The Gabb office in Lehi, Utah, was buzzing with employees zooming around on scooters and hoverboards as the company gathered to launch an unusual event for a tech company.

The company known for making smartphones for kids was kicking off its own employee-wide phone detox during an event on Thursday.

Employees across the company pledged to take some kind of break from their smartphones. Some were switching from their phones to a Gabb phone (just the basics — talk, text, camera and no social media apps) and others were committing to not using their phones at all while at home. They made a paper chain indicating some of the reasons they wanted to do this detox.

Rest. Family time. Creativity. Exercise. Better self-image. Hobbies. Many of the reasons employees had fell into these categories.

“Everybody needs a break,” CEO Nate Randle said in an interview at the Gabb office. “And especially so many of us that are busy every day with work, it will be nice to take a break.”

Randle said, “The dangers and addictions of these smartphones are real.” It was something he noticed years ago, especially when it comes to kids.

Sapien Labs released a report in 2023 that showed when kids received their smartphone at age 18, the rate of mental health challenges was 46%. But when they got their smartphone at age 6, the mental health challenges rate was 74%. Psychologist Jean Twenge has posited that it’s possible the rise of loneliness correlates with “the rapid spread of smartphones and social media in the years since 2012.”

Others including social psychologist Jon Haidt and psychological science researcher Zach Rausch have tracked rising anxiety and depression rates among teens and have theorized that the switch from flip phone to smartphone around the year 2012 may be key to understanding why mental health of young people has worsened.

At the event, employees not only shared their intentions, they also played classic games like Battleship and ate colorful candy. It was done in the spirit of remembering a childhood without phones.

Holly Rawlings, manager of research and parent education at Gabb, said she’s doing the detox for herself and for her kids. Her family is even joining her on doing the detox. “My name is Holly and I’m a phoneaholic,” she said. “I have been using my phone to avoid situations that cause me anxiety and it’s been going on since COVID.”

“We want to help kids learn to use tech and not let tech use them,” Rawlings said. “And the only way I can authentically do that is if I do it myself, walk the walk.”

“I think why so many of us at Gabb are doing it is because we want to show our kids we’re willing to make that sacrifice,” Rawlings said. “We’re willing to go through the discomfort because we know that our relationships with our phone have trumped the things that matter most to us.”

The detox will also give “a seminal moment” to look back on, Rawlings explained. Going for a while without a phone or taking a break from your smartphone in some way will give you a memory to look back on and think about in the future, she said.

Lori Morency Kun, Gabb vice president of community impact, talks to Gabb employees at a smartphone detox kickoff event at the Gabb office in Lehi on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Lori Morency Kun, Gabb vice president of community impact, said she’d already done the phone detox and in addition to connecting with her kids more, she felt like she was able to have better relationships with the people around her and develop a healthy morning routine.

Rawlings talked about an earlier study the company had done on phone detoxes.

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Gabb partnered with Ashley Kuchar, educational psychology researcher, to do this study at Culver Academies in Indiana. It was called a phone fast. Kids could leave their phones at home, switch to a flip phone, go completely without a phone, switch to a Gabb phone, delete notifications or delete social media as part of the study.

One hundred thirty of the 850 students ended up switching to the Gabb phone.

After the 30-day study was complete, 84% of the students said they would do another phone fast in the future and 34% said they had better relationships as a result of the fast.

“We know from the Culver study that the kids all showed gains in healthy connection with peers, they had better sleep, they just were happier, they felt less anxious and depressed, and they made more friends,” Rawlings said.

Gabb is not anti-technology, Rawlings explained. “We feel strongly that none of us, no adults nor even young adults, had technology in steps. We learn how to ride a trike, then a bike and then maybe an electric version, and then we move on to a car. We learn these skills that keep us safe.”

Smartphones have been rolled out differently, Rawlings said. There hasn’t been a big chunk of the smartphone market offering a kids only option. Gabb is trying to change that.

“I’ve seen the difference a Gabb phone can make in a kid’s life and so many parents don’t know that it’s an option. They think their only option is get an adult smartphone with parental controls,” Rawlings said, adding that kids sometimes find ways to circumvent the parental controls.