatively impacted and her decision-making altered to gain the approval — the likes — of her peers.”

The Ruling Our Experiences study put the spotlight on girls, and it’s worth noting there’s a marked gender divide when it comes to social media use and its repercussions. Another study, carried out by Common Sense Media, found that girls straight-up use social media more than boys and are also more likely to experience negative consequences. Half the girls polled admitted that content posted online often makes them worry about their appearance or social status, while just a quarter of the boys said the same. An earlier study from the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project came to similar conclusions: A third of 12- to 13-year-old girls who used social media believed their peers were mostly unkind to each other online, while only 9 percent of the boys agreed.

Of course, these differences don’t mean we shouldn’t have concerns about boys and the impact of digital overload or online bullying. In fact, other studies have shown that boys and girls can be equally damaged by social media.

With all these statistics — plus the look of horror on a kid’s face when they’re separated from their digital device — it’s no wonder parents are concerned about their kids’ online lives. So why aren’t we doing more about it? The Ruling Our Experiences study found that 60 percent of girls report that their parents “rarely or never” monitor their use of technology. Experts recognize it can be difficult to know how to help our teens cope with the pressures of social media, but there are red flags we can look out for that may indicate it’s time to intervene.

According to Tom Kersting, licensed psychotherapist, family counselor, author and educator, the most common warning signs of an unhealthy relationship with social media include: sleep deprivation, anxiety and/or depression, lack of interest in anything not screen-related, constant fighting and arguing about screen time and believing you can’t live without your devices.

Hinkelman adds that signs of digital distress include withdrawal from activities a teen typically enjoyed, changes in eating or sleeping, increased levels of sadness or crying and persistent anxiousness and isolation. “Social isolation is a key element of depression, and excessive use of technology can equate to less in-person connections with others,” she says.

It’s also important for parents to recognize just how important social media is to this age group. Yes, Snapchat does matter. “When we minimize the importance that social media plays in the lives of girls, we effectively make ourselves less relevant and more out of touch,” says Hinkelman. “However, right now, the strategies that we see many parents implementing are to tell girls to stay off of social media, to limit access to their phones and to say unhelpful things like, ‘If it is making you that upset, just put it away’ or ‘Why do you even try to be friends with those girls if they are so mean?'”

A more productive approach is to help kids develop effective and supportive relationships both via technology and IRL. We need to teach our teens how to trust their intuition, set boundaries, value their own voice and opinion and deal with pressure and coercion. “These are the skills they need for success in life,” says Hinkelman.

That said, if you have concerns your teen is being bullied online, you need to pull out all the stops, says Kersting. “Keep your teen off social media, period,” he says. That means don’t let your teen use technology in their bedroom, have mandatory family conversation every night, and don’t let your teen go to school with their phone until the problem has been resolved. The most important thing is for teens to feel — and be — safe, online and in the real world alike.

Parents can get more advice on helping their teens stay safe online at ConnectSafely.

How Tech Experts Monitor Their Teens on Social Media

The Wall Street Journal

How can parents keep up with smartphones? Tech executives take various approaches to managing their children’s social-media use

While investor protests about smartphones’ harmful social effects began making headlines only recently, Silicon Valley parents have struggled with the issue for a long time.

Tech executives with children share many of the same concerns other parents have about tweens’ and teens’ social-media use—that it will disrupt sleep, homework or face-to-face socializing, or expose their children to bullies or predators.

Those who are experts on the internet and information security also wonder: What hidden security threats lurk in the latest social-media app? Which of many possible paths might hackers take to invade their children’s privacy?

The routes tech-savvy executives choose to protect their tweens and teens online vary, from close monitoring to guiding them in managing the hazards themselves.

Teaching Decision-Making

Steven Aldrich foresees his 16-year-old son Jackson constantly surrounded by apps and devices designed to grab his attention.

Mr. Aldrich, chief product officer at GoDaddy Inc., a Scottsdale, Ariz., provider of internet domains and websites to businesses, and his wife, Allison, shun the parental-control apps and filters with which some parents control their children’s internet and social-media use. “No amount of monitoring is going to teach responsibility or judgment,” Mr. Aldrich says. “The kids have to learn to live in a world where that’s the reality.” Instead, he and his wife “focus on, how do we create an environment where Jackson has the chance to learn judgment, by participating in setting limits and creating boundaries for himself.”

