The Gabb Effect

Words by
Holly Rawlings

OCT 19, 2023

The Gabb Effect

Teenagers and smartphones. It’s hard to remember a time when their hands and back pockets were free.

Phones demand more of their attention at home and school even while the news decries the devastating stories of victimization by predators and a public health advisory from the Surgeon General sounds the alarm on the damage tech usage is doing to kids.

At Gabb, our mission is to protect kids and to connect families. When we discovered a high school in the Midwest was eager to try a tech experiment, we jumped at the opportunity.

At Culver Academies—an Indiana boarding school of 850 students grades 9-12—nearly all of the students opted in to try a 30-day “phone fast” in one of the following ways.

Phone Fast Options

  • Leave phone at home
  • Black & white screen
  • Delete notifications
  • Delete social media
  • Switch to Gabb Phone Plus
  • Switch to flip phone
  • No phone at all

The experience opened our eyes to the pivotal role kids will play in putting a stop to the negative tech effects that are now coming into full view.

It also vindicated the work we care about so much at Gabb.

Of those that participated, 130 elected to swap their smartphone for a Gabb phone during the fast. 

The Gabb Effect

We found that the phone fast had an overall positive effect at post-test and follow-up for all those who participated. But Gabb users rated their experience as even more positive than those who participated in other ways. 

Mental health and healthy connections

Survey results indicated that students with Gabb devices outperformed in every area we measured. This included results of statistical significance for mental health and healthy connection with peers. 

Decrease in social media use

Regarding daily social media use, Gabb users decreased their time on social media from 5 hours/day to 1 hour/day* while other phone fast participants decreased their time on social media from 5 hours/day to 3.5 hours/day.

Students with Gabb phones had the space to make friends, connect with peers, and focus on the things that mattered the most to them.

*Social media was accessed via other devices since Gabb Phone Plus does not allow social media access.

Girl looking at phone on a pile of yellow books

Unfortunately (but unsurprisingly), many students reported picking up some old habits once they got their phones back. But 72% told us they did keep at least some of the positive habits they adopted during the fast. More than 1 in 4 (28%) reported limiting or deleting social media and 24% were limiting screen time even two months after the fast ended.

The impact was noticeable to faculty as well. One faculty member observed, “With Gabb phones, there was generally a more vibrant campus vibe; students seemed calmer, more reflective, and self-aware.”

In their own words

When we asked the kids open ended questions about their experience using a Gabb phone, the same themes continued to surface: 

  • Less dependence on their phone and better use of free time
  • Improved relationships, social skills, and in-person interactions
  • Improved mental health
  • Improved focus, productivity, and grades
  • Better sleep

Where do we go from here?

Gabb has never pretended to be a cure-all for the tech problems confronting families today. But this small study further supports a key belief we hold at Gabb: the right tech at the right time can play a huge role in helping kids develop healthier habits with devices, social media, and each other.

Connection is crucial and digital connection is no longer just a minor subset of the way we all interact with each. Kids need to learn how to do it right. With the right tools they can enjoy the benefits of technology and learn the digital skills they need, but without being overwhelmed by the dangers that exist.

Let us know

Ever tried a phone fast in your family? Let us know about your own experiences in the comments below.

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