CalSTRS Releases Statement on Letter to Apple

Letter calls for tech giant to offer parents more tools to curb children’s “screen” behavior.

The $221.7 billion California State Teacher’s Retirement System’s (CalSTRS) Director of Corporate Governance Anne Sheehan has released a statement regarding a recent letter issued to Apple Inc.

The letter, co-written by CalSTRS and hedge fund Jana Partners LLC, calls for Apple to address the issue of young people becoming addicted to iPhones by offering parents more choices and tools to their children.

“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,” the letter reads.

“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.”

CalSTRS and Jana collectively own $2 billion worth of shares in the tech giant.

As active and long-term shareholders of Apple Inc., CalSTRS and Jana Partners LLC sent the corporation a letter asking them to address the growing need to offer parents more choices and tools to help ensure that young consumers are using their products in an optimal, supportive manner,” Sheehan said. “We believe that by doing so, Apple will enhance long-term value for all shareholders, by creating more choices and options for their customers today and helping to protect the next generation of leaders, innovators, and customers tomorrow.

While conducting research on the situation, CalSTRS and Jana partnered with experts 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.

Professor Twenge’s research indicated that US teenagers spending three or more hours a day on their mobile phones were 35% more likely to have a suicide risk factor than those who spend less than an hour. That number increased to 71% for those who spent five or more hours.

Twenge’s research also found that eighth-grade students heavily using social media are at a 27% higher risk for depression as opposed to young children engaging in more social activities and homework, who were at a significantly lower risk. 

This behavior also affected sleep, as teens on electronic devices for five or more hours a day were 51% more likely to get fewer than seven hours of sleep as opposed to those using their devices for less than one hour.

Additional studies referenced in the letter included a study from UCLA, where researchers saw children performing “far better” on empathy tests than a control group after five days at a device-free control camp. Another form of research used was a survey from the American Psychological Association, where of the 3,500-plus parents surveyed, 58% worried about the influence of social media on their child’s physical and mental health, 48% had issues regulating their child’s screen time, and 58% felt that their child was “attached” to their phone or tablet.

In her statement, Sheehan summed up the demands of the letter.

“We specifically ask that Apple form a committee of experts and specialists to research and study this issue and monitor ongoing developments in technology,” she said. “Additionally, we encourage Apple to offer parents more tools by enhancing mobile device software to enable age-appropriate setup options including limiting screen time, setting up parental monitoring, etc. This also includes parental education on the available research and options available to help them make more informed decisions on their child’s device usage. We want to ensure stakeholders and experts have a seat at the table as Apple develops these new tools and options moving forward.”

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