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

Want to Spy on Your Children? Call It Monitoring…and Get Their Blessing

The Wall Street Journal

New tools help parents track their children’s internet activity, but it’s bad to install them without their knowledge

As kids take to electronics at earlier ages, parents need to take a closer look at their internet use. A child plays with an iPhone at the SoHo Apple Store in New York in October 2015.
As kids take to electronics at earlier ages, parents need to take a closer look at their internet use. A child plays with an iPhone at the SoHo Apple Store in New York in October 2015. PHOTO: BRENDAN MCDERMID/REUTERS

Parents, it’s OK—essential, even—to spy on your children’s internet use.

Children are getting smartphones, tablets and iPods at earlier ages, but that doesn’t mean they’re laying low in “ Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood.” Just peek at your child’s browsing history; sometimes elementary schoolers google like teenagers.

Even if children don’t get lost in the internet forest, they can develop bad habits that are hard to spot day-to-day. This is the Big Parental Concern: Are we ruining our children with screens? What’s the middle ground between no tech and an internet and app free-for-all

The built-in restrictions on iPhones and Android devices give parents the ability to lock down many functions and set content filters for media and web browsing. Still, they don’t tell parents anything.

So a whole industry has developed around monitoring devices, both at home and away. These services, which often borrow tools used by businesses for managing company-issued phones, have a lot to offer: GPS tracking, time limits, daily usage reports, bedtime blackouts and content filtering.

A whole industry has developed around monitoring use of mobile devices, both at home and away.
A whole industry has developed around monitoring use of mobile devices, both at home and away. PHOTO: SETH WENIG/ASSOCIATED PRESS

But add monitoring and you add to the ethical dilemma: Does keeping up with technology mean condemning our children to a parental police state? Before planting any virtual bugs, I sought absolution—or at least permission—from a leading parenting researcher.

“Monitoring is critically important for pre-adolescents and adolescents,” Alan E. Kazdin, professor of psychology and child psychiatry at Yale University and director of the Yale Parenting Center, told me. “Risky behavior starts at that time.” With dangers ranging from violent videogames to pornography, you’d be tempted to keep children away from machines entirely, but “homework is all online, so you can’t say no to web browsers,” he says.

The Tools

Dr. Kazdin recommends ways to monitor children without feeling like a spy. But first, let’s talk about the tools.

Over the past year, we’ve seen an explosion of monitoring services that work anywhere, separating them from the networking products that have powered at-home parental internet controls. The services often use common elements: child-safe browsers, which funnel web traffic through servers to filter any naughty material; virtual private networks, which can filter all of a device’s traffic; and mobile device management, which gives control of certain functions to a remote IT manager—that is, the service. Parents get a web or app dashboard to control the settings.

Qustodio provides controls including web browsing filters, internet access time limits, app time limits and location tracking.
Qustodio provides controls including web browsing filters, internet access time limits, app time limits and location tracking. PHOTO: THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Android phones and tablets take to deep monitoring better thanApple Inc.’s AAPL 0.03% iOS devices, because Alphabet Inc.’sGOOGL -0.34% Google allows developers plenty of under-the-hood access, says Josh Gabel, co-founder and product lead for QustodioLLC ($55 and up a year). For both iOS and Android, Qustodio can provide web browsing filters, internet access time limits, app time limits and location tracking, but only Android devices get call and text monitoring, and a panic button that lets children send location information to trusted contacts.

Likewise, Symantec Corp.’s SYMC -0.40% Norton Family service($50 a year) provides location, web and search supervision to all platforms, and replaces the iPhone’s mobile Safari browser with its own child-proofed one. But only on Android can it offer time limits and monitoring of apps, social networks and text messages.

If you want this level of access, Android really is the way to go. Google even offers its own free Android parental control system, compatible with certain recent devices. Just note: While Amazon tablets run a version of Android, they aren’t typically compatible with these tools. Amazon offers its own limited monitoring tool at parents.amazon.com.