Steven Aldrich, GoDaddy's chief product officer, says ‘No amount of monitoring is going to teach responsibility or judgment.’
Steven Aldrich, GoDaddy’s chief product officer, says ‘No amount of monitoring is going to teach responsibility or judgment.’ PHOTO: GODADDY

They started early, letting Jackson decide as a child, with parental coaching, how much candy to eat from the pantry. This has evolved to teaching him to finish a homework assignment before checking social media. Mrs. Aldrich sometimes asks Jackson to let her know when he takes breaks from homework, Jackson says, making him aware of whether he’s diverting his attention too often.

They’re helping him learn time management, such as scheduling homework, sports practice, dinner and sleep in advance so that social media doesn’t crowd them out. “We’ve seen it start to pay off in how he prepares for tests or projects,” Mr. Aldrich says.

He and his wife also encourage Jackson to think about everything he posts as part of his permanent personal brand, Mr. Aldrich says, asking him: “Think about what you might have chosen if you’d gotten a tattoo when you were 3? What if you got a Barney tattoo, and now you’re in middle school? Would you want to be walking around with a Barney tattoo?’”

They’ve used examples from Snapchat of mistakes other teens made in oversharing, and asked Jackson to imagine how the sender felt afterward.

Jackson, who uses Snapchat and Instagram and also has a YouTube channel of his own about videogames and soccer, says he has learned to ask himself before posting anything to consider how it might affect his image. “Would I want the principal, a future employer, my teachers to see this?” he says. “Once you post something, it will be out there forever.”

Keeping a Watchful Eye

The powerful allure social media holds for teens has led Michelle Dennedy to take a hands-on approach to monitoring its use by her two daughters, 11 and 16. “Once you hand that phone to your child, that is the beginning of a million micro-decisions for you as a parent, and for the child,” says Ms. Dennedy, chief privacy officer at Cisco Systems Inc., the San Jose, Calif., networking company.

 

She checks privacy settings every six months on all the apps she and her daughters use on their smartphones. If social media distracts them from homework, “the Wi-Fi goes off and the books come out,” Ms. Dennedy says.

She teaches them how marketers use free apps to get personal information. “Do you know the difference between free and paid music?” she recently asked her younger daughter. “What do you think an advertiser would want to know about 11-year-old kids?”

She refrains from making judgments about teens’ social-media habits. “Apparently if you don’t respond with a selfie fast enough, people get upset. I respect their culture. I can’t just say, ‘That’s dumb, these people are ridiculous,’ and walk away,” Ms. Dennedy says. Instead, she asks, “What is this doing to your self-esteem?’ And I have to be quiet and listen. It’s an ongoing struggle.”

She also requires her daughters to get permission before downloading apps. “Sometimes they’ll send me an app that is just ridiculous. My older daughter asked for a celebrity app, with a lot of pictures of body parts,” Ms. Dennedy says. “ I asked her, ‘Write me a memo about what this will do to improve your life, and then we’ll have a conversation.’ She wrote the memo, tongue-in-cheek, with a lot of eye-rolling, saying, ‘I like the Kardashians because they annoy my mom.’ She still didn’t get the app.”

Michelle Dennedy, chief privacy officer at Cisco Systems, checks privacy settings every six months on the apps she and her daughters use on their smartphones.
Michelle Dennedy, chief privacy officer at Cisco Systems, checks privacy settings every six months on the apps she and her daughters use on their smartphones. PHOTO: CISCO

She steps in when social media ignites too much teen drama. “One problem for my older daughter a couple of years ago was when friends were using FaceTime while doing homework,” she says. “Walking into her room, I’d see another student talking about how stressed out she was, how hopeless it was, how awful parents were to force them to get good grades.

“I had a long conversation with my daughter later: I know you want to help your friends, but some of these students may need professional help. And I ask her, is this helping you get the grades you could get and want to get?”

