In the age of technological advancements, the market for smartwatches has expanded tremendously. Smartwatches are not only popular among adults, but they are also becoming increasingly popular among children. With their ability to track physical activity, monitor heart rate, and connect to the internet, smartwatches have become an attractive device for parents to buy for their children. However, as a responsible parent, you may be wondering about the right age to introduce your child to a smartwatch. In this article, we will explore the appropriate age for kids to use a smartwatch, the benefits and drawbacks of smartwatches for kids, and how to choose the right smartwatch for your child.
Before we dive into the appropriate age to use a smartwatch for kids, let’s discuss why parents may consider purchasing one for their child. The most significant benefit of smartwatches is their ability to monitor a child’s physical activity. With childhood obesity on the rise, it’s important to encourage kids to stay active. Smartwatches can track a child’s daily steps, heart rate, and other physical activities, and provide a fun way to encourage kids to stay active.
Another benefit of smartwatches is that they can help parents stay connected with their children. Some smartwatches come with GPS tracking, allowing parents to monitor their child’s location. They can also be used to call and send messages, which can be helpful in emergency situations or when a child needs to contact their parent.
Now that we have explored the benefits of smartwatches for kids, let’s dive into the appropriate age to use them. While there is no definitive age for introducing smartwatches to kids, experts recommend waiting until children are at least 6 years old. At this age, children are more responsible and can handle the device better. Moreover, they can understand the basic features of the device and follow instructions, making it easier for them to use the watch.
It’s important to note that every child is different, and parents should consider their child’s maturity level before purchasing a smartwatch. If a child is not responsible enough to handle a smartwatch, it may be best to wait until they are older.
In addition to the benefits discussed earlier, smartwatches offer several advantages for kids. One significant advantage is that smartwatches can help kids stay organized. They can be used to set reminders and alarms, making it easier for kids to keep track of their daily activities.
Smartwatches can also provide a fun and interactive way for kids to learn. Some smartwatches come with educational games and apps that can help kids learn math, language, and science. This can be an excellent way to encourage kids to learn and develop new skills.
While smartwatches offer several benefits, they also have some drawbacks. One significant drawback is that they can be distracting. If a child is constantly checking their smartwatch for notifications, it can affect their concentration and productivity. This can be especially problematic for children who are still developing their attention span.
Another drawback of smartwatches is that they can be addictive. Kids may become obsessed with checking their smartwatch for new notifications or playing games, which can lead to excessive screen time.
If you decide to purchase a smartwatch for your child, it’s essential to choose the right one. Here are some tips to help you make the right choice:
Before giving your child a smartwatch, it’s essential to set ground rules. These rules can help ensure that your child uses the watch appropriately and safely. Here are some rules to consider:
We spent months with the 11 top products on the market, setting them up for our kids, testing their connectivity and various app features, monitoring our kids’ activity on them, and then noting their durability (a very key point for something that lives on a child’s wrist all day). Not every device lived to tell the tale. This list represents the best smartwatches we’ve tested, and we'll keep on testing new models and updating this list with our findings.
Of course, smartwatches aren’t right for every family or child, and Alper encourages asking questions such as why your child wants a smartwatch, what goals you have in acquiring one, and ongoing discussions about responsibilities and expectations surrounding owning this type of technology. Budget can also play a role, especially for kids who will soon upgrade to a smartphone. Basic smartwatches can be purchased starting at around $40, but there are also usually monthly wireless service costs.
Plus, she notes that a smartwatch can provide some of the conveniences of technology without the potential dangers of a smartphone . “A watch has a smaller interface, so it’s harder to generate content or consume content,” she points out. “There’s a degree of content risk that is lowered.”
There can be benefits to getting a smartwatch for your child, says Meryl Alper, associate professor in the Department of Communication Studies at Northeastern University. Those include location tracking, emergency contact abilities , and of course, being able to communicate with your child when they’re away from you.
In today’s world, it’s natural for parents to want to stay connected with their kids, even (and sometimes, especially) when they are at school . But for parents who aren’t quite ready to hand their child a smartphone that contains more technology than the rockets that sent man to the moon, a smartwatch for kids can be an excellent choice. And to help you with that choice, we tested most of the kids’ smartwatches on the market with our own children to find the best of the bunch.
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When we first tested this watch, it had several issues with a fast-draining battery and a tendency to inadvertently switch into school mode when it wasn’t supposed to, which meant the 10-year-old couldn’t contact his parents unless they saw that the mode was wrong. Fortunately, the issue seemed to be resolved after a software update (which also improved battery life). The watch face also endured some scratches on the glass right out of the gate, but a screen protector also seemed to help prevent further damage.