Circle Go provides parents with a breakdown of the amount of time children spend on different apps, and lets parents pause internet access, set bedtimes and adjust content filters. Its developers decided to keep Android and iOS features equal, and are rolling out a system for children to earn screen time by completing chores or hitting fitness goals.

Previously only offered as a $5-a-month add-on to Circle Media Inc.’s parental-control networking hardware, Circle Go will be relaunched as a stand-alone service before the end of 2017.

Circle Go, which will be relaunched as a stand-alone service before the end of the year, provides parents with a breakdown of time spent on different apps and lets them pause internet access, set bedtimes and adjust content filters.
Circle Go, which will be relaunched as a stand-alone service before the end of the year, provides parents with a breakdown of time spent on different apps and lets them pause internet access, set bedtimes and adjust content filters. PHOTO: CIRCLE MEDIA
The Flaws

The closed nature of iOS can cause problems. Norton Family and Qustodio let parents make all of the icons disappear from their children’s screens as an ultimate “shut off” move. (Turning off the internet alone won’t stop children from using many game apps.) But when the apps come back, iOS arranges them in alphabetical order, not as they were. I never wanted to flip that switch, because it would have been cruel after my children arranged their icons so carefully into tidy folders. Mr. Gabel says Qustodio will soon fix this; Symantec says it’s looking for potential workarounds.

And then there’s the matter of the management profile, which gives the service control of the device: The child can find and delete it. If you want to know whether anyone is spying on your own iPhone, go to Settings > General, then look for Device Management. If it’s there, tap it to see which profiles are installed. Just note: It’s commonly found on company-issued phones, for your mutual protection.

When Circle founder Jelani Memory recently remarried, he put his company’s Circle Go software on his 14-year-old stepdaughter’s phone. “She took it off in half an hour,” he says. He argues that while it’s always good to be open about monitoring, a child deleting the profile can stoke conversation.

“For us, it’s really important that kids don’t feel like they’re being stuck inside a prison cell,” Mr. Memory says, “and that the social contract is enforced not by the app itself but by the parent and child.”

But Mr. Gabel at Qustodio says he would prefer Apple allow parents to lock device management and VPN settings as part of the built-in restrictions. Apple declined to comment.

Spyware or Safety Net?

While no service I looked at offers a perfect solution, they do offer limited free trials or plans. (For Circle Go, wait until the stand-alone service launches.) There are other tools out there that may tackle your specific concerns, so ask friends and family for recommendations, too. Just steer clear of services promising deeper iOS surveillance in exchange for your Apple iCloud login. Aside from the obvious security concern, they might not actually work as advertised.

Dr. Kazdin doesn’t advocate any particular child-monitoring software, but he encourages keeping tabs on children…openly. That means getting their buy-in.

“You say, ‘Here’s the situation: I need to know what you’re doing, and you need your freedom. Help me come up with something we agree on,’ ” Dr. Kazdin says. It’s important to give children a feeling of choice, even if they don’t really have one, he adds.

But he also warned there may not be an easy solution once bad behavior comes to light. “That’s when you turn righteous, turn into a police officer,” which won’t help things, he says. “Punishment doesn’t change behavior.” That too, must be a negotiation: “ ‘If we find out you were doing this, what do you think would be a fair consequence?’ ”

Then Dr. Kazdin said the most consoling/frustrating thing: “The challenges for us as parents are like never before.”

Write to Wilson Rothman at Wilson.Rothman@wsj.com

The American Academy Of Pediatrics Just Changed Their Guidelines On Kids And Screen Time

Forbes

Jordan Shapiro 

For years, the American Academy Of Pediatrics (AAP) has adopted an on/off switch mentality when it comes to children and screen time. It used to recommend that children, ages two and under, have absolutely no exposure to screens. For older kids, the AAP recommended limiting ‘screen time’ to just two hours a day. Now, the guidelines have been changed so that they reflect a more nuanced approach.

(AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)

It is about time. I suspect that most parents found it almost impossible to abide by the old guidelines. These days, there are monitors above the pumps at gas stations and always-on television in the electronics aisle at Target ngIf: ticker TGT +1.13% ngIf: show_card end ngIf: ticker . Screen abstinence would pretty much be like sentencing a newborn to house arrest. And older kids, as any parent of a 10-year-old can tell you, will blow through their two hours before their Minecraft sessions even get going. Fortunately, the AAP finally realized it needed to keep up with the times.

Last month I wrote, “Parents Don’t Need To Worry About ‘Screen Time’ Anymore.” In that post, I argued:

Screens are now a ubiquitous part of our lives. It is a technology that has been completely integrated into the human experience. At this point, worrying about exposure to screens is like worrying about exposure to agriculture, indoor plumbing, the written word, or automobiles. For better or worse, the transition to screen based digital information technologies has already happened and now resistance is futile. The screen time rhetoric that accompanied the television—when this technology was still in its formative age—is no longer relevant.

The AAP now seems to agree. “In a world where ‘screen time’ is becoming simply ‘time,’” the update reads, “our policies must evolve or become obsolete. The public needs to know that the Academy’s advice is science-driven, not based merely on the precautionary principle.” Of course, that’s exactly what most experts in children and digital media previously thought, that the AAP guidelines seemed like they were the result of familiar technophobic paranoia that always accompanies new technologies.

The 12 Apps That Every Parent Of A Teen Should Know About

Huffington Post

Some apps just enable bad choices.

02/17/2016

ENGADGET

Not everything online is evil, nor does danger lurk behind every new app that comes to market. But keeping up with your teens’ and preteens’ online activities is much like trying to nail jelly to the barn door — frustrating, futile and something bound to make you feel inept.

Keep in mind that no app poses a danger in and of itself, but many do provide kids with an opportunity to make, ahem, bad choices.

1. Audio Manager.

Sometimes when it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it’s really not a duck. Such is the case with Audio Manager, an app that has nothing to do with managing your teen’s music files or controlling the volume on his smartphone and everything to do with him hiding things like nude photos from you. It’s one of the top apps for hiding other apps.

Yes, there are such things. Kids can hide any app they don’t want you to see, Teen Safe says. When you press and hold the Audio Manager app, a lock screen is revealed — behind which users can hide messages, photos, videos, and other apps.

2. Calculator%.

Same deal, but this time with a calculator icon posing as something it isn’t. Sedgrid Lewis, online safety expert, notes that these apps look like a normal calculator app but when teens push a button within the app they can hide all inappropriate pictures. “It’s a key way teens are hiding their nude pictures from their parents,” said Lewis.

Lewis says the best way to solve this situation is for parents to add their teen to their iCloud account. That way, whenever a new app is downloaded by the teen, it will automatically download to the parent’s phone as well.

Think it’s not serious? Last fall, there was a headline-making case in a Colorado high school where teens used apps to hide a huge sexting ring from parents and school officials. And an Alabama district attorney, Pamela Casey, posted the video below to warn parents about the Calculator% app.

3. Vaulty.

Vaulty will not only store photos and videos away from parental spying eyes, but it also will snap a photo of anyone who tries to access the “vault” with the wrong password. Parents who find it on their teens’ phones can conclude just one thing: Your kid is hiding things from you.

4. Snapchat.

OK, so you’ve undoubtedly heard of Snapchat, an app that allows you to send a photo or video from your phone and determine how long the person on the other end can see the image until it self-destructs. But what you probably didn’t know is that a lot of images from Snapchat are regularly posted to revenge porn sites, called “snap porn.”

Snapchat may not be the #1 app used for sexting but that’s not to say it isn’t theprincipal appeal of the app for many: Users think their snaps will disappear and they are wrong. It’s actually pretty easy to recover a Snap, take a screenshot of it and share it with others — and by others, we mean porn sites. No parent wants to find a photo of their teen daughter or son on sites like snapperparty or sexting forum.

Not for nothing, Snapchat last year published a “Snapchat Safety Center” reminding kids that nude pictures were not allowed. “Don’t use Snapchat for any illegal shenanigans and if you’re under 18 or are Snapping with someone who might be: Keep your clothes on!” the company wrote.