She encouraged her daughter to talk with her friend and tell her: “I’m worried that this conversation isn’t productive. What can we do about this?” Or, “My weirdo mother is going to call your weirdo mother. Maybe we should stop.” Ms. Dennedy does sometimes call other parents in such situations. “That can be an awkward conversation, but it’s one you have to try to have.”

Monitoring Closely

Eight-year-old Jack Arkin’s online activity so far is limited to watching children’s videos on YouTube and sending email. But his father, Brad, who is chief security officer for Adobe, the San Jose, Calif., cloud-software company, has already begun shaping his attitude toward social media.

Adobe’s chief security officer Brad Arkin says, ‘I try to teach my kids to understand the tech concepts behind what they’re doing.’
Adobe’s chief security officer Brad Arkin says, ‘I try to teach my kids to understand the tech concepts behind what they’re doing.’ PHOTO:ADOBE

Mr. Arkin and his wife, Carolyn, closely monitor everything Jack does online. They restrict screen time for Jack to 30 to 60 minutes on most days. They read Jack’s emails over his shoulder and stream his children’s videos on the family TV, setting YouTube on restricted mode and keeping an eye on content. “He gets zero privacy and zero expectations of privacy,” Mr. Arkin says.

Jack will probably get his first phone next year, but it will be an old-fashioned flip phone, so he and his parents can call or send texts while he’s walking to and from school.

Mr. Arkin doesn’t plan to rely on parental controls when Jack, and his two younger brothers, ages 6 and 3, eventually get smartphones. “At my day job as a security guy, I know that software controls can be circumvented by determined adversaries,” he says. Instead, “I try to teach my kids to understand the tech concepts behind what they’re doing.”

That includes the hidden hazards of social media: “If you post a photo, people can figure out where the picture was taken, and at what time,” Mr. Arkin tells his son. “When you think about posting something, the questions are, ‘What do you hope to achieve by publishing it? Why does this need to be viewable to the world?’”

“I’m doing my best,” Mr. Arkin says, “to make my kids savvy but not over-fearful.”

Write to Sue Shellenbarger at sue.shellenbarger@wsj.com

Children Need Close Pals, Not Popularity

The Wall Street Journal

Research suggests that intimate friendships have long-term benefits, such as higher self-esteem and lower levels of anxiety and depression

Children Need Close Pals, Not Popularity
ILLUSTRATION: RUTH GWILY

Chasing after popularity can be stressful for children—and for their parents. A growing body of research suggests that they should give a different focus to their social energies. Having intimate friendships, it turns out, brings more long-term benefits, such as higher self-esteem and lower levels of anxiety and depression.

In fact, says Princeton, N.J.-based psychologist Eileen Kennedy-Moore, the skills needed to be “popular” can be at odds with those needed for friendship, such as trust and support. The most popular kids often aren’t particularly well-liked because they engage in unfriendly behaviors (such as putting people down or gossiping) to maintain their status.

“Having one good friend is enough to protect against loneliness and to help bolster self-esteem and academic engagement,” says Cynthia Erdley, a professor of psychology at the University of Maine. In a 2011 study published in the Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, Dr. Erdley and colleagues followed 365 students as they transferred from elementary to middle school. Using self-reported questionnaires that measured things like peer acceptance, friendships, loneliness and academic engagement, researchers found that feeling accepted by peers, as well as having at least one quality friendship, served as unique predictors of both psychological well-being and academic performance during the middle-school transition.

Dr. Erdley says that one reason for the boost may be because “students who feel a sense of belonging don’t have to worry as much about what’s going on socially in the classroom, so they can save those cognitive resources to focus on their school work instead.”

In a longitudinal study published last month in the journal Child Development, researchers found that the quality of friendships during adolescence may have long-term effects. Researchers at the University of Virginia studied the friendships and mental health of 169 subjects, first at age 15 and then again at age 25. They used interviews and questionnaires to assess levels of anxiety, self-worth, depressive symptoms and feelings about social acceptance, as well as the quality of relationships. The participants’ friends were also interviewed.

