Stop Draining the Battery on Youth

by Kelly Baumgarth, Mandisa Cole, Jon Delaney (Alex1235921), Ireland Gennari, and Jenna Raffel

“Just as we need to learn to drive a car safely, we need to learn how to drive the internet safely. Again, this is another tool that increases our freedom, increases our ability to do things, but also has great potential danger. But we don’t get in cars thinking oh, I could get addicted.”

Initial Research

To better understand the phone addiction problem at hand, we took to the web to better understand the background to the problem. Our research began by diving into user research to find real people that took to the web to share with the world their struggles and the steps they took to conquer phone addiction. The following is an excerpt from a mother with a young child who attempted it all to beat phone addiction, with the goal of spending more quality time with her child, while he was still young.

I had read articles with tips on how to break social media addiction.
-Have designated times of the day where you check social media
-Set a timer
-Hide your phone out of sight
-Have your partner change your password
-Delete the app entirely
I even installed an app that would block certain social media apps for a time period. You had to wait out the time or restart your phone. If my urge was strong I’d restart and be back to scrolling. I tried it all and nothing seemed to stick. The urge was too strong and I’d end up back to my old habits in no time at all. I didn’t want to miss a thing! I had FOMO — fear of missing out. Straight up FOMO!

For this mother, it was the attachment to her phone that had developed over years that she was now, as an adult, struggling to break. She had been on her phone, connected to social media, for so long that she felt a disconnect from the world when she wasn’t on her phone.

This insight sparked us to dive deeper, to where the root of phone addictions begin: childhood. To better understand the effects of the screen on children, our research consisted of learning from psychologists. These psychologists offered two perspectives: the damages of phone addiction on the youth, but also the psychological benefits they have.

We discovered an article published by the New York Post written by psychologist Dr. Nicholas Kardaras, telling a patient story of a mother and her 6 year old son’s progressive development into screen addiction. The mother originally let her son have an IPad when he entered the first grade, upon the persuasion of his teacher. He began playing educational games, but soon took to Minecraft. The teacher assured the mom Minecraft was just “electronic legos”, so the mother let her son play away. After a while she started to become concerned when her son spent less time going out and playing baseball, something he loved to do, and refused to do his chores, all so he could spent more screen time on Minecraft.

Her son started to become so addicted to the game he would tell her in the mornings he could see the cube shapes in his dreams. One night she went into his bedroom to check on her sleeping son. To the mother’s dismay she entered the room to her son sitting straight up in bed, bloodshot eyes, with the Minecraft glow of the IPad next to him. He was staring off into the distance, in a kind of trance, that the panicked mother had to shake her son out of.

According to a 2013 Policy Statement by the American Academy of Pediatrics, 8- to 10 year-olds spend 8 hours a day with various digital media while teenagers spend 11 hours in front of screens. One in three kids are using tablets or smartphones before they can talk.

Dr. Kardaras went on to state that in his time he has found it easier to treat heroin addicts than a child that has crossed the line into tech addiction the way this son has. Developmental psychology states that a healthy child needs social interaction, imaginative play, and interaction with the real world; however, tech addiction stunts this fundamental process within a child.

Furthering our research, we came across an article that works as a counter argument to the case mentioned above. While not dismissing the work as a whole, this article breaks down the extremities, while additionally adding the benefits technology can have on a child. The following was said in regards to the case of the mother finding her son in a technology induced, trance-like state:

Michael Rich, the director of the Center on Media and Child Health at Boston Children’s Hospital, says that he has seen cases of problematic interactive media use that keep children up at night. But, he adds, “I’ve also had kids who have been found staring wide-eyed and bloodshot at Harry Potter at two in the morning.”

While not discrediting the experience the mother underwent with her son, the article does raise a valid point, although technology addiction can have negative side effects on a child, that is true of other addictions as well. The article carries on to state studies that have found benefits of technology on children; ex: iPads are just as effective as conventional sedatives at keeping kids calm right before surgery; virtual reality training helped boost social skills and cognition in young adults with autism; and in a study gamers had a higher chance than non-gamers of performing better at school and a lower chance of experiencing problems with their peers.

