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January 18, 2018

Do smartphones cause sleep problems, anxiety and depression in kids?

 #8 News Lesson of the Decade  #1 News Story of 2018


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  1. Earlier this month, two of Apple’s big shareholders called on the maker of the iPhone to come up with ways for parents to restrict their kids’ phone use and study the effects of heavy usage on mental health.

    • The shareholders included JANA Partners, an investment management firm, and the California State Teachers Retirement System, who own about $2 billion worth of Apple stock.

  2. iGen is the first generation to spend their entire adolescence with smartphones which correlates to increases in sleep issues, anxiety and depression, according to Jean Twenge, a San Diego State University psychology professor.

  3. Teens who spend five or more hours a day on electronic devices are 71 percent more likely to have at least one risk factor for suicide compared to teens who spend less than an hour a day, Twenge said.

  4. The “sweet spot” for healthy usage ranges from less than an hour to an hour or so a day, according to Twenge.

  5. Apple responded to the shareholder’s letter by saying they were focusing on restricting downloading apps and material, reaching material online and accessing material online. However, Apple did not focus on discussing how to limit the amount of time young people spend on their devices.

    • Charles Penner of JANA Partners, one of the two investors who wrote to Apple, said the company’s response was positive and that future discussions will involve both tech and childhood development experts.

Discussion Questions

  1. Essential question: What effects do smartphones have on young people’s mental and physical health?

  2. How often do you use your smartphone? How do you know that’s how often you use it?

  3. What are some benefits that you might experience if you cut down on your smartphone use? What are some negative effects?

  4. Do you think Apple will follow through on researching and addressing the negative effects of smartphones that many young people — and adults — face? Why or why not?

  5. Media literacy question: How could you find out more about the studies that describe the mental health effects of smartphone use on young people? How do you evaluate scientific studies?

Extension Activity

What role does technology play in the lives of teenagers? Is it possible that teens are addicted to their phones? In this lesson plan, students will respond to PBS NewsHour's Brief but Spectacular episode, "Teen on Tech" and watch a clip from the documentary Screenagers.

 #8 News Lesson of the Decade

  • Visit PBS NewsHour Extra for more education resources designed to help teachers and students identify the who, what, where and why-it-matters of the major national and international news stories.
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PBS NewsHour Classroom

PBS NewsHour Classroom helps teachers and students identify the who, what, where and why-it-matters of the major national and international news stories.

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