The researchers found that those who had a more intimate bond with a best friend at age 15 reported less social anxiety, bigger boosts in self-worth and fewer depressive symptoms at age 25 than their peers. Adolescents who possessed a larger but less intimate social network reported higher levels of anxiety when they reached their mid-20s.

While teens who are less anxious and have higher self-esteem may find it easier to form strong friendships, the research finds that close, supportive friendships contribute to greater mental-health outcomes in the long term, no matter the baseline, says lead author Rachel Narr. Teens who have experienced good friendships gain the motivation and ability to build more supportive social networks in the future.

How can parents help their children to develop the skills for making and keeping close friends? Some tips:

Bolster conversational skills. Dr. Kennedy-Moore, the author of “Growing Friendships,” suggests a simple formula to keep a conversation going. When a potential friend asks how you’re doing, respond “Great!” plus one (that is, an additional fact, compliment or question). The “Great!” signals interest, and the statement shows that you’d like to keep the conversation going.

Read cues. To read people and situations well, children need to learn to recognize nonverbal cues, such as tone of voice, facial expression and body language. Researchers find that preteens who spend less time in front of screens are better with these cues because they get more practice. For parents, that means limiting electronics use and encouraging activities that require peer interaction.

Build rapport with “intimacy management.” To make a new friend, start by talking about superficial things, like class schedules, says Fred Frankel, a professor of psychiatry and behavior sciences at the University of California, Los Angeles. Then test the waters by moving on to something more intimate, like difficulty with a teacher. If the peer is receptive, that’s an invitation to open up more and maybe seek advice.

Practice forgiveness. All friends make mistakes. “If it wasn’t deliberate, if it’s unlikely to happen again, and the friend is genuinely sorry, encourage your child to let it go,” says Dr. Kennedy-Moore. The secret to keeping long-term friendships, and being a good friend, is knowing when to forgive and move on.

iPhones and Children Are a Toxic Pair, Say Two Big Apple Investors

The Wall Street Journal

Two activist shareholders want Apple to develop tools and research effects on young people of smartphone overuse and addiction

Teens took a group selfie with a smartphone in New York’s Times Square on Dec. 1.
Teens took a group selfie with a smartphone in New York’s Times Square on Dec. 1. PHOTO: DREW ANGERER/GETTY IMAGES

The iPhone has made Apple Inc. AAPL 1.03% and Wall Street hundreds of billions of dollars. Now some big shareholders are asking at what cost, in an unusual campaign to make the company more socially responsible.

A leading activist investor and a pension fund are saying the smartphone maker needs to respond to what some see as a growing public-health crisis of youth phone addiction.

Jana Partners LLC and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System, or Calstrs, which control about $2 billion of Apple shares, sent a letter to Apple on Saturday urging it to develop new software tools that would help parents control and limit phone use more easily and to study the impact of overuse on mental health.

The Apple push is a preamble to a new several-billion-dollar fund Jana is seeking to raise this year to target companies it believes can be better corporate citizens. It is the first instance of a big Wall Street activist seeking to profit from the kind of social-responsibility campaign typically associated with a small fringe of investors.

Adding splash, rock star Sting and his wife, Trudie Styler, will be on an advisory board along with Sister Patricia A. Daly, a nun who successfully fought Exxon Mobil Corp. over environmental disclosures, and Robert Eccles, an expert on sustainable investing.

The Apple campaign would be unusual for an activist like Jana, which normally urges companies to make financial changes. But 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.

“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 wrote in the letter, a copy of which was reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. “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.”

Obsessive teenage smartphone usage has sparked a debate among academics, parents and even the people who helped create the iPhone.

Two teenage boys use smartphones in Vail, Colo., in June 2017.
Two teenage boys use smartphones in Vail, Colo., in June 2017. PHOTO: ROBERT ALEXANDER/GETTY IMAGES

Some have raised concerns about increased rates in teen depression and suicide and worry that phones are replacing old-fashioned human interaction. It is part of a broader re-evaluation of the effects on society of technology companies such as Google and Amazon.com Inc.and social-media companies like Facebook Inc. and Snap chat owner Snap Inc., which are facing questions about their reach into everyday life.