Setup is simple, but unlike some of the other watches that allow you to set specific destinations or boundaries, this watch enables “zones,” which can be pretty broad, especially in the city or close quarters. The location tracking, similarly, wasn’t as precise as other watches, meaning you couldn’t pinpoint exactly where your child was within a given city block, and it often showed our 10-year-old tester as being across the street from where he actually was. Another parent feature to be aware of: you have to open the Gizmo app in order to text your child’s watch; calling, however, can be done outside of the app. Our kid tester’s biggest complaint was that he couldn’t compose his own texts. Instead of resorting to preset texts, he often sends voice memos, which will eat up your data if you don’t have an unlimited plan. The watch does not connect to Wi-Fi.
The Gizmowatch 3 is a Verizon smartwatch that has some cool “smart” features, like the ability to set pictures you take as your background wallpaper and play games, including Tic-Tac-Toe. Our tester felt like this watch made a lot of sense if you’re already a Verizon user and want to communicate with children under age 10.
But Take Note: You’ll want to use this with an unlimited data plan, because it does not connect to Wi-Fi, and those video messages add up.
Why We Like It: You get full a camera, text and video messaging, voice and video calls, and games, for an affordable price.
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The watch has school mode capability, but since the watch is rather large on small wrists, our tester felt that it hit her desk when she was trying to write at her desk. Overall, our testers' favorite features were the alarm clock, the ability to send photos, and notifications for traveling outside of set zones.
To communicate with your child on this watch, you and any of their approved contacts will need to use the Xplora app and set up an account, which may be annoying, especially for less tech-savvy family members. Older kids may also get frustrated that they can only use prewritten texts, though they can also make calls or send voice messages instead. But the 8-year-old testing this did enjoy earning “coins” for every 1,000 steps she took, which she could then spend on games and content in the kid-friendly Activity Platform.
Upon setup, the box holds only a QR code in the way of instructions, and our tester did face a few difficulties navigating the website and customer service, which seemed to be largely non-existent. But overall, the watch and features were fairly intuitive to set up even without a lot of guidance. One additional challenge our tester ran into was that the watch only lets one parent be the primary “account” holder to see the child’s activity and communicate with them. In a two-parent family, the other parent had to be set up as just another contact.
The precise location tracking on the Xplora XGO3 watch is very impressive—our parent tester was able to see real-time movement of her child with her caregiver with refreshed location timestamps and the exact building address she was in was highlighted within the app. The location tracking is also automatically turned on upon watch activation (although our tester did not see a way to get alerts about location changes outside of preset zones).
But Take Note: Setup can be challenging and the manual is online-only.
Why We Like It: It has very precise and real-time location tracking for up to 72 hours.
However, parents can program the watch to emit reminders when it’s time for their child to do something, like feed the dog or do their homework. Battery life is also kid-friendly and can last about two full days without needing another charge.
The watch has built-in games and cameras for photos and videos. Kids can add stickers and frames after practicing their selfie skills—which is what our 6-year-old tester liked doing with his watch most. As far as usefulness goes, kids can text via preset messages with other watch users (they need to be paired), but there’s no call feature or ability to communicate with other devices.
VTech is a brand synonymous with combining technology and kid-friendly features, and this watch is exactly that. Some of the coolest features include being able to play movement games and two-player games like Tic-Tac-Toe with other DX3 watch wearers.
But Take Note: Users can only share preset messages with another paired DX3, and there’s no call feature or location tracking.
Why We Like It: It’s one of the most entertaining watches on our list if you want to offer your child something a little more exciting than emojis.
Calls were also spotty and didn’t always go through, but text messaging did seem solid. A major plus of the watch was that messages from the child to the parent would show up directly on the parent’s phone in their regular messaging app, not a separate app.
When connectivity isn’t an issue, the watch allows for GPS live location tracking. It also lets grownups set boundaries the child can travel within, notifying the adult when the child has left the set area. You can also set school mode as a one-time function or have it repeat at a certain time every day, which our parent tester did note is inconvenient if you forget to shut it off when not needed.
Despite having “solid” T-Mobile service, our parent tester also faced some frustration in not getting full access to her child’s location when he wore it, especially at school. In comparison to her older daughter’s iPhone with precise tracking, this watch did not deliver accurate tracking in all areas as promised.
Thanks to heavy use of features like games and voice-changing, our testers noticed that the battery can get drained fairly quickly on the watch. The screen and bands were both very kid-friendly and scratch-and-wear resistant.
