STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Two of Apple's biggest investors don't like what Apple products do to kids. One investor is called Jana Partners. The other is the California State Teachers Retirement System. And they wrote an open letter to the company. It says smartphones are especially addictive for kids, and they want Apple to give parents more tools to protect children. The investors were advised by our next guest, Dr. Michael Rich who runs the Center on Media and Child Health at Boston Children's Hospital. Good morning, sir.
MICHAEL RICH: Good morning.
INSKEEP: Is addictive the right word for an iPhone?
RICH: I do not believe addictive is simply because not only are we not seeing physiologic changes either when using or withdrawing, as you do with alcohol or heroin, but we're calling it problematic interactive media use for the reasons that they do get functionally impaired. They lose sleep. They place it as a priority over other activities and often will withdraw themselves from society, from families, from friends in order to stay online. So while these behaviors look much like addiction, it's actually not an accurate term, nor is it one that's helpful because of it's stigma.
INSKEEP: OK, so let's not say addiction. But let's say it's a problem and something that you could find in my family if you looked around the kids in my family from time to time. But let's talk about who's responsible for fixing that. I mean, you have this device that's designed to be really easy and pleasant to use, and there are all kinds of apps, which have been deliberately designed to get people hooked on them. What is Apple's responsibility when that phone gets into the hands of a child?
RICH: Well, I think it's all of our responsibility as individuals and as a society to address this. Apple has a part in that because they are brilliant designers not only of the technology but of the interface between the human psychology, the human mind, eye and finger and this thinking machine. So the goal of this letter, as I understand it, is to bring together the stakeholders - bringing their different expertise together to really think this problem through, working with the science that I and other researchers have put together and working with the technology to come up with a better mousetrap here.
INSKEEP: Is the answer that I as a parent might have better tools to monitor the phone than perhaps my kid has in his or her hands?
RICH: Absolutely, given the tools - but also the education and empowerment to use them. I think that what's happened is because many parents feel less adequate or less facile in that digital environment than their children, is that they check out of parenting in that space.
INSKEEP: You know, that raises one other thing I want to ask you about. Anya Kamenetz, our education reporter, has talked a lot about screen time for kids on this program and has noted that you can argue that screen time is good for kids if it's interactive, if it makes them think and if the parents are participating with the kids in some way.
RICH: Exactly. You know, this is really a tool just as, you know, a walk in the woods is a tool or a blackboard and a piece of chalk is a tool. We have to realize that the human element is what matters here. And whether that's a parent, whether that's a teacher, whether that's a clinician, we need to use these tools and keep them in their role in the children's lives. And ultimately what we owe our children is a rich and diverse menu of experience of which media can be one.
INSKEEP: Would you keep a phone away from a kid?
RICH: It depends on the age of the kid, and it depends on the kid.
INSKEEP: What age?
RICH: I think that, first of all, we have to give different tools to different kids at different developmental stages. And very early use, preschoolers, et cetera, they will get attracted and sucked into it, but they will not be able to regulate themselves.
INSKEEP: Dr. Michael Rich, thanks very much - appreciate it.
RICH: Thank you.
INSKEEP: And Apple has responded saying it takes responsibility for its products and is committed to exceeding customers' expectations, especially when it comes to protecting kids. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.