The one thing that both articles were able to agree on is that it is a parental responsibility to monitor a child’s screen time. While technology can be beneficial for children, a fine line develops between where it is helping a child versus spurring a downhill slope into technology addiction that will be a struggle to recover from.

User Research

Concluding the research stages, we established that it would be most beneficial to set our target user as the younger generation. The problem of screen addiction initiates young and further develops on into adulthood; therefor, we wanted to find a way to limit phone addiction when young so the trait would be stopped, or at least controlled, as to not carry over into adulthood.

To get into the mindset of the users we are attempting to target, our next step was to craft personas. These personas allowed us to reflect on our own childhood experiences, with the addition to what we have observed in the world around us with the new technology raised youth.

Persona 1 is an 11 year old boy who gets good grades in school, while also enjoying reading and soccer. His school has just started switching to electronic textbooks, so he is required to have a tablet or laptop for school. While still doing his school work on the device, the boy has also taken to playing more and more online games in his free time.

Persona 2 is a 15 year old girl who has just made her first Instagram account. She loves seeing the photos of what all her friends are doing, while also being able to see into the lavish life of celebrities. On multiple occurrences she has found herself pulling up the app, scrolling through next photos, and continuously refreshing to look for anything new she may have missed.

These personas showed us that the main things that lead to phone addiction in youth is games and social media.

Concept Development

Our initial research proved that if someone is truly addicted to their screen, they will find a way to get around an app that is attempting to limit them. Because the youngest generation is especially tech savvy, having grown up with technology all their lives, we knew that if there was any application loophole, they would find it.

Digital Rendering

This all in mind, our group came up with the concept of a modified product: the IPhone Kids. IPhone Kids is designed with child users in mind, placing limits to help better control the fine line of beneficial versus addictive.

The IPhone Kids limits how many and of what kinds of applications may be placed on the phone, dependent upon the child’s age. An example of this is children of 5–8 years of age may only be able to have limited google access, phone calling, and one game on their device; while a slightly older child ranging from 9–15 may be given a bit more freedom, consisting of more internet access, as well as one social media. With stages in place, the idea stemmed that easing a child into screen accessibility would limit the ease of becoming addicted at a young age. If a child is only allowed 1 game on their device, they are unable to switch to a new game, and thus are more likely to become bored overtime and put the device down. Additionally, the phone comes with a parental lock application that is unable to be deleted from the device. This parental lock allows parents to have the ability to give their child more phone access whenever they feel just; however, the phone does come with recommendations of when the access should be expanded upon for a child. As well as limiting what may be on the device, the parental control also features the ability to override power down the device at any time, and it is unable to be turned back on until the parents phone allows it. This way is a parent has felt their child is becoming too attached to the screen, they can power off the device remotely, forcing the child off the screen and into the real world. A parent has the ability to reward good behavior with more screen access, while on the other hand revoking access for groundings.

Keeping the company in mind, Apple would not mind the additional product because it would result in an increase in sales. They would have an overall increase in sales in the beginning, because more families would be drawn toward the idea of purchasing a screen for their child, knowing they are now able to heavily monitor and have access to controlling the technology. Additionally, later on the families would purchase an additional phone when the child has come of age that the parental control is no longer necessary and the child is ready for full screen access.


For the prototyping stage, we constructed a solid 3D printed shell of an IPhone, to as closely resemble the structure and feel of a phone in the tester’s hand. We left an insert opened on the side of the model so that a paper screen could be inserted for the user testing stages.

3D Print Shell, Paper Screen Prototype, Digital Screen Mock Up

Prototype Testing

After prototyping, we interviewed to a family of six to test the product. We focused specifically on the feedback from the youngest child, Aristyn, and her mother, Aimee. Aristyn is a ten year old girl who enjoys singing, taekwondo, and most of all, playing on her iPad. She currently alternates between four games, her favorite being Minecraft, but most of her time is spent on youtube watching vloggers. When asked her average hourly usage per day, Aristyn estimated about four hours. She admitted that she would probably spend less time behind her screen if she had “something else to do,” because she does wish her family spent more quality time together. This showed us an incentive of family time through the iPhone Kids program may be effective. As the interview continued, it became evident how serious the screen addiction of the youngest generation has become. In fact, Aristyn became slightly defensive when we explained our solution of children having less access with their technology. Of course, children who already have this addiction will not have an extremely accepting reaction to limiting their access, but ultimately, it is an attempt to better social skills between family and friends.