The reality is, Snapchat is likely on your kid’s phone. The best control you have (besides taking the phone away) is to just have a frank heart-to-heart about how there is no such thing as texts or photos that disappear and this is some down-and-dirty stuff that can come back to haunt them.

PETER BYRNE/PA ARCHIVE

 5. Burn Note.

Like Snapchat, Burn Note is a messaging app that erases messages after a set period of time. Unlike Snapchat, this one is for text messages only, not photos or videos. Burn Note’s display system shows just one word at a time, adding a sense of secrecy to the messages. Again, by promising a complete delete, kids could feel more comfortable revealing more than what they would do otherwise. And again, capturing a screenshot so that the message can be shared and lives forever, may be the app’s Achilles’ heel.

Even if your kid doesn’t have the app and has no interest in reading super secret messages, she could unwittingly get involved: The app sends a Burn Note alert that she has a message waiting. Curiosity can kill the cat and an app like this could encourage cyberbullying when kids feel they can get away with things because there will be no record of it.

BURN NOTE

6. Line.

This is a real up-and-coming app, says online safety expert Lewis. It’s an all-in-one mobile hub for chatting, sharing photos and videos; free texting and video calls too. But the devil is in the details. Things can get dicey with the hidden chat feature; users can decide how long their messages can last (two seconds or a week). But the biggest shock may come to your credit card: Your kid can rack up some hefty in-app charges on Line as well. While the app says that minors need their parents’ permission to use it, there is no monitoring to ensure this takes place.

Bottom line: If your kid doesn’t have a credit card number, you are controlling access to his in-app purchases.

 

7. Omegle.

Omegle provides users with a chance to converse online with random strangers. Is there anything that strikes fear into a parent’s heart faster than that sentence?

We turn to our friends at Common Sense Media for this review: “Parents need to know that Omegle is an anonymous chat client with which users discuss anything they’d like. This can easily result in conversations that are filled with explicit sexual content, lewd language, and references to drugs, alcohol, and violence. Many users ask for personal data upfront, including location, age, and gender [ASL], something kids might supply (not realizing they don’t have to). Adults wishing to chat anonymously may find use in this app, but kids should be kept far away.”

‘Nuff said. And it took us awhile to find a photo with language that was publishable.

 

HELLABELLA/FLICKR

8. Tinder.

Tinder is a popular app used for hooking-up and dating that allows users to “rate” profiles and locate hookups via GPS tracking. It is too easy for adults and minors to find one another. And the rating system can be used for cyber-bullying; a group of kids can target another kid and intentionally make his/her rating go down.

9. Blendr.

Blendr’s 300 million users meet new people through GPS location services. You can message, exchange photos and videos, and rate the “hotness” of other users (encouraging your kid to engage in superficial values at best). But since there are no authentication requirements, sexual predators can contact minors and minors can hook up with adults — and of course there is the sexting, notes ForEveryMom.com.

10.
KiK Messenger.

KiK is an instant messaging app that lets users exchange videos, photos and sketches. Users can also create gifs. All well and good so far. Unfortunately, the term “sext buddy” has been replaced with “KiK buddy.” Sex researcher Megan Maas, wrote on ForEveryMom.com that kids are using Reddit and other forums to place classified ads for sex by giving out their KiK usernames. KiK does not offer any parental controls and there is no way of authenticating users, thus making it easy for sexual predators to use the app to interact with minors.

ROSS LAROCCO/FLICKR

 

11.  Yik Yak.

Yik Yak is the “Twitter meets Reddit” app. It allows users to post text-only “Yaks” of up to 200 characters that can be viewed by the 500 Yakkers who are closest to the person who wrote the Yak, as determined by GPS tracking. The issue is that these other users are regularly exposed to a barage of sexually explicit content, profanity and even personal attacks– anonymously, of course. It’s also the app du jour for sending a bomb threat to your school.  Yes, that has happened.

