Read the Case Study: How Harmful are Smartphones? 

Read the Case Study: How Harmful are Smartphones?

Please complete the following:

  • Answer all the questions at the end of the case study.
  • The total word count for all three questions should not exceed 500 words
  • Do NOT include the questions in your response. Just number the answers. Provide references if needed

For many of us, smartphones have become indispensable, but they have also come under fire for their impact on the way we think and behave, especially among children. There is a growing wariness among parents, educators, psycholo-gists, and even Silicon Valley luminaries that the benefits of screens are overblown, even as learn-ing tools, and the risks for addiction and stunting development seem high.

The average American teenager who uses a smartphone receives his or her first phone at age 10 and spends over 4.5 hours a day on it (exclud-ing texting and talking). Seventy-eight percent of teens check their phones at least hourly, and 50 percent report feeling “addicted” to their phones. A number of studies have pointed out the negative effects of heavy smartphone and social media use on the mental and physical health of children whose brains are still developing. These range from distractions in the classroom to a higher risk of suicide and depression.

A recent survey of over 2,300 teachers by the Center on Media and Child Health and the University of Alberta found that 67 percent of the teachers reported that the number of students who are negatively distracted by digital technologies in the classroom is growing. Seventy-five percent of these teachers think students’ ability to focus on educational tasks has decreased. Research by psy-chology professor Jean Twenge of San Diego State University found that US teenagers who spend 3 hours a day or more on electronic devices are 35 percent more likely, and those who spend 5 hours or more are 71 percent more likely, to have a risk factor for suicide than those who spend less than 1 hour. This research also showed that eighth-graders who are heavy users of social media have a 27 percent higher risk of depression. Those who spend more than the average time playing sports, hanging out with friends in person, or doing homework have a significantly lower risk. Additionally, teens who spend 5 or more hours a day on electronic devices are 51 percent more likely to get less than 7 hours of sleep per night (versus the recommended 9).

Nicholas Carr, who has studied the impact of technology on business and culture, shares these concerns. He has been highly critical of the Internet’s effect on cognition, and these cognitive effects extend to smartphone use. Carr worries that excessive use of mobile devices diminishes the capacity for concentration and contemplation.

Carr recognizes that smartphones provide many useful functions in a handy form. This ex-traordinary usefulness, however, gives them too much influence on our attention, thinking, and behavior. Smartphones shape our thoughts in deep and complicated ways, and their effects persist even when we aren’t using the devices. Research suggests that the intellect weakens as the brain grows dependent on the technology. Carr points to the work of Adrian Ward, a cog-nitive psychologist and marketing professor at the University of Texas at Austin, who for a decade has been studying how smartphones and the Internet affect people’s thoughts and judgment. Ward has observed that using a smartphone, or even hear-ing one ring or vibrate, produces distractions that make it harder to concentrate on a difficult prob-lem or job. Divided attention impedes reasoning and performance.

A study published in Applied Cognitive Psychology in April 2017 examined how smart-phones affected learning in a lecture class with 160 students at the University of Arkansas at Monticello. It found that students who didn’t bring their phones to the classroom scored a full letter-grade higher on a test of the material pre-sented than those who brought their phones. It didn’t matter whether students who brought their phones used them or not. A study of 91 UK sec-ondary schools, published in 2016 in the journal Labour Economics, found that when schools ban smartphones, students’ examination scores go up substantially, and the weakest students benefit the most.

Carr also observes that using smartphones ex-tensively can be detrimental to social skills and relationships. Connecting with “friends” elec-tronically via smartphones is not a substitute for genuine person-to-person relationships and face-to-face conversations.

In early 2018 two of the largest investors in Apple called for the iPhone maker to take more ac-tion against smartphone addiction among children .The investors urged Apple to offer more tools to prevent smartphone addiction and to provide more parental options for monitoring children’s smartphone usage. The iOS operating system for Apple smartphones and tablets already has limited parental controls for restricting apps, features such as location sharing, and access to certain types of content. The investors felt Apple needed to do more—for example, enable parents to specify the age of the user of the phone during setup, estab-lish limits on screen time, select hours of the day the phone can be used, and block social media services. Apple created its own screen-time tracker to help parents limit the time they and their children spent on iPhones. But Apple also has removed or restricted at least 11 of the 17 most downloaded screen-time and parental-control apps, according to an analysis by the New York Times and Sensor Tower, an app-data firm. Apple has also removed some lesser-known apps. In some cases, Apple forced companies to remove features that allowed parents to control their children’s devices or that blocked children’s access to certain apps and adult content. In other cases, it simply pulled the apps from its App Store.


1. Identify the problem described in this case study. In what sense is it an ethical dilemma?

2. Should restrictions be placed on children’s and teenagers’ smartphone use? Why or why not?

3. Can the problem of smartphones reducing cognitive skills be solved? Why or why not? Explain your answer.

Sources: Jack Nicas, “Apple Cracks Down on Apps that Fight iPhone Addiction,” New York Times, April 27, 2019; Nellie Bowles, “Human Contact Is Now a Luxury Good,” New York Times, March 23, 2019, and “A Dark Consensus about Screens and Kids Begins to Emerge in Silicon Valley,” New York Times, October 26, 2018; Samuel Gibbs, “Apple Investors Call for Action over iPhone ‘Addiction’ among Children,” The Guardian, January 8, 2018; David Benoit, “iPhones and Children Are a Toxic Pair, Say Two Big Apple Investors,” Wall Street Journal, January 7, 2018; and Nicholas Carr, “How Smartphones Hijack Our Minds,” Wall Street Journal, October 7, 2017.

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