Fitness trackers work for many kids, but not all

Fitness trackers work for many kids, but not all

Some pediatricians recommend wearable devices, claiming they can improve fitness routines. (Image: AdobeStock)

Energetic children circle around their parents. Handheld devices can count the number of steps that enter these circles.

Depending on the model, fitness trackers can measure the steps a child walks and the miles they cycle, while monitoring their heart rate, body temperature and other vital health signs. More importantly, the devices can inspire kids to reach their daily goals of moving more often.

Keep in mind that a recent study on the use of fitness clothing by adolescents observes that there is not much medical research on the impact of technology on adolescents and young children. And the tech companies that make them have only recently started marketing them to young children. Nevertheless, some pediatricians recommend wearables, claiming they help improve fitness routines.

Your child or teen might ask for one. But before buying a device, Abigail Seibert, PhDpsychologist at Boston Children’s Optimal Wellness for Life (OWL) Programadvises you to consider some disadvantages and advantages first.

Possible disadvantages

Your answers to these questions should reveal whether a fitness tracker is appropriate right now or whether the idea is best shelved, says Seibert.

  • Will a fitness tracker distract your child, especially if they’re already spending time on other electronic devices?
  • Does your child only want one because their friends have them?
  • Is your child at risk of breaking or losing the laptop?
  • Will your child use technology without a parent or sibling also tracking their fitness, which could prevent your child from being as engaged and losing interest?

If your child has messy eating or exercise habits, consult with their pediatrician or therapist to see if a fitness tracker would be the right tool in their care plan.

A young boy throws a soccer ball at an adult, who is crouched on one knee on a wide expanse of grass, as the sun sets behind him through a row of trees.
Cabin, cabin! Fitness trackers can measure the steps a child walks and the miles they cycle, while monitoring vital signs of their health. (Image: AdobeStock)

Insured benefits

If the time seems like the right time, there are benefits to consider:

  • Trackers can be affordable. Some wearable fitness devices can be priced as low as $25, and those with a simple analog pedometer can only cost a few dollars. Sophisticated devices can cost several hundred dollars.
  • Some fitness trackers are simple devices and only offer basic movement metrics, like how many steps a person walks each day. More advanced garments can be customized for more complex movements and vital signs of health during activities such as sports, martial arts or dance.
  • Children react to technology. Many devices can show your child’s activity habits in easy-to-read graphs. The data will illustrate how they can loosen up or jump in exercise regimens and encourage them to modify their activities if necessary. They will likely react to these prompts.
  • Wearable devices track more than activity; they also assess inactivity. You will be able to see if your child moves little at school or at home.
  • When parents wear one and get the whole family involved, it can be easier for kids to set and achieve fitness goals.
  • Technology can be a boost in getting them, and you can have fun with new activity adventures, like playing kickball at a local playground, hiking up a small mountain, or kayaking on a gentle river.

Parameters make the difference
Make sure privacy settings are easy to use and let you manage data and apps, as well as voice and text conversations, so only authorized people have access.
Determine if you can control all settings for young children.
Decide if you want to enable GPS location tracking.
Make sure Bluetooth only pairs with known devices.
You can use the settings to limit the time your child spends on the device, which is useful when they are already using other electronic devices.

Have fun and reach your fitness goals

Children need physical activity. The US Department of Health and Human Services recommends children get at least 60 minutes of daily physical activity. The OWL program and New Balance Foundation Center for Obesity Prevention at Boston Children’s further encourages children to exercise vigorously for 20 to 30 minutes during those 60 minutes, at least three times a week.

Even if your child isn’t wearing an activity tracker, you still need to encourage them to move. If you’re out of ideas, especially in the cold of winter, the center offers a ‘Fit Kit Circuit’ of exercises that kids can do indoors or outdoors. Read the Circuit Fit Kit step-by-step guide.

Sometimes your child will move less on weekends and holidays than on school or camp days, Seibert says. If they get enough exercise for several days, those few “free” days won’t hurt them.

Remember to make exercise a fun family activity, even if it means dancing in the living room or walking around the neighborhood. Set challenges that you and your child can complete together. Small weekly goals are a way to achieve more over time. Having fun with your child while exercising will allow your family to focus on the quality of movement, not the numbers.

Learn how the Optimal Wellness for Life (OWL) Program improves children’s health.