Apple hasn’t offered any public guidance to parents on how to manage children’s smartphone use or taken a position on at what age they should begin using iPhones.

Apple and its rivals point to features that give parents some measure of control. Apple, for instance, gives parents the ability to choose which apps, content and services their children can access.

The basic idea behind socially responsible investing is that good corporate citizenship can also be good business. Big investors and banks, including TPG, UBS Group AG and Goldman Sachs Group Inc.are making bets on socially responsible companies, boosting what they see as good actors and avoiding bad ones.

How the iPhone Was Born: Inside Stories of Missteps and Triumphs
On the iPhone’s 10th birthday, former Apple executives Scott Forstall, Tony Fadell and Greg Christie recount the arduous process of turning Steve Jobs’s vision into one of the best-selling products ever made. (Originally published June 25, 2017)

Big-name activists increasingly view bad environmental, social or governance policies as red flags. Jana plans to go further, putting its typical tools to work to drive change that may not immediately pay off.

Apple is an ambitious first target: The combined Jana-Calstrs stake is relatively small given Apple’s nearly $900 billion market value. Still, in recent years Apple has twice faced activists demanding it pare its cash holdings, and both times the company ceded some ground.

 

Chief Executive Tim Cook has led Apple’s efforts to be a more socially responsible company, for instance on environmental and immigration issues, and said in an interview with the New York Times last year that Apple has a “moral responsibility” to help the U.S. economy.

Apple has shown willingness to use software to address potentially negative consequences of phone usage. Amid rising concerns about distracted driving, the company last year updated its software with a “do not disturb while driving” feature, which enables the iPhone to detect when someone is behind the wheel and automatically silence notifications.

The iPhone is the backbone of a business that generated $48.35 billion in profit in fiscal 2017. It helped turn Apple into the world’s largest publicly listed company by market value, and anticipation of strong sales of its latest model, the iPhone X, helped its stock rise 50% in the past year. Apple phones made up 43% of U.S. smartphones in use in 2016, according to comScore , and an estimated 86 million Americans over age 13 own an iPhone.

Jana and Calstrs are working with Jean M. Twenge of San Diego State University, who chronicled the problem of what she has dubbed the “iGen” in a book that was previewed in a widely discussed article in the Atlantic magazine last fall, and with Michael Rich of Harvard Medical School and Boston Children’s Hospital, known as “the mediatrician” for his work on the impact of media on children.

The investors believe both the content and the amount of time spent on phones need to be tailored to youths, and they are raising concern about the public-health effects of failing to act. They point to research from Ms. Twenge and others about a “growing body of evidence” of “unintentional negative side effects,” including studies showing concerns from teachers. That is one reason Calstrs was eager to support the campaign, according to the letter.

The group wants Apple to help find solutions to questions like what is optimal usage and to be at the forefront of the industry’s response—before regulators or consumers potentially force it to act.

The investors say Apple should make it easier and more intuitive for parents to set up usage limits, which could head off any future moves to proscribe smartphones.

The question is “How can we apply the same kind of public-health science to this that we do to, say, nutrition?” Dr. Rich said in an interview. “We aren’t going to tell you never go to Mickey D’s, but we are going to tell you what a Big Mac will do and what broccoli will do.”

(We’d like to hear from you: Is smartphone addiction among young people a public-health concern? Should companies like Apple be held responsible for tackling the issue? Email us at socialmedia@wsj.com with your comments.)

Write to David Benoit at david.benoit@wsj.com

OPEN LETTER FROM JANA PARTNERS AND CALSTRS TO APPLE INC.

