Utah’s first lady, Abby Cox, remembers growing up in rural Utah at a time when families trusted the community to look after their kids when they left the house — a time without smartphone trackers and social media.

Younger generations will never know what it was like to grow up without technology that provides the world at their fingertips, as older generations did. Because information is more accessible than ever before, parents are keeping their children at arm’s length to ensure their safety.

“As we dive into our social media and our phones and all these ways that we see the scary world out there that we’ve all gotten addicted to,” she said at Gabb’s new headquarters in Lehi, Utah, on Thursday, “we are not trusting each other anymore, and our kids are not having a place where they can look around and have a community.”

“We are so worried about our individualism that we’ve forgotten about community, and our kids are growing up in a world where we can’t trust the people around them, and that’s a sad world,” she added.

How many companies can honestly say their mission is to have a societal impact, prioritizing the family?

With zero access to social media and the internet, tech company Gabb keeps your family connected without fearing your children will lose their innocence through explicit material.

“I’ve never seen a company like Gabb that has the impact it has on really improving families and focusing on children,” chairman and co-owner of Colliers International Brandon Fugal said during the tech company’s new headquarters ribbon ceremony.

How is Gabb meeting the needs of families?

Luke Tippetts, 12, is more interested in identifying bug species and fishing at the creek than having a cellphone, but his mom, Michelle, wants peace of mind when her son is off on his outdoor adventures. So she got him a Gabb phone.

Tippetts told the Deseret News that the Gabb phone was the solution to her needs because she didn’t want to expose her eldest to material inappropriate for a child. “We wanted to limit what our kids are exposed to online because we’re worried about them coming across inappropriate material like porn and other things that can be damaging to their mental health.”

Her problem is a universal one, and statistics back it up. As many as 53% of children have a smartphone by age 11, a crucial time of cognitive, social and emotional development, according to the National Institutes of Health. “In addition, over 90% of teens report using their phones to pass the time, connect with others (84%), and learn new things (83%).”

Gabb shared in a press release the following problems children deal with when given access to the internet and social media:

  • Teenagers aged 13-18 spend an average of 9 hours daily on screens.
  • Nearly half (46%) of teens report that social media negatively affects their body image, and spending more than 3 hours on social media daily doubles the risk of depression and anxiety.
  • Forty-two percent of children aged 10-17 have reported viewing online pornography.

Rather than giving a child an iPhone with restrictions, Gabb phones and watches are built specifically for children. That doesn’t mean the company’s phones haven’t positively impacted adults, though.

Utah’s first lady Abby Cox speaks to guests, employees and their families attend a ribbon-cutting ceremony for Gabb Phones at their new headquarters in Lehi on Thursday, June 13, 2024. | Marielle Scott, Deseret News

Ray Norton, who has worked for the tech company for nearly three years and is currently its SEO strategist, said that Gabb employees also implement ways to reduce their screen time. She emphasized that she had never worked for a company where she felt like she was really making a positive impact until Gabb.

“We all care so much about this mission, about protecting kids. I have 11 nieces and nephews, so I see how technology affects them,” Norton said. “And from my own experience growing up with social media, you can just see the power of getting kids off of screens, getting them living real life, making real connections, and you can see the negative effect it has on other kids where they’re being influenced by who knows what, or who are just trying to make money off of them. They don’t care about their well-being or mental health.”

In March, she said her company did a digital detox week, “and ever since then, I’ve just been really careful about my social media use, and I’ve just noticed myself being way more conscientious and intentional about my social media use because of it, and honestly, I owe that to Gabb.”

They’ve even recently released Gabb Music, which is a clean streaming service with millions of big-name artists like Carrie Underwood and Niall Horan.

“We’ve got contracts with the three major music labels, so rather than going through a streaming service, we go directly to the labels. We have access to their entire libraries, just like Spotify or Apple Music does,” Brandon Jeppson, product marketing director at Gabb, said.

“So we look at explicit language, we look at innuendos, the context of the song topics, even, you know, is it talking about violence or self-harm? And take all of that into account. And then also album art. Does the album art have anything that’s going to be, you know, inappropriate for kids as well? So it’s not kiddie music, it’s not bleeped-out music, it’s just clean songs.”

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Is getting your child a phone unavoidable?

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The reality is that children are getting phones at increasingly younger ages. Gabb allows children to stay connected to their families without having access to other smartphone material.

Tippetts, who lives in Oklahoma, told the Deseret News that children’s phone access seems more delayed than elsewhere. “Our friends who live in Portland have a fourth grader, and everyone in their class seems to have an iPhone. So it just depends on where you live, and the trend in Edmond is definitely pushing it later.”

She also said the “Wait Until 8th” pledge is very strong in her community. The mission statement is to let kids be kids for longer and advises parents to hold off on giving their children smartphones until at least 8th grade. They even recommend Gabb phones and watches as safer alternatives for children.

Rowland Hall, a private school in Salt Lake City, is the only school in Utah to have taken the pledge. However, according to their website, “there are more than 58,000 pledges across the United States.”

Guests, employees and their families attend a ribbon-cutting ceremony for Gabb Phones at their new headquarters in Lehi on Thursday, June 13, 2024. | Marielle Scott, Deseret News
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