Fitness trackers have proven to be more than a fad for adults seeking their 10,000 steps a day, and now a new wave of the devices are being marketed to kids. But are these personal tech devices a good option for children?
There are studies suggesting school-age children should walk upwards of 11,000 to 15,000 steps per day. However, it has been long established that kids should engage in active, outdoor play for an hour each day, says Dr. Jack Maypole, an education advisory board member at The Goddard School, a national preschool franchise. Keep in mind, most fitness trackers are better suited to tracking steps than logging hours on the playground. While they may not provide a complete picture of your child’s activity, they could be a fun way to see how many steps it takes to get to school or how far your family walked through the zoo.
Our Good Housekeeping Institute experts and engineers have tested dozens of popular adult fitness trackers over the past 10+ years for ease of use, battery life, accuracy, comfort, and more. While we haven’t tested kids’ fitness trackers or smartwatches specifically, our pros recommend looking for some specific features, including a reliable step counter, a strong battery life, a durable face, and at least some water protection. Fitness trackers for kids don’t need all the same bells and whistles as adult versions, but they should have the basics.
Why are fitness trackers useful for kids?
Fitness trackers for kids can help teach school-age children good exercise habits, especially in those who tend to be more sedentary, says Dr. Lisa Lewis, a board-certified pediatrician in Fort Worth, Texas. The catch? A fitness tracker should not be used unless a parent has carefully reflected on whether their child actually wants to use one . “A child should never be forced or persuaded to use an activity tracker,” says Lewis. “And a child should never be reprimanded for having a ‘bad exercise day.’”
There is also some concern around multi-function smartwatches, which can be distracting during class and pose a safety hazard if the child is zoned in on their wrist while walking. “If a child is going to wear an exercise tracker, I believe it should be just that — an exercise tracker,” says Lewis.
Here are the best fitness trackers you can buy for your kids in 2020:
vívofit Jr 2
This is the most popular kids’ fitness tracker on Amazon for good reason: It’s durable, has an impressive one-year battery life (great for forgetful kids!), and includes a game-like incentive feature that rewards active children with virtual coins. Once kids rack up the coins, they can redeem them for agreed-upon prizes. Kids can also challenge friends with their own Garmin trackers to timed step competitions.
We like that parents can use the compatible smartphone app to assign chores and schedule alerts. Plus, unlike many other models, it functions as a relatively sophisticated kid sleep tracker.
Fitbit devices always top our Lab tests, so we’re excited about this children’s version. Thanks to a streamlined design, high-quality LED face, and range of features that closely mirror that of an adult activity tracker, this is a great choice for older kids, including tweens or teens.
The device measures steps and active minutes, is water-resistant to 50 meters, and has a five-day battery life. It also has interactive elements like step competitions and in-app messaging, as well as sleep-tracking functionality, complete with bedtime reminders and silent alarms. Bonus: It works great whether your child has her own smartphone or not.
Kids Fitness Watch
The price reflects in the lack of features available on this kids’ activity tracker watch, but it’s a sacrifice many parents are willing to make for the educational and give-back benefits. When kids complete activity goals, they unlock rewards like therapeutic food packets that provide tangible goods to malnourished children around the world. A compatible mobile app includes videos that teach kids about the countries and cultures affected by their actions.
There’s no GPS or location-tracking, and data is only stored for 30 days. This can be a bonus for parents concerned about privacy, but you’ll sacrifice overall accuracy and the ability to see long-term activity trends.
KidiZoom Smartwatch DX2
This VTech device is more of a smartwatch than a fitness tracker, which makes it a good option for children who covet their parents’ Apple Watches. Though it does have a pedometer that counts steps and the capability to set movement challenges, the real focus is on the entertainment features.
We like that this smartwatch has integrated games, voice recording capabilities, plus a dual camera complete with fun filters. Still, it’s sweat- and water-resistant to keep up with kids’ more rugged lifestyles.
Even the youngest members of your family can get in on the fun, thanks to this introductory activity tracker and smartwatch. It doesn’t track steps like some of the other best fitness trackers for children, but it does offer 50 active challenges—like “pounce like a lion!” or “spin like a helicopter”—to help get toddlers and children under the age of seven moving more.
It also comes with parental controls that make it easy to set play times (there’s a lock mode that’s great for school or sleeping hours), challenges, and more. When it comes to aesthetic, the screen is colorful and fun, but admittedly a bit clunky for longtime wear.