Our 8-year-old tester did find this watch a little on the younger-looking side, which as we all know, is a big deal in the second grade. But it still had enough appealing features—like a camera, interchangeable colored bands, a voice-changing feature, and built-in games—to keep him wearing it. Unlike many of the watches we tested, this has a fully functioning keyboard, so kids can compose their own text messages, emojis included, without having to rely on preset messages.
But Take Note: The battery drains quickly if you’re using all features, and we experienced spotty connectivity for location tracking.
Why We Like It: It has a keyboard function for text messages, and there’s also a voice changer—which may not be totally necessary but still deserves mention!?
The watch does not need to connect to your cell phone network and instead relies on a subscription to Garmin’s LTE network , which is $10 a month or $100 for the whole year.
We found the battery lasted well for a full day, but the charging cord is Garmin-specific, so you’ll be adding yet another charging cord to your household. The watch is also ideal for active kids because as is par the course for Garmin products, the watch is very durable and waterproof up to 5 meters.
The Garmin has a helpful “Live Assistance” safety feature that can be enabled by your child—once activated, any pre-approved contacts in the watch will receive a message with a LiveTrack link to your child's live location. We also appreciated that you can set location boundaries so that the watch alerts parents or caregivers when a child enters or exits a boundary.
If you’re looking for the basics, the Garmin Bounce offers voice messaging and text messages (no calls or video) and has preset messages kids can choose to send to their contacts, making communication seamless. It also tracks activity, and our kid tester loved being able to see their sports “stats.”
But Take Note: It does not enable phone calls or video.
Why We Like It: The Garmin is durable, waterproof, and doesn’t require switching phone providers.
After four days of wear, the battery only needed to be charged once, and according to the company, the watch can last an additional four days (eight total) if you don’t use the animated clock face. Plus, it’s waterproof up to 50 meters—that’s 164 feet for the non-metric system users among us.
To up the fun factor, the Fitbit Ace 3 has an animated clock face and fitness challenges parents can opt into for their child. Adults can also follow along with their stats. We found our child tester loved getting their steps in so much, they wound up racing around the yard at the end of the night.
If your child just wants to feel tech-savvy but has no need for a fully connected smartwatch, the Fitbit Ace 3 is an activity tracker (that also tracks sleep) that truly works to motivate kids. It connects via Bluetooth to Android and iOS devices.
But Take Note: This is an activity tracker only, so you won’t get any smartwatch features like calling or texting.
Why We Like It: For simple activity tracking, the Fitbit Ace makes staying active all day fun, with badges to earn and parent-approved fitness challenges your child can join.
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The battery life of this watch is very user-dependent, so if your child is actively using a lot of features on the watch, like games, music, or the camera, it can drain the battery faster. For our tester, average use lasted a full day, however.
Our parent tester had some issues with getting the watch set up with his network provider, and the app has a bit of a learning curve. Once it was all set to go, his daughter loved using her watch, getting particularly excited about closing her “activity rings” (time spent moving, exercising, and standing). Her dad liked using it to see where she was at any given time. One thing she longed for that an Apple watch doesn’t provide is a camera.
To connect an SE with cellular for a child without a phone, you’ll use Apply Family Sharing . This gives you parental control over the apps they download, lets you share contacts with them (although you can also add unlimited approved contacts outside of Apple as well), and allows you to set up Apple Pay for individual members. All their apps and data will sync into iCloud. Apple Watch wearers can also communicate with other Apple Watches via the Walkie-Talkie app, which works via Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, or cellular connections.
Be aware that the more inexpensive versions of the SE (starting at $249) only connect via Wi-Fi or when paired with a nearby phone. The models with their own cellular connectivity—what you’ll need if you plan on getting this for a child who does not have a phone—are about $70 more.
Older kids will appreciate the sleek and recognizable style of the Apple Watch and its many features, and as a big bonus, it’s fully waterproof for swimming. It has all the functionality of other smartwatches on our list and a few extras—for instance, the Apple Watch can auto-detect if your child is involved in a crash or fall and is not responsive, and it will call 911 automatically (when it’s synced with a phone or is the version with cellular connectivity).
But Take Note: Because it’s made for adults, it’s not as intuitive or simple for younger kids to use. Also, the version with cellular connectivity costs significantly more than the one made to sync with phones.
Why We Like It: The AppleWatch SE is the same smartwatch adults can use, so it has all the same functionality and convenience of Apple products.
Our Testing Process
We tested 11 leading kids’ smartwatches in a real-world setting with Parents staff and their children. We ensured the children were the primary users of the watches and had them go about their normal daily lives to test the watches in a variety of settings. For instance, they used them while playing, walking to and from school, at someone else’s house, and at school when appropriate.