Elizabeth Long, an Atlanta teenager who was encouraged on Yik Yak to try harder to kill herself after her attempted suicide failed, led a Change.org drive to shut the app down. She wrote, “With the shield of anonymity, users [of Yik Yak] have zero accountability for their posts, and can openly spread rumors, call classmates hurtful names, send threats, or even tell someone to kill themselves — and all of these things are happening.”

12. Ask.fm.

This is one of the most popular social networking sites that is almost exclusively used by kids. It is a Q&A site where users can ask other users questions anonymously. The problem is that kids sometimes target one person and the questions get nasty. It is cyberbullying with no chance of ever getting caught. Ask.fm had been associated with nine documented cases of suicide in the U.S. and the U.K. through 2012. In 2014, its new owners pledged to crack down on bullying or said they would shut down the site.

Sleeping Near A Smartphone Can Disturb A Child’s Rest

NPR

Most of the children in this study said they slept with a smartphone or iPod.

Most of the children in this study said they slept with a smartphone or iPod.

David Young-Wolff/Getty Images

The last thing my 11-year-old does before she goes to sleep is put her iPod on the nightstand. And that could mean less sleep for her, researchers say.

There’s plenty of evidence that children who have televisions in their rooms get less sleep. This is one of the first studies to look at whether having a small screen like an iPod or smartphone in the room also affects rest.

The study, which was published Monday in Pediatrics, looked at 2,048 racially diverse fourth-graders and seventh-graders who were participating in a study on childhood obesity in Massachusetts. Lack of sleep is considered a risk factor for obesity, so the children were asked how long they slept and if they felt they needed more sleep.

They also were asked how often they slept with an iPod, smartphone or cellphone in their bed or next to the bed. More than half of the children, 57 percent, said they slept near a small screen.

Those children reported getting 20.6 fewer minutes of sleep on weekdays, compared to children who didn’t have the devices in the bedroom. Those children were also more likely to say they felt like they hadn’t gotten enough sleep.

The study also looked at TVs in the bedroom and found that children who slept in a room with a TV reported 18 fewer minutes of sleep than those without a TV, on par with other studies. And the big screens were even more common than the small screens — three-quarters of the children said they had a TV in their room. But they were less likely to feel like they missed out on sleep than the kids with small screens.

With both the TVs and the small screens, children went to sleep later, the researchers say. The small-screen sleepers hit the hay 37 minutes later than their screenless peers, and TV-watchers went to bed 31 minutes later. All the children were getting up at the same time because they had to get off to school.

And here’s one more wrinkle: Children who said they played video games or watched DVDs during the day also said they felt less rested. But the negative impact was much smaller than for small screens or TVs in the bedroom.

This study wasn’t designed in a way that could figure out what was causing the sleep loss and tiredness — whether the kids were actually using the devices thus exposing themselves to light and stimulating content, say, or whether getting calls or alerts during the night interrupted sleep.

My guess is that it’s all of the above. And though I don’t think my sixth-grader is texting at midnight, I’ve been worried enough about the disruptive potential of the bedside device that this Christmas she got an old-school bit of technology — a clock radio. That iPod is outta there.

Docs to parents: Limit kids’ texts, tweets, online

 

AP News

Oct 28, 10:19 AM (ET)

By LINDSEY TANNER

 

(AP) In this Oct. 24, 2013 photo, Amy Risinger, right, watches her son Mark Risinger, 16, at their home…
Full Image

CHICAGO (AP) – Doctors 2 parents: Limit kids’ tweeting, texting & keep smartphones, laptops out of bedrooms. (hash)goodluckwiththat.

The recommendations are bound to prompt eye-rolling and LOLs from many teens but an influential pediatricians group says parents need to know that unrestricted media use can have serious consequences.

It’s been linked with violence, cyberbullying, school woes, obesity, lack of sleep and a host of other problems. It’s not a major cause of these troubles, but “many parents are clueless” about the profound impact media exposure can have on their children, said Dr. Victor Strasburger, lead author of the new American Academy of Pediatrics policy

“This is the 21st century and they need to get with it,” said Strasburger, a University of New Mexico adolescent medicine specialist.

