"Apple has always looked out for kids, and we work hard to create powerful products that inspire, entertain, and educate children while also helping parents protect them online", an Apple representative said in a statement late Monday.
"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 a letter sent to Apple over the weekend. The managing partner of Jana, Barry Rosenstein, told the Times: "As more and more founders of the biggest tech companies are acknowledging today, the days of just throwing technology out there and washing your hands of the potential impact are over". They said that they also "think deeply" about how people utilize their products and how they impact the lives of people.
The letter cited various studies that have found negative effects of smartphones and social media on children's mental and physical health.
They urged the company to design more intuitive ways for parents to safeguard their children's devices, and called for them to build a committee of experts "to assist additional research efforts".
This research also shows that 8th graders who are heavy users of social media have a 27% higher risk of depression, while those who exceed the average time spent playing sports, hanging out with friends in person, or doing homework have a significantly lower risk.
But that and similarly designed research can not rule out that already troubled teens may be more likely than others to be frequent users of smartphones and social media.
In the letter, the shareholders noted that Apple had been setting precedents in the innovation of smartphone technology, and this time, they are hoping that the iPhone maker would once again set the bar in terms of "setting an example about the obligations of technology companies to their youngest customers".
Professor Jean M. Twenge, a psychologist at San Diego State University and author of the book "iGen" reviewed evidence of smartphone addiction in partnership with JANA Partners, the California State Teachers' Retirement System and two Harvard-affiliated doctors.
Parents have expressed concern about the amount of time kids spend on their smartphones, and now some investors in the Cupertino-based tech giant are concerned as well.
Alphabet and Facebook could not immediately be reached for comment Monday.