At last, a sleek touch-screen starter phone made just for kids. The big difference: it can’t access to the Internet. “It’s not that it’s blocked. It really doesn’t exist on the phone,” says Stephen Dalby, founder of Gabb Wireless. “On our cellular network, the only thing you will find will be safe phones for kids.”
Being a dad launched Dalby on his design journey. “I had to get a phone for my son and I just didn’t feel comfortable with the options that were out there.”
As a first step toward a full-fledged smartphone, Gabb Basic has plenty for kids to learn. They can call, text, and use the calendar, alarm and calculator apps. What they can’t do is play video games, use social media, shop in app stores, send picture messages, or group text.
The price is lighter, too.
Unlimited calls and texts on the Gabb Wireless 4G LTE nationwide network are $19.99 a month, with no long-term contract. The phone itself costs $99.99, as opposed to $699.99 for an iPhone 11.
Smartphones Not So Smart for Kids
Over the past decade, as more Internet-connected mobile devices entered the scene, calls-and-texts-only flip phones gradually disappeared from store shelves, in part egged out by kids who saw them as clunky and very uncool. Parents seemed to have no alternative but to buy a full-featured smartphone.
But the complexity and ready access to Internet content has proven too much for many kids to handle, as evidenced by mounting research showing widespread emotional, social, and even physical problems among young smartphone users.
“Smartphones are adult devices, otherwise there would be no parental controls,” says Dalby. “You don’t learn to use it appropriately when you get everything Day One.”
Or, as I like to say, you shouldn’t have to give your child the mobile device equivalent of a Maserati when all he needs is a bike with training wheels.
That’s why I think the relatively uncomplicated Gabb is world-changing. The design puts parents back in the driver’s seat and doesn’t force them to prematurely thrust their children into the stormy Internet seas. Kids like Gabb’s look and feel.
So it’s finally possible to introduce children to the digital world as they always should have been—in a sensible, developmentally-appropriate, step-wise fashion.
Judging if Your Child is Ready
Yet, even with all the improvements, bestowing that first mobile device remains a life-altering and highly individual decision. Parents must carefully consider a child’s readiness. In non-tech ways, the child herself should demonstrate she’s responsible enough to incorporate a powerful object of technology into a healthy, balanced lifestyle.
Just as they teach their kids how to eat right, parents will need to continuously model and teach positive tech consumption. One of the most important tech hygiene habits to keep kids durable in body and mind: making sure devices are charged outside the bedroom at night to ensure the user gets a good night’s sleep.
But as we enter a new decade, today’s parents can breathe easier that their kids’ first experience with a mobile device can be simpler and safer.
Or, in the words of Stephen Dalby, “Now they have the option, whereas before they just didn’t.”
I write this 13 years to the day iPhone was released. Tony Fadell, who helped create both iPod and iPhone, likes to quote former co-worker Steve Jobs’ admonition:
Don’t overschedule your kids. Make sure they get bored so they discover who they are and what they like.
Indeed, as I wonder in The Durable Human Manifesto, what might have happened if Steve Jobs were born today: would the flicker of a parent’s smartphone usurp his wandering thoughts?
He would not want an iPhone to get in any child’s way.
About the author: Jenifer Joy Madden is a health journalist, digital media adjunct professor, TEDx speaker, founder of DurableHuman.com, and parent of three self-reliant durable young adults. Jenifer’s words have appeared on news outlets ranging from ABC News to The Washington Post to Discovery Health Channel. She’s written two life- and tech-balance advice books, has a line of Durable Human products, and hosts the parent ed classroom, Durable U.
Find Jenifer’s books on Amazon and Audible: The Durable Human Manifesto: Practical Wisdom for Living and Parenting in the Digital World and How to Be a Durable Human: Revive and Thrive in the Digital Age Through the Power of Self-Design.
Download a free PDF of The Durable Human Manifesto here.