Under the new policy, those two hours include using the Internet for entertainment, including Facebook, Twitter, TV and movies; online homework is an exception.The policy is aimed at all kids, including those who use smartphones, computers and other Internet-connected devices. It expands the academy’s longstanding recommendations on banning televisions from children’s and teens’ bedrooms and limiting entertainment screen time to no more than two hours daily.

The policy statement cites a 2010 report that found U.S. children aged 8 to 18 spend an average of more than seven hours daily using some kind of entertainment media. Many kids now watch TV online and many send text messages from their bedrooms after “lights out,” including sexually explicit images by cellphone or Internet, yet few parents set rules about media use, the policy says.

“I guarantee you that if you have a 14-year-old boy and he has an Internet connection in his bedroom, he is looking at pornography,” Strasburger said.

The policy notes that three-quarters of kids aged 12 to 17 own cellphones; nearly all teens send text messages, and many younger kids have phones giving them online access.

(AP) In this Oct. 24, 2013 photo, Mark Risinger, 16, checks his Facebook page on his computer as his…
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“Young people now spend more time with media than they do in school – it is the leading activity for children and teenagers other than sleeping” the policy says.

Mark Risinger, 16, of Glenview, Ill., is allowed to use his smartphone and laptop in his room, and says he spends about four hours daily on the Internet doing homework, using Facebook and YouTube and watching movies.

He said a two-hour Internet time limit “would be catastrophic” and that kids won’t follow the advice, “they’ll just find a way to get around it.”

Strasburger said he realizes many kids will scoff at advice from pediatricians – or any adults.

“After all, they’re the experts! We’re media-Neanderthals to them,” he said. But he said he hopes it will lead to more limits from parents and schools, and more government research on the effects of media.

(AP) In this Oct. 24, 2013 photo, Mark Risinger, 16, checks his smartphone at home in Glenview, Ill….
Full Image

The policy was published online Monday in the journal Pediatrics. It comes two weeks after police arrested two Florida girls accused of bullying a classmate who committed suicide. Police say one of the girls recently boasted online about the bullying and the local sheriff questioned why the suspects’ parents hadn’t restricted their Internet use.

Mark’s mom, Amy Risinger, said she agrees with restricting kids’ time on social media but that deciding on other media limits should be up to parents.

“I think some children have a greater maturity level and you don’t need to be quite as strict with them,” said Risinger, who runs a communications consulting firm.

Her 12-year-old has sneaked a laptop into bed a few times and ended up groggy in the morning, “so that’s why the rules are now in place, that that device needs to be in mom and dad’s room before he goes to bed.”

Sara Gorr, a San Francisco sales director and mother of girls, ages 13 and 15, said she welcomes the academy’s recommendations.

Her girls weren’t allowed to watch the family’s lone TV until a few years ago. The younger one has a tablet, and the older one has a computer and smartphone, and they’re told not to use them after 9 p.m.

“There needs to be more awareness,” Gorr said. “Kids are getting way too much computer time. It’s bad for their socialization, it’s overstimulating, it’s numbing them.”

My Kids Are Obsessed With Technology, and It’s All My Fault

The New York Times

Illustration by Tom Gauld
By STEVE ALMOND
Published: June 21, 2013

A few months ago, I attended my daughter Josie’s kindergarten open house, the highlight of which was a video slide show featuring our moppets using iPads to practice their penmanship. Parental cooing ensued.

I happened to be sitting next to the teacher, and I asked her about the rumor I’d heard: that next year, every elementary-school kid in town would be provided his or her own iPad. She said this pilot program was being introduced only at the newly constructed school three blocks from our house, which Josie will attend next year. “You’re lucky,” she observed wistfully.

This seemed to be the consensus around the school-bus stop. The iPads are coming! Not only were our kids going to love learning, they were also going to do so on the cutting edge of innovation. Why, in the face of this giddy chatter, was I filled with dread?

It’s not because I’m a cranky Luddite. I swear. I recognize that iPads, if introduced with a clear plan, and properly supervised, can improve learning and allow students to work at their own pace. Those are big ifs in an era of overcrowded classrooms. But my hunch is that our school will do a fine job. We live in a town filled with talented educators and concerned parents.

