The debate over smartphones and kids has been raging since the first iPhone debuted. And one startup, Gabb Wireless, argues that it has the answer: Make smartphones as dumb as possible. But is that a winning strategy?
What Is Gabb Wireless?
Gabb Wireless is a startup mobile network virtual operator, or MVNO, hoping to raise money via crowdfunding to launch a company with phones aimed at kids. The phones take the stance that the best way to protect kids is to limit what’s on the phone. As a result, according to Gabb, the phones have no browser, app store, games, or social media apps. You can make calls, send texts (but you can’t text pictures or video), manage your calendar, take pictures, listen to FM radio, use a calculator and that’s about it.
On the bright side, this means the phones are cheap, under $100. Additionally, it does offer unlimited talk and text and doesn’t demand any long-term contracts. So in certain situations, it’s a good deal, especially if all your kids do is talk and text. But there are some points of concern about Gabb’s claims and approach.
Does Gabb Have Drawbacks?
First of all, the company FAQ goes so far as to claim that the phone is “unhackable,” which is a boast that rarely survives contact with the open market or the inquisitive minds of children. Their devices are certainly hackable, and it’s just a question of when, how, and who.
Similarly, even if the phone is somehow impenetrable by hackers, that doesn’t mean there aren’t risks. If you’re concerned about who your children are communicating with via phone and text, there don’t seem to be any tools to block numbers or recover deleted records.
Nor does Gabb discuss safety functions such as location tracking, and there don’t seem to be any parental controls built in. If you don’t want your kids texting at school, you’ll have to rely on their own good sense, since you can’t install a parental control app.
As your kids get older, they’re going to need more functionality. Teens will likely need a full-featured smartphone, and even preteens are finding that more and more schools are asking kids to use their devices to check their homework or do research. All this begs the question of why you don’t simply buy your child a flip phone, which has the same functions and drawbacks, and then transition them to a smartphone with parental control apps when they’re old enough.
The fundamental problem with this approach is that every household needs to work on the basis of trust and flexibility. While parents have the last word, kids need to understand that they can earn, or maintain, trust by understanding the basis behind the rules and following them. That’s the only way kids can form a healthy relationship with their devices that lasts into adulthood.
Connecting is a positive thing, and should be encouraged. And it’s up to every family how its younger members connect safely with the outside world and stay in touch with family. Parental control apps can help maintain a healthy balance. If you would like to learn how, Screen Time invites you to try us for free.