Kids’ wearables: a parent’s must-have or a safety hazard?

06.11.2018
6 min.

Wearable technology has skyrocketed in recent years driven by the global consumer trend towards healthy living. People are increasingly using smartwatches and other connected accessories to monitor health metrics.

In the United States, wearables are most popular among adults aged 25 to 34, with 31% of them using smart accessories or clothing at least once a month.

Children and adolescents under 18 are active wearable users as well, which is not surprising given that kids today are more tech-savvy than their parents. According to CСS Insights, the number of children’s smartwatches shipped in the world has grown from 6.6 million in 2015 to 31.5 million in 2018.

However, there’s a controversy over kids’ wearables. While some say wearable technology helps parents monitor their children’s well-being, others believe that it poses a serious safety threat. Let’s listen to both sides.

Arguments for kids’ wearables

Location tracking

Keeping track of children is the primary motivator to use kids’ wearables: 87% of parents claim that wearable technology with GPS tracking helps them monitor their children and keep them safe. Unlike smartphones, wearables are always on a child, which makes it difficult to lose them. Some models don’t only allow parents to see the child’s location on a map but also offer geo-fencing. With this feature, parents can set up virtual barriers and receive immediate alerts if the child leaves the area within them.

Other features include voice/video calling and an SOS button to let children quickly get in contact with parents in case of emergency. Most of GPS watches have dedicated mobile apps that display real-time data from the watch, giving peace of mind to parents.

Health and activity tracking

Child obesity is the pressing problems of our time: 1 in 5 school age children in the United States are overweight, being at high risk of having diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma, sleep disorders, and other health issues. Children today are less active since they spend too much time watching TV or playing computer games. Wearables for kids can track the physical activity of the child during the day and help to develop long-term healthy habits: do exercises, drink water, eat right, brush teeth, and sleep well. For example, gamified activity trackers with motion sensors and a pedometer may encourage children to move more in the form of games, giving rewards and recognition for each achievement.

Moreover, wearables help parents monitor their children’s key biometrics (heartbeat, skin temperature, blood oxygen, perspiration level, etc.) through sensors and detect unusual patterns with the help of machine learning. If a problem is detected, parents receive an alert and recommendations on how to deal with the children’s illness or stress. Wearable sensors are particularly useful for parents who have infants to make sure they’re fine when asleep.

Parental control

Kids’ wearables go far beyond improved health and safety. They can also be used to monitor what children do on the internet. Parental control functions are broadly available in kid-friendly wearables and allow adults to:

  • Monitor incoming and outgoing calls/messages
  • Block unknown numbers to be confident that the child communicates only with people they know
  • Restrict game and internet time, especially during school or sleep hours
  • Block certain websites, such as those with explicit content
  • Manage apps the child uses
  • Manage the child’s purchasing permissions

The control function helps parent protect their children. However, parents should use it wisely giving the child enough freedom to feel comfortable.

Games and entertainment

There are no good kid’s devices without entertainment functions, and wearables are no exception. Leading wearable manufacturers integrate VR and other technologies to make it fun for kids to use them. One example is the Moff Band, a slap-on bracelet that allows children to play Pac-Man using their arms instead of a gamepad. Additionally, it will play different sound effects—air drums, guitar, ninja swords—depending on the child’s gestures.

Edutainment is another important function of wearables. For instance, there’s the Jumpy smartwatch that offers children a wide range of fun yet educational features. It is packed with pre-loaded educational gaming apps and interactive stories to listen to, which encourages kids’ learning and creativity. Parents can send reminders and messages to their children to make education a fun activity.

Arguments against kids’ wearables

Security flaws and privacy concerns

The opponents claim that wearable devices, primarily designed for kids’ safety, have weak security mechanisms. Most manufacturers strive to get kids’ wearables to the market at an attractive price and do not invest much in cybersecurity, leaving multiple security holes.

Many parents have introduced wearables such as smartwatches to their children’s lives, as they think it provides them with additional peace of mind about their whereabouts and safety. However, parents need to quickly realize whilst yes, these wearables have great benefits, unfortunately, they also have a number of security flaws leaving children vulnerable to cyber criminals hacking their devices.

Allen Scott

Children who wear such devices become an easy target for a black hat, who may get access to children’s personal details, as well as real-time and historical location. On top of that, cybercriminals may listen to what’s happening around the child and get in touch with them directly. Could one imagine the consequences for the child’s safety?

Unfortunately, opponents’ fears are not unreasonable. Last year’s report confirmed consumer concerns about the safety of wearables: three out of four kid’s smartwatches have serious security problems, such as the transfer of personal data to remote servers without encryption. The report also found unreliable features in some wearables, including non-functioning geo-fencing and SOS buttons, which provides parents with a false sense of security.

Childhood under control

Some parents become paranoid about controlling their children with GPS trackers and other wearables. They want to know everything from where the child is every minute of the day to what they eat and whom they talk to, thus leaving no freedom and self-reliance to young people. As a result, our children’s generation will grow up to become increasingly dependent on their parents and reliant on technology to come to the aid at any time.

They will never understand risks if society prevents them from experiencing it. Even though using surveillance technologies for protection may be well-intentioned, it deprives children of the possibility to gain experience, necessary for the future dealing with life’s risks and dangers.

Privacy advocates argue that everyone, including children, has the right to a private life, but tracking technology limits the rights. Kids should be left to be kids and enjoy their childhood, while technology should only help to make children safe, not stifle them with continuous control.

How to make kids’ wearables helpful, not dangerous

Like any new technology, wearables for kids have their supporters and opponents. By understanding both benefits and pitfalls of wearable tech, we’ve come to the conclusion that it has an opportunity to become a major breakthrough in childcare and an integral part of our lives in the near future.

However, wearable device manufacturers and IoT software developers should take a responsible approach to ensure their technology is secure for children. Huge companies like Apple, Samsung, Fitbit, and Xiaomi already pay special attention to wearables’ safety and incorporate various security features into their devices: remote erase function, data encryption, biometric authentication, and more.

Parents, in their turn, should also follow some basic security principles when they consider buying wearables for their kids:

  1. Research available models and their functionality to choose the most secure wearable device.
  2. Change the default password immediately after purchasing a new device.
  3. Reset the password every month or remind your children to reset it.
  4. Review the default setting, especially the privacy controls section, and change them if necessary. For example, some fitness tracking services may share your data publicly through social networks, but you may choose to make this data absolutely private.

Together, consumers and manufacturers can make connected living in a wearable world safe for kids. If designed with right controls and security mechanisms, wearables may become a good tool for a closer connection between parents and children.