Frankly, I find it more disturbing that a brand-name product is being elevated to the status of mandatory school supply. I also worry that iPads might transform the classroom from a social environment into an educational subway car, each student fixated on his or her personalized educational gadget.

But beneath this fretting is a more fundamental beef: the school system, without meaning to, is subverting my parenting, in particular my fitful efforts to regulate my children’s exposure to screens. These efforts arise directly from my own tortured history as a digital pioneer, and the war still raging within me between harnessing the dazzling gifts of technology versus fighting to preserve the slower, less convenient pleasures of the analog world.

What I’m experiencing is, in essence, a generational reckoning, that queasy moment when those of us whose impatient desires drove the tech revolution must face the inheritors of this enthusiasm: our children.

It will probably come as no surprise that I’m one of those annoying people fond of boasting that I don’t own a TV. It makes me feel noble to mention this — I am feeling noble right now! — as if I’m taking a brave stand against the vulgar superficiality of the age. What I mention less frequently is the reason I don’t own a TV: because I would watch it constantly.

My brothers and I were so devoted to television as kids that we created an entire lexicon around it. The brother who turned on the TV, and thus controlled the channel being watched, was said to “emanate.” I didn’t even know what “emanate” meant. It just sounded like the right verb.

This was back in the ’70s. We were latchkey kids living on the brink of a brave new world. In a few short years, we’d hurtled from the miraculous calculator (turn it over to spell out “boobs”!) to arcades filled with strobing amusements. I was one of those guys who spent every spare quarter mastering Asteroids and Defender, who found in video games a reliable short-term cure for the loneliness and competitive anxiety that plagued me. By the time I graduated from college, the era of personal computers had dawned. I used mine to become a closet Freecell Solitaire addict.

Midway through my 20s I underwent a reformation. I began reading, then writing, literary fiction. It quickly became apparent that the quality of my work rose in direct proportion to my ability filter out distractions. I’ve spent the past two decades struggling to resist the endless pixelated enticements intended to capture and monetize every spare second of human attention.

Has this campaign succeeded? Not really. I’ve just been a bit slower on the uptake than my contemporaries. But even without a TV or smartphones, our household can feel dominated by computers, especially because I and my wife (also a writer) work at home. We stare into our screens for hours at a stretch, working and just as often distracting ourselves from work.

Our children not only pick up on this fraught dynamic; they re-enact it. We ostensibly limit Josie (age 6) and Judah (age 4) to 45 minutes of screen time per day. But they find ways to get more: hunkering down with the videos Josie takes on her camera, sweet-talking the grandparents and so on. The temptations have only multiplied as they move out into a world saturated by technology.

Consider an incident that has come to be known in my household as the Leapster Imbroglio. For those unfamiliar with the Leapster, it is a “learning game system” aimed at 4-to-9-year-olds. Josie has wanted one for more than a year. “My two best friends have a Leapster and I don’t,” she sobbed to her mother recently. “I feel like a loser!”

My wife was practically in tears as she related this episode to me. It struck me as terribly sad that an electronic device had become, in our daughter’s mind, such a powerful talisman of personal worth. But even sadder was the fact that I knew, deep down, exactly how she felt.

This is the moment we live in, the one our childhoods foretold. When I see Josie clutching her grandmother’s Kindle to play Angry Birds for the 10th straight time, or I watch my son stuporously soaking up a cartoon, I’m really seeing myself as a kid — anxious, needy for love but willing to settle for electronic distraction to soothe my nerves or hold tedium at bay.

And if experiencing this blast from the past weren’t troubling enough, I also get to confront my current failings as a parent. After all, we park the kiddos in front of SpongeBob because it’s convenient for us, not good for them. (“Quiet time,” we call it. Let’s please not dwell on how sad and perverse this phrase is.) We make this bargain every day, even though our kids are often restless and irritable afterward.

