Activist hedge fund JANA Partners, together with the California State Teachers’ Retirement System, sent a letter to Apple, Inc. asking that they take on some of the responsibility for children who spend hours each day on their smartphones.
The open letter asks Apple to ‘think differently about kids,’ in particular, the letter asserts that “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.” Collectively, JANA and Caltstrs own about $2 billion in shares of Apple, the largest company in the United States.
The letter is footnoted with study after study pointing out many things that are obvious to American parents raising children today. The studies show that:
• 67% of teachers believe the number of students negatively distracted by digital technologies in the classroom is climbing.
• 75% of teachers believe their students’ ability to focus is declining.
• The risk for suicide goes up as the number of hours spent on electronic devices per day increases.
• Teens that spend 5 or more hours per day on devices are 51% more likely to get less than 7 hours of sleep at night instead of the recommended 9 hours. Lack of sleep can lead to obesity and high blood pressure.
• Children who spent 5 days at an outdoor camp without devices did better on tests for empathy than children in a control group.
• A survey by the American Psychological Association showed that 58% of parents worry about the influence of social media on the physical and mental health of their children; 48% say that they have a “constant battle” with their children over limiting screen time; and 58% say they feel like their children are “attached” to their devices.
Michael Rich of the Center on Media and Child Health at Boston’s Children’s Hospital, Jean M. Twenge, author of the book iGen and a professor and psychologist at San Diego State University, and Sting and his wife Trudie Styler, got together to look at the scientific evidence and confront Apple with it in this letter:
“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,” the group states.
The letter asks Apple to implement some concrete measures to address the problem, including:
• Creating jobs at Apple as well as to fund outside efforts to study the issue.
• Creating user tools and options that can help parents limit or better monitor their children’s screen time.
• Educating parents as to why Apple is offering more choices and including the research that went into developing those choices to help parents make more informed decisions.
• Bringing a high-level executive to Apple who will monitor the issue and report on the company’s progress in dealing with it, as they are already doing with environmental issues and supply chain issues.
The letter is signed by Barry Rosenstein, managing partner at JANA Partners, and Anne Sheehan, director of Corporate Governance for the California State Teachers’ Retirement System.