Parents and caregivers were asked to evaluate how easy or difficult the watch was to set up and use. They observed how the watch worked for communicating with other people, such as grandparents or friends. They tested the watch's safety features, such as location tracking. And they observed the functionality of parental control features such as “school mode.”
We also tested the fun features of each smartwatch, including games, texting, sending voice memos, and taking pictures. We observed the watches’ battery life and reported on durability after one month of use, then again after three months.
Along with real-world testing, we spoke with technology and communication experts to gather their input on evaluating and choosing a smartwatch for kids: We spoke to the following experts:
Other Notable Smartwatches for Kids
Of all the smartwatches for kids that we tested, we felt that the following choices could receive honorable mention, but ultimately weren’t in our top picks.
Factors to Consider When Buying a Smartwatch for Kids
Dr. Moreno notes that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has a smartphone-readiness tool that families can use to help approach the conversation about introducing technology. And while the quiz is phone-specific, she says it can be adapted to help you decide if your child is ready for a smartwatch.
She suggests considering the following questions:
In addition to evaluating your own child’s readiness and needs, there are some additional factors to consider in choosing the best smartwatch for your child.
Connectivity and Compatibility
Connectivity was a huge factor in our testing, so it’s definitely an aspect for parents to consider. If you’re in a well-connected area, it might not be as big of a concern, but for more rural areas, knowing the watch will work without needing Wi-Fi can be vital. Most child watches also work by connecting with a parent’s phone, so check that it's compatible with your own device too.
Compatibility with your child’s lifestyle is also a helpful consideration, Dzwil notes. For instance, larger-size watches could impede some sports or activities.
Ease of Use
Convenience may be at the top of the list for most parents when it comes to getting their child a smartwatch, Dzwil points out, so it’s important that any watch you choose be fairly easy to operate—for both you and your child.
Make sure your child actually knows how to use the features you want them to use, says Apler. For instance, do they know how to contact you and call 911 in an emergency—and do they know how to avoid accidentally calling 911?
“I would think about its intended uses and if you’ve discussed them with your child,” Apler adds. “You need to set expectations for the kinds of uses and make sure they are in sync.”
Alper also recommends ensuring both you and your child know how to use any additional features you want enabled, such as payment apps and school mode.
Some of the most helpful parental controls that Alper recommends are:
“In all cases, parents should set the watch to require parent approval of any downloads or only allow downloads from a parent device,” adds Dzwil.
Most smartwatches for kids offer some form of GPS tracking. As your child gets older, Alper notes that parents may want the option to set tracking on an individual basis, depending on the circumstances.
If you want the ability to see where your child has been, look for a watch with stored history as well, and be sure to know how long the history is stored.
Games, activities, and a camera may be fun for kids, but they’re probably not the main feature you want to look for in a watch. Dr. Moreno notes that the younger the child, the more “kid-friendly” the watch may appear, but she points out that smartwatches are actually less likely to appeal to a young kid. “That’s the age when their imaginations get going,” she says. “Part of me thinks you might be better off sitting down with some paper and creating a pretend watch.”
The features you do want, on the other hand, are communication. How easily can you and your child communicate on the watch? Is it text-only or can they send video memos or messages? And consider how you can text or respond back to them: Some watches only let you reply within an app, while others will relay messages directly to your phone’s regular messaging app.
Alper also points out that kid-friendly features that reward activity and step counting could help make some kids “excited about understanding their data in a healthy way. It can be motivating,” she adds.
If you have an active kid, a young athlete, or just a child who will forget to take off their watch when they’re showering, you’re going to want to make sure you choose something durable and waterproof, such as a Garmin or SpaceTalk smartwatch.
Price and Monthly Costs
Price and monthly costs are important considerations, especially if your child runs the risk of losing the smartwatch and/or if you plan on upgrading your child to a smartphone relatively soon. Some of our testers noted that given some of the watch’s limitations and their child’s ages, they would have preferred a more budget-friendly option that they’d use for just a short period of time.
“There are several brands that offer a less expensive option which could be a great opportunity for a child to develop that responsibility on a device that is not horribly expensive to replace,” Dzwil points out.
How to Use Smartwatches Safely
One of the big considerations parents and caregivers should make, says Dr. Moreno, is that a smartwatch can be a first step toward connection and technology without the full overwhelm of a phone.
The AAP has studied tweens and found that parents are mistakenly giving phones to tweens who don’t even want them yet. “It kind of got handed to them,” Dr. Moreno said.
So before you automatically assume your child wants a phone, it could be helpful to talk to them about what they actually want and discuss if their “wish list” could be met with a smartwatch instead for the time being.
