Save 50% on a subscription and get a free ticket to our Creator Economy Summit

March 25, 2022 11:38 AM PDT

Brooke Shannon, a mother of three in Austin, Tex., was traumatized by what she witnessed one day in 2017 while driving by her local middle school. She saw dozens of tweens standing around with their heads down, phones up, glazed eyes staring into their devices: alone together. “I went home and emailed 20 moms,” Shannon said, posing a heretical question: What if we kept phones away from kids until eighth grade? What if we all simply…waited?

She called her idea “Wait Until 8th.” It was hatched out of desperation a decade after the birth of the iPhone. A few months later, the world’s then-richest man Bill Gates admitted that he and then-wife Melinda had kept smartphones from their kids until they were 14. Then The Atlantic published Has the Smartphone Destroyed a Generation?”—a generation the article’s author dubbed “iGen.”

What had started as a simple idea within one Texas community “spread like wildfire,” recalled Shannon—and became a movement. Run entirely by volunteers, Wait Until 8th garnered media attention from outlets including NPR and the Today show. At its peak it collected tens of thousands of online signatures from parents in all 50 states, who promised to hold off on giving iPhones to their children—to “let kids be kids a little longer,” or at least until their frontal lobes further developed.

Dana Tuttle, a physician and mother in Marin County, Calif., remembered hearing about Wait Until 8th and weighing whether to commit her child, then eight, to the pledge. “It was such a depressing, inevitable feeling as a parent,” said Tuttle, who often found herself eating breakfast, looking out the window, “and watching all these 10-, 11-, 12- year-olds walking to school with their big backpacks, their arms extended, staring into their phones.”

“I didn’t know when exactly was the right time [to introduce phones],” said Tuttle. “I just knew waiting sounded good.” So she banded together with Dabney Ingram, a local mom with a doctorate in education research, and in 2018 they launched ScreenSense—“to help families and their communities teach healthy tech use to children.”

Suddenly, whatever sort of phone-rollout strategy parents adopted, there were options. The efforts signalled a growing awareness that maybe this smartphone thing wasn’t such a smart idea after all. It was a coast-to-coast wakeup call, led in large part by moms—mothers against smartphones, the Mothers Against Drunk Driving of the 21st century.

The tech hubs of San Francisco and Austin didn’t suddenly turn into Amish country, but parents like Shannon and Tuttle started noticing a subtle change. Suddenly, not every fifth grader in Marin was getting a phone for graduation. Communities were having conversations. Schools were hosting speakers. Families were at least establishing rules, if not always following them. “We were making progress,” said Tuttle. “I felt heartened. There was a noticeable cultural shift.”

And then Covid-19 arrived.

Get access to exclusive coverage
Read deeply reported stories from the largest newsroom in tech.
Latest Articles
 
The Weekend Crypto AR/VR
“I Felt Like I’ve Been Taking Crazy Pills”: After a Meltdown, Crypto Pros Assess the Damage
“I Felt Like I’ve Been Taking Crazy Pills”: After a Meltdown, Crypto Pros Assess the Damage
Hi, welcome to your Weekend! Feeling numb to the latest Elon Musk scandal, I went looking for another celebrity feud to obsess over for awhile. There was no way I was wading into the toxic cesspool that is Amber vs. Johnny. And I could care less about Ted Cruz’s opinion of Pete Davidson.But the Wagatha Christie trial? Oh, my friends, this is the stuff. The case introduces us to two warring...
Latest Briefs
 
Amazon Tests Program to Deliver Goods From Shopping Malls
Google Compromises on App Store Payments Pending Lawsuits
SE Asia Food Delivery and Ride Hailing Firm Grab Sees Rebound
Stay in the know
Receive a summary of the day's top tech news—distilled into one email.
Access on the go
View stories on our mobile app and tune into our weekly podcast.
Join live video Q&A’s
Deep-dive into topics like startups and autonomous vehicles with our top reporters and other executives.
Enjoy a clutter-free experience
Read without any banner ads.
Apple's Tim Cook (clockwise from top left), Bob Iger, Al Gore and Mike Rockwell. Images by Bloomberg, Shutterstock. Art by Mike Sullivan.
Exclusive Facebook Apple
The Inside Story of Why Apple Bet Big on a Mixed-Reality Headset
In 2016, Apple’s board of directors gathered inside one of its buildings in Cupertino, Calif., for a glimpse into the company’s future.
Elizabeth Spaulding, CEO of Stitch Fix. Photo by Bloomberg.
Exclusive E-commerce
How Stitch Fix Fumbled a Make-or-Break Pivot
Stitch Fix planned to revive sales growth by turning its original strategy on its head. Inside the company, there were warning signs that the effort would struggle.
(L-R) Jonathan Ive, Johny Srouji, Dan Riccio and Tim Cook. Photos by Bloomberg; Apple. Art by Mike Sullivan
Exclusive Apple AR/VR
Behind the Apple Design Decisions That Bogged Down Its Mixed-Reality Headset
Apple’s executives had a critical design decision to make about the company’s riskiest product in years.
Data Point Entertainment
Netflix Cancellations Rise Among Long-Standing Subscribers
Netflix is losing its grip on long-standing subscribers. New data show that people who have been subscribers to Netflix for more than three years accounted for a significantly greater share of cancellations in the first quarter than they did two years earlier.
(L-R) Cameo CEO and founder Steven Galanis, and Cameo co-founders Devon Townsend and Martin Blencowe. Photo by Getty. Art by Mike Sullivan.
Exclusive Venture Capital Startups
At Cameo, Boom Times Give Way to Sharp Sales Slowdown
By the beginning of last year, six-year-old startup Cameo was on a tear. Pandemic-induced lockdowns in 2020 had spurred demand for the personalized video messages celebrities sell on its website and app.
Sundar Pichai, Mark Zuckerberg and Rupert Murdoch. Photos by AP; Bloomberg. Art by Mike Sullivan
Opinion Policy
Meta and Alphabet Should Get Used to Paying for News
If you’re concerned about dreadful trends in the journalism business, such as mass layoffs and private-equity takeovers, then you’ll probably like the scheme Australia devised last year to funnel funding from platforms to traditional media.