Think Differently About Kids

January 6, 2018

Board of Directors
Apple Inc.
1 Infinite Loop
Cupertino, California 95014

Ladies & Gentlemen,

JANA Partners LLC and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (“we” or “us”) collectively own approximately $2 billion in value of shares of Apple Inc. (“Apple” or “you”).  As shareholders, we recognize your unique role in the history of innovation and the fact that Apple is one of the most valuable brand names in the world.  In partnership with experts including Dr. Michael Rich, founding director of the Center on Media and Child Health at Boston Children’s Hospital/Harvard Medical School Teaching Hospital and Associate Professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, and Professor Jean M. Twenge, psychologist at San Diego State University and author of the book iGen, we have reviewed the evidence and we believe there is a clear need for Apple to offer parents more choices and tools to help them ensure that young consumers are using your products in an optimal manner.  By doing so, we believe Apple would once again be playing a pioneering role, this time by setting an example about the obligations of technology companies to their youngest customers.  As a company that prides itself on values like inclusiveness, quality education, environmental protection, and supplier responsibility, Apple would also once again be showcasing the innovative spirit that made you the most valuable public company in the world.  In fact, we believe that addressing this issue now will enhance long-term value for all shareholders, by creating more choices and options for your customers today and helping to protect the next generation of leaders, innovators, and customers tomorrow.

More than 10 years after the iPhone’s release, it is a cliché to point out the ubiquity of Apple’s devices among children and teenagers, as well as the attendant growth in social media use by this group. What is less well known is that there is a growing body of evidence that, for at least some of the most frequent young users, this may be having unintentional negative consequences:

  • A study conducted recently by the Center on Media and Child Health and the University of Alberta found that 67% of the over 2,300 teachers surveyed observed that the number of students who are negatively distracted by digital technologies in the classroom is growing and 75% say students’ ability to focus on educational tasks has decreased. In the past 3 to 5 years since personal technologies have entered the classroom, 90% stated that the number of students with emotional challenges has increased and 86% said the number with social challenges has increased.  One junior high teacher noted that, “I see youth who used to go outside at lunch break and engage in physical activity and socialization.  Today, many of our students sit all lunch hour and play on their personal devices.”[i]
  • Professor Twenge’s research shows that U.S. teenagers who spend 3 hours a day or more on electronic devices are 35% more likely, and those who spend 5 hours or more are 71% more likely, to have a risk factor for suicide than those who spend less than 1 hour.[ii]
  • This research also shows that 8th graders who are heavy users of social media have a 27% higher risk of depression, while those who exceed the average time spent playing sports, hanging out with friends in person, or doing homework have a significantly lower risk.  Experiencing depression as a teenager significantly increases the risk of becoming depressed again later in life.[iii]
  • Also, teens who spend 5 or more hours a day (versus less than 1) on electronic devices are 51% more likely to get less than 7 hours of sleep (versus the recommended 9).  Sleep deprivation is linked to long-term issues like weight gain and high blood pressure.[iv]
  • A study by UCLA researchers showed that after 5 days at a device-free outdoor camp, children performed far better on tests for empathy than a control group.[v]
  • According to an American Psychological Association (APA) survey of over 3,500 U.S. parents, 58% say they worry about the influence of social media on their child’s physical and mental health, 48% say that regulating their child’s screen time is a “constant battle,” and 58% say they feel like their child is “attached” to their phone or tablet.[vi]

Some may argue that the research is not definitive, that other factors are also at work, and that in any case parents must take ultimate responsibility for their children.  These statements are undoubtedly true, but they also miss the point.  The average American teenager who uses a smart phone receives her first phone at age 10vii and spends over 4.5 hours a day on it (excluding texting and talking).viii  78% of teens check their phones at least hourly and 50% report feeling “addicted” to their phones.ix 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.  It is also no secret that social media sites and applications for which the iPhone and iPad are a primary gateway are usually designed to be as addictive and time-consuming as possible, as many of their original creators have publicly acknowledged.x  According to the APA survey cited above, 94% of parents have taken some action to manage their child’s technology use, but it is both unrealistic and a poor long-term business strategy to ask parents to fight this battle alone.  Imagine the goodwill Apple can generate with parents by partnering with them in this effort and with the next generation of customers by offering their parents more options to protect their health and well-being.