Go by the child, not their age
Dr. Moreno assures parents and caregivers that there’s “not an age or a grade” that makes a child ready for a smartwatch. Instead, every child is different. “The decisions should be milestone based instead of age-based,” she notes.
Along with the practical aspect of being able to be physically responsible for a smartwatch— “Can they keep a pair of gloves through the winter without losing them?” Dr. Moreno asks—she adds that it’s important to assess your child’s emotional maturity in regulating their own emotions with online communication. For instance, how are they able to filter the information they have access to?
Dzwil also believes the decision-making process behind giving a child a smartwatch is individualized but urges parents to choose features that may be age-appropriate.
“I do believe providing children with a smartwatch with all features at a young age (younger than 12) can be overstimulating and potentially lead to unhealthy behaviors,” he says. “If you plan to introduce a child younger than 12 to a smartwatch, I would recommend starting with a basic model and gradually build to more features as that child continues to mature.”
Have a conversation first
Dzwil points out that having a piece of connectivity technology is also a good opportunity to have discussions about when it’s appropriate to use the technology to connect. For instance, one of our parent testers found that after getting her daughter the Xplora XGO3, her daughter excitedly called her several times during the school day to show off her new watch to her friends.
Having a preliminary conversation about when the watch can be used—as well as features like school mode or programmable no-call times—can help your child learn to use the watch appropriately.
Dr. Moreno seconds the importance of hashing out expectations ahead of time, especially with younger kids. “You need to navigate what the expectations will be. The upfront work saves a lot of work later,” she notes.
Have clear rules and expectations
Speaking of expectations, Dr. Moreno adds that parents and caregivers should clearly outline all rules, regulations, and expectations surrounding a smartwatch, or any piece of technology for that matter, ahead of time.
“Kids need to know what they have to do to follow those rules and be granted more independence,” she points out.
Know what’s being tracked
Alper also stresses the importance of parents understanding that smartwatches can collect data. “You need to understand what kind of data is being collected about you,” she explains. “You need to be able to know about privacy settings and location trackers. You need to have privacy discussions with your child.”
“Privacy is a major issue,” Dzwil agrees. He adds that there have been reports that some smartwatch manufacturers don’t follow safety protocols, so hackers can easily seize control of a child’s watch and gain access to personal data including the child’s location, so be sure you know exactly what safeguards are in place before purchasing a watch.
Acknowledge the positives
It is OK to acknowledge the positives and potential benefits a smartwatch could bring to your family. Dzwil explains that safety is a big benefit and knowing that you can track your child’s location and that they can call 911 if needed are helpful reassurances.
“Smartwatches also serve as an educational tool for children, teaching them both responsibility and independence,” he points outs. For instance, kids must care for their watch, remember to charge it overnight, and keep track of it. “Additionally, being able to communicate on their own gives the child a sense of self-sufficiency and added independence,” he notes.
And of course, smartwatches can serve as what Dzwill calls a “wonderful addition” to empowering kids to take charge of their own health with their ability to count steps, distance, calories, heart rate, and sleep patterns.
Model healthy tech habits
“Setting boundaries with technology for your family can be a consistent struggle, but it is critical to build healthy habits,” adds Dzwill. He encourages families to set a good example with their own digital habits. For instance, don’t use your cell phone or other devices during family time, establish tech-free zones in the house, and communicate in person whenever possible to help your child understand the boundaries of technology and when they should and should not use it.
“Don’t text to them upstairs,” he says. “Help them not to become technology-dependent and build healthy habits early on.”
Your Questions, Answered
Why should I get my child a smartwatch?
Some of the benefits of smartwatches for kids include location tracking, being able to communicate with your child in different settings when they’re away from home, emergency calls, and allowing them a chance to interact with family and friends, all without needing a phone. (With a kids’ smartwatch, they won’t have access to things like social media and web browsing that they’re not ready for.)
Can I get my kid a smartwatch without a phone?
Absolutely. The beauty of a smartwatch for kids is that some can fully function without an accompanying smartphone needed.
Do I need a phone plan for a kids’ smartwatch?
Not always. Some kids’ smartwatches can work with an existing phone plan (to which you may have to add a line), but others can work on their own SIM card or plan. There are also kids’ smartwatches that work with Wi-Fi only.
Who We Are
Chaunie Brusie, RN, BSN, is a registered nurse and a mom of five children ranging from teens to a preschooler. She’s tried just about every gadget and gizmo out there in an effort to make her life as a parent easier (no shame), and she’s a big fan of smartwatches that let her kids feel cool while secretly keeping them in touch with her.
Kristi Pahr is a freelance writer specializing in health, mental health, and parenting. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Washington Post, InStyle, Good Housekeeping, Real Simple, Men's Health, and many others.
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