Back in the day, when my folks snapped off the TV and exhorted us to pick up a book or go outside and play, they did so with a certain cultural credibility. Everyone knew you couldn’t experience the “real world” by sitting in front of a screen. It was an escape. Today, screens are the real world, or at least the accepted means of making us feel a part of that world. And they can no longer be written off as mind-rotting piffle. “The iPad is an educational tool, Papa!” Josie declared last month, after hearing me grouse about Apple’s efforts to target the preschool demographic.

Her own experience learning to read is a case in point. We spent a year coaxing her to try beginner books. Even with the promise of our company and encouragement, it was a tough sell. Then her teacher sent home a note about a Web site that allows kids to listen to stories, with some rudimentary animation, before reading them and taking a quiz to earn points. She has since plowed through more than 50 books.

Josie never fails to remind me that “the reading” is her least favorite part of this activity. And when she does, I feel (once again) that I’m face to face with myself as a kid: more interested in racking up points than embracing the joys of reading. What I’m lamenting isn’t that she prefers to read off a screen but that the screen alters and dilutes the imaginative experience.

It is unfair, not to mention foolish, for me to expect my 6-year-old to seek redemption in the same way I did, only at age 25. Her job is to make the same sometimes-impulsive decisions I made as a kid (and teenager and young adult). And my job is to let her learn her own lessons rather than imposing mine on her.

Still, I can’t be the only parent feeling whiplashed by the pace of technological changes, the manner in which every conceivable wonder — not just the diversions but also the curriculums and cures, the assembled beauty and wisdom of the ages — has migrated inside our portable machines. Is it really possible to hand kids these magical devices without somehow dimming their sense of wonder at the world beyond the screen?

In the course of mulling this question, I stumbled across an odd trove of videos (on YouTube, naturally) in which parents proudly record their babies operating iPads. One girl is 9 months old. Her ability to manipulate the touch screen is astonishing. But the clip is profoundly eerie. The child’s face glows like an alien as she scrolls from app to app. It’s like watching some bizarre inverse of Skinner’s box, in which the child subject is overrun by choices and stimuli. She seems agitated in the same way my kids are after “quiet time” — excited without being engaged.

As I watched her in action, I found myself wondering how a malleable brain like hers might be shaped by this odd experience of being the lord of a tiny two-dimensional universe. And whether a child exposed to such an experience routinely might later struggle to contend with the necessary frustrations and mysteries of the actual world.

I realize the human brain is a supple organ. My daughter may learn to use technology in ways I never have: to focus her attention, to stimulate her imagination, to expand her sense of possibility. And I know too that most folks view their devices as relatively harmless paths to greater efficiency and connectivity.

But I remain skeptical.

Because aren’t we just kidding ourselves? When we whip out our smartphones in line at the bank, 9 times out of 10 it’s because we’re jonesing for a microhit of stimulation, or that feeling of power that comes with holding a tiny universe in our fist.

The reason people turn to screens hasn’t changed much over the years. They remain mirrors that reflect a species in retreat from the burdens of modern consciousness, from boredom and isolation and helplessness.

It’s natural for children to seek out a powerful tool to banish these feelings. But the only reliable antidote to such burdens, based on my own experience, is not immersion in brighter and mightier screens but the capacity to slow our minds and pay sustained attention to the world around us. This is how all of us — whether artists or scientists or kindergartners — find beauty and meaning in the unceasing rush of experience. It’s how we develop empathy for other people, and the humility to accept our failures and keep struggling. It’s what grants my daughter the patience to wait for the cardinal who has taken to visiting the compost bin on our back porch.

I imagine the iPad Josie receives at school next year will have access to a vast archive of information and videos about cardinals, ones she’ll be able to call up and peruse instantly. But no flick of the thumb will ever make her suck in her breath as she does when, after five excruciating minutes, an actual cardinal appears on the porch railing in a flash of impossible red. I hope Josie remembers that all her life. I hope we both do.

A version of this article appeared in print on June 23, 2013, on page MM44 of the Sunday Magazine with the headline: ‘The iPads Are Coming!’.