Do Kids Need Fitness Wearables?

How, why, and whether to buy a fitness tracker for your child

Father and daughter using smartwatch
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Fitness wearables are hot for adults, and many kids want to get in on the action too. But will a tracker really help your child be more active, or it will it be a pricey fitness fail? Figure it out with these tips.

6 Reasons to Buy Fitness Wearables for Kids

The arguments can be pretty convincing. (Maybe you've heard them from a kid who's already angling for an expensive piece of technology.) No matter where your child is starting out—super sedentary, super fit, or somewhere in between—a wearable fitness tracker can offer a lot of benefits.

  1. More active time. Obviously, this one is the biggie. If your child is motivated by competitiveness, caretaking (as in the LeapBand or the Tep app), virtual or real-life prizes, a love of data, or the ability to help others (the Unicef Kid Power Band), you can find a wearable that provides the corresponding kind of encouragement.
  2. 360-degree role modeling. Monkey see, monkey do; so when kids see their parents using a fitness tracker, they want to do the same. And it works in reverse too; if you and your child have matching wearables, you can inspire each other. Once you're equipped, you'll compete, compare notes, and work together to add steps or activity points to your day.
  3. Game-ified exercise. Fitness is more fun when it feels like a game. And for some kids, a wearable is all it takes to turn everyday activity into amusement.
  4. Opened eyes. A fitness tracker can offer real insight into your child's current activity level. She might be surprised to realize she's only taking 2,000 steps per day, for example, or that a vigorous game of soccer nets her a whole pile of activity points.
  1. Digital download. Many kids like, and are used to, seeing information digitally and keeping track of data. They want to have streaks in Snapchat, they can see their progress in math on an online platform, and their video games log their high scores. Fitness wearables offer some of the same data capabilities.
  1. Fitness feedback. Your child might not realize what a big difference some small changes could make. He might be inspired to start walking to school, or climb stairs instead of taking the elevator, once he's tracking his activity. Or he might make a bigger change, like taking up a new sport, when he sees how much it increases his fitness level.

Before You Buy a Wearable Fitness Tracker for Your Child

Fitness wearables do have some drawbacks, especially when kids use them. Be aware of these questions, concerns, and drawbacks before making a purchase.

What about privacy? Many fitness trackers have an online community aspect. That's why kids under 13 aren't supposed to be using most versions of the popular FitBit, for example. So be aware that this is something you might need to disable or monitor.

Is it worth the price? It's hard to know for sure if your child will really use a fitness device until he has it. But one small research study found that kids are most likely to consistently wear a tracker that's comfortable, fits well, has features they like, and is waterproof.

But remember, a wearable can be pretty tiny and easy to lose, so keep that in mind when you're shopping.

Will it work? That depends on your goals. If your child needs to lose weight, remember that a fitness wearable won't be an instant win. It will still take a commitment to making changes. And if your child just doesn't respond well to monitoring, then this might not be the right method for him. But if you know he'll respond well to some of the motivators listed above, it could be a valuable tool. Just make sure that any goals you set are realistic. It could be discouraging to your child if he's starting out at a few thousand steps a day and immediately wants to quadruple that number!

Source:

Schaefer SE, Van Loan M, German JB. A Feasibility Study of Wearable Activity Monitors for Pre-Adolescent School-Age Children. Preventing Chronic Disease. 2014;11:130262.

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