To get another perspective, we also talked with a secondary user — Aristyn’s mother. When asked how long she thinks her daughter spends behind her screen, she admitted that she was “embarrassed to answer,” because while she may spend 2 hours on school days, some weekends she will play on her iPad all day long. We questioned Aimee on her reasoning for buying her daughter an iPad, and she explained that Aristyn’s peers socialize by talking about their games. Aristyn originally participated in this by using the family computer; however over time this caused issues when other family members needed the computer for school or work purposes. Therefor, they bought Aristyn her own iPad to “solve the problem.” They did not expect the usage to skyrocket in the manner that it did, causing a whole new problem. Aimee admits that it is upsetting because she spent more time with her older children when they were growing up because there were not as many screens to steal their attention. She stated she is interested in a way to limit usage, such as the iPhone Kids. Aimee likes the idea of including limited internet access, and incorporating educational tools such as calculators or dictionaries. She does note, however, the overhanging issue that the products success is contingent on mass acceptance of the phone; otherwise, there would be a barrier between kids with normal screen access and those with limited access.

Overall, it seemed clear that screens are affecting the family dynamic, and if families enforced the parental control on the iPhone Kids, it could help diminish the issue. At the same time, a small amount of internet access and specific apps are necessary to appeal to kids desires, and still make the product helpful.

Aristyn checking out the prototype, Aristyn and her loving mother


After testing the prototype, we were able to conclude that the product would be a viable solution, however, Aristyn’s mother brought up a valid concern. The limitation of children’s screen access would need to be a universally accepted step. If some parents chose not to purchase the IPhone Kids, but instead the full access IPhones seen today, there would be a disconnect among the youth, that could further escalate to a level of bullying. While the parents may be an advocate of the limited screen access, there would be a lot of push back from kids, especially those like Aristyn who have started growing up with full access.

Before the product could go to market, we would need to undergo more user testing exercises for better refinements. As Aristyn pointed out, a feature to advocate and reward for more family time would be a beneficial addition. It is additional features recommended by the users themself are what could really take this product from a viable solution to an extremely effective one. Getting additional youth perspective could help bridge the gap from pleasing the parents with limited access, while also making the youth open to the idea.

As our research and testing of the initial product concluded, it became clear that while we attempted to hypothesize from the younger generation’s perspective, our group actually had a better understanding of those of the parents. Having been the generation to grow up with the beginning of the screen technology era, we were more closely in the mindset of those who had no screens, than those surrounded. We were able to get into the mindset of what a parent would want to limit for their child, but we were not completely able to predict the children’s reaction to limited access.

If we were to redo the project, we would interview more users in person about their experience with screens. Talking to more young children help pinpoint what it is that draws them back into the screen, and help better analyze what needs to be limited and what could be optimized. Also, talking to their parents to get their opinions of their children with devices; do they think their child is spending too much time on the screen, or do they think it is beneficial, and what could be done to maximize the benefit while limiting the addiction. Living within the college atmosphere, it was difficult to find users at hand that we could talk to for their opinion on what specifically should be limited versus enhanced.

On a scale from 1–10, our group would grade our process at a 6. We dove deep into the initial research stage in attempted to get a better mindset of the problem at hand, but we agreed as a group that more one on one user research would have been beneficial to getting feedback from those that interact with the problem daily.

By the end of this project, we believe the situation is solvable, to an extent. The extent comes in with recognizing there is a problem, and placing the determination to fix said screen addiction. With all problems in life, whether it be with a child or a parent, issues are unfixable if one does not first recognize they are broken. If the parent is the one with the phone addiction, they need to not only be able to recognize this, but be willing and wanting to take steps to become less addicted. In the case of child screen addiction, they will be much less likely to recognize the addiction, and that is where the parents role must come into play. While it may be difficult for some parents, they need to be able to see when the screen is limiting their child and take the parental role to power the screen off.