Do Kids Need Wearable Technology?
From the recently announced Apple Watch, to the popular Fitbit activity tracker, ‘wearables’ seems to be the next big thing in technology. If wearable tech makes you think of the Casio calculator watch and the old school pedometer, think again. Today’s wearable technology does a lot more, from tracking every calorie you burn, to keeping you connected at all times to your social networks.
There’s wearable tech for your face (hello, Google Glass) and a whole slew of bracelets and clip-ons that track your activity, calories burned, and even your sleep cycle. There’s a wearable that reminds you not to slouch, and smartwatches and smart jewelry that can notify you of messages and social activity.
With enough options for adults that they can be covered head to toe in flashing, buzzing devices, tracking and quantifying their every movement, developers are now turning to a younger demographic. But with more companies launching wearables aimed at children, and even newborns, it begs the question if all this tech is really necessary, or healthy.
Wearables for Overprotective Parents?
Many of the devices available for kids are designed primarily for safety. These devices let parents track the locations of their preschool and elementary age children, and a few come equipped with the ability to make and receive (some) phone calls. This includes LG’s KizON wristband (pictured below), which includes GPS tracking and a feature that lets parents and kids to call each other. The Tinitell (pictured above) is another wristband device with similar functionality, and these are just two in a growing marketplace.
Then there are the devices for parents of infants. These wearables combine a baby monitor with an activity tracker, tracking a child’s heartbeat, sleeping patterns, movement, body temperature, the noise level in the room, and other factors. Sproutling is one such soon-to-be-released device which is worn on the baby’s ankle. It takes this data a step further and can predict how long your baby is likely to sleep and when they might wake up. Mimo, a similar device, attaches to a baby’s onesie and can provide much of the same data, as well as tracking breathing and sleeping position, alerting you if the baby rolls over. The device can even let you listen in on the child from an app on your phone, wherever you are.
The makers of these devices say that GPS trackers and smart baby monitors give parents peace of mind. According to one article: “Even though most statistics show that rates of violent crime against children have declined significantly over the last few decades, and that abductions are extremely rare, it’s difficult for some parents to get over the fear of letting their children wander out into the world. A GPS tracker can help parents conquer that anxiety…”
Certainly, if you’ve ever had your kid wander off in the grocery store or another public place, it might be easy to see the value of a device that let’s you instantly see where your child is with the push of a button. And if you’re not quite ready to buy your child their first phone, but still want them to be able to call in an emergency, the call-enabled wearables might be an attractive, and affordable, option.
Still, other experts argue that tracking your child’s location and your baby’s every movement is overprotective, and that GPS tracking kids, especially older ones raises concerns.
“The reality is that children also need private time,” says one child psychiatrist. “Parents need to balance keeping their children safe, but also allowing them to grow and develop.”
Others argue that too much information, like all your infant’s vital signs, could make new parents more worried, instead of putting them at ease. According to one article,”instead of relying on first-person observations or their own instincts, parents could use devices as a crutch. The promise of solving problems with enough data can also be misleading.”
One writer questioned whether the peace of mind is worth the privacy lost. “What sounds like a lot of progress for parenting also means handing a digital record of your baby over to an iPhone app. Are the benefits worth that?”
Can Wearable Technology Keep Kids Healthy and Help Them Learn?
Finally, a few new devices are aimed at play and learning. Earlier this year, VTech launched what they called “the world’s first smartwatch for kids,” the Kidizoom. The watch lets kids take photos and videos, add filters and effects, and play several “mini learning games.” It also includes digital and analog clocks and a timer and alarm, which VTech says can help kids learn to tell time.
The LeapBand, from LeapFrog, the makers of popular kid-friendly tablets and other educational toys, takes a different approach to the wearable trend. It’s an activity tracker worn on the wrist which encourages kids to move and engage in active play. This earns them points, which “unlocks a tamagotchi-style virtual pet.” Parents can track kids’ activity and set challenges for them via the accompanying app or website. The Squord activity tracker is aimed at older kids, but is based on the same concept, essentially “gamifying” movement and exercise.
With these types of devices still so new, the educational value remains to be seen. Research shows that kids are getting too much screentime, but we also know that educational games and media can provide great benefits to kids. But even if the devices can provide real educational value, with children already glued to so many screens, do they really need another one right at the end of their arm?
And of course, we know that obesity is a growing problem for children, and that many kids don’t get the exercise they need. But can a device that is essentially gamifying something that’s already a game (play) keep kids engaged, and more importantly, help them to establish healthy habits? Activity trackers for adults, like the Jawbone and Fitbit seem to provide the motivation many adults need to get active, but we’ll have to wait and see whether the same will be true for kids.
We’d love to hear from some parents! What do you think about wearable tech for kids? Would you buy any of these devices for your own child? Do you wish you’d had a “smart baby monitor” when your kids were younger? Tell us your thoughts on this trend in the comments.
Ashley MacQuarrie began writing professionally more than ten years ago and has covered education, technology, current events, pop culture, and other topics. A former homeschooler, she studied English and Film & New Media, graduating with a bachelor's degree from San Diego State University. Ashley has classroom experience working with children who have autism and other special needs. She has also tutored students from kindergarten through college and taught English to teens and adults at a language school in London.