To be clear, we are not advocating an all or nothing approach.  While expert opinions vary on this issue, there appears to be a developing consensus that the goal for parents should be ensuring the developmentally optimal amount and type of access, particularly given the educational benefits mobile devices can offer.  For example, Professor Twenge’s research cited above has revealed peak mental health levels among teenagers who use devices 1 hour or less a day, with teens engaging in this limited use happier than teens who do not use devices at all.  According to a study of more than 10,000 North American parents conducted by researcher Alexandra Samuel, the children of parents who focus primarily on denying screen access are more likely to engage in problematic behaviors online than the children of parents who take an active role in guiding their technology usage.xi  Likewise, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Center for Research on Media, Technology, and Health have found that while using a high number of social media platforms daily is linked to depression and anxiety in young adults, using a limited number does not have the same impact.xii

While these studies (and common sense) would suggest a balanced approach, we note that Apple’s current limited set of parental controls in fact dictate a more binary, all or nothing approach, with parental options limited largely to shutting down or allowing full access to various tools and functions.  While there are apps that offer more options, there are a dizzying array of them (which often leads people to make no choice at all), it is not clear what research has gone into developing them, few if any offer the full array of options that the research would suggest, and they are clearly no substitute for Apple putting these choices front and center for parents.  As Apple understands better than any company, technology is best when it is intuitive and easy to use.  More importantly, technology will continue to evolve as time goes on and play a greater and greater role in all of our lives.  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 to an app designer, or more accurately to hundreds of app designers, none of whom have critical mass.

This is a complex issue and we hope that this is the start of a constructive and well-informed dialogue, but we think there are clear initial steps that Apple can follow, including:

  • Expert Committee: Convening a committee of experts including child development specialists (we would recommend Dr. Rich and Professor Twenge be included) to help study this issue and monitor ongoing developments in technology, including how such developments are integrated into the lives of children and teenagers.
  • Research: Partnering with these and other experts and offering your vast information resources to assist additional research efforts.
  • New Tools and Options: Based on the best available research, enhancing mobile device software so that parents (if they wish) can implement changes so that their child or teenager is not being handed the same phone as a 40-year old, just as most products are made safer for younger users.  For example, 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.
  • Education: Explaining to parents why Apple is offering additional choices and the research that went into them, to help parents make more informed decisions.
  • Reporting: Hiring or assigning a high-level executive to monitor this issue and issuing annual progress reports, just as Apple does for environmental and supply chain issues.

It is true that Apple’s customer satisfaction levels remain incredibly high, which is no surprise given the quality of its products.  However, there is also a growing societal unease about whether at least some people are getting too much of a good thing when it comes to technology,xiii which at some point is likely to impact even Apple given the issues described above.  In fact, even the original designers of the iPhone user interface and Apple’s current chief design officer have publicly worried about the iPhone’s potential for overuse,xiv and there is no good reason why you should not address this issue proactively.  As one of the most innovative companies in the history of technology, 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.  Doing so poses no threat to Apple, given that this is a software (not hardware) issue and that, unlike many other technology companies, Apple’s business model is not predicated on excessive use of your products. In fact, we believe addressing this issue now by offering parents more tools and choices could enhance Apple’s business and increase demand for its products.

Increasingly today the gap between “short-term” and “long-term” thinking is narrowing, on issues like public health, human capital management, environmental protection, and more, and companies pursuing business practices that make short-term sense may be undermining their own long-term viability. In the case of Apple, we believe the long-term health of its youngest customers and the health of society, our economy, and the Company itself, are inextricably linked, and thus the only difference between the changes we are advocating at Apple now and the type of change shareholders are better known for advocating is the time period over which they will enhance and protect value. As you can imagine, this is a matter of particular concern for CalSTRS’ beneficiaries, the teachers of California, who care deeply about the health and welfare of the children in their classrooms.

While you may already have started work on addressing the issues raised here, we would nonetheless appreciate the opportunity to discuss this matter further with the board to bring in a wider range of voices. We also encourage you to discuss this matter directly with Dr. Rich, Professor Twenge, or any member of JANA’s board of advisors for our new impact investing fund, which includes Patricia A. Daly, OP, Professor Robert G. Eccles, Sting, and Trudie Styler. In the meantime, should you wish to contact us we can be reached at (212) 455-0900 or (916) 414-7410.

Sincerely,

Barry Rosenstein
Managing Partner
JANA Partners LLC

Anne Sheehan
Director of Corporate Governance
The California State Teachers’ Retirement System