It seems like everyone has a fitness tracker these days. Even kids are wearing them. But are fitness tracking devices okay for children? There’s no denying that they can help you track your child’s activity levels, but there are downsides to them too.

Advantages of fitness trackers for children

  • Helps you track your child’s activity level: Only about 25% of kids in the United States get enough daily physical activity. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children ages 6 to 17 engage in 60 minutes of physical activity every day, and children ages 3 to 5 get at least 180 minutes of physical activity throughout the day. Giving your child a fitness tracker can help you make sure they’re meeting these activity goals.
  • Encourages activity/motivates kids to exercise: The data provided by fitness trackers can serve as a great reward system for kids, and the real-time data on their activity levels can be extra motivation to get moving. Some trackers have fun rewards like badges or can link to other family members to let families participate in friendly activity competitions. These game-like features can motivate kids to move more to hit their goals.
  • Great for sleep tracking: Fitness trackers with sleep monitors are a great way of seeing if your child is getting adequate amounts of quality sleep every night.
  • Encourages kids to be conscious about their health and fitness: A fitness tracker can help your child understand that they are responsible for their health.

Disadvantages of fitness trackers for children

  • Could make exercise a chore and take the fun out of physical activity: If activity is viewed as a chore children may lose the motivation to move and play. If they feel judged or controlled by their parents checking a device, they may start to have negative associations with exercise.
  • You may miss a lot of activity for younger children: Common activities for younger kids such as climbing, spinning, and throwing may not be counted but are still great fun active movements. Fitness trackers work by monitoring the swing of the arms and body, and most little kids don’t have a normal gait yet, so trackers often underestimate their activity levels.
  • Technology can be addictive, and fitness trackers reward screen time: Most children already have phones, tablets and computers. If your child tends to fixate on technology, it may be better to encourage getting out in the fresh air and leave the devices behind, even the fitness trackers.
  • May cause anxiety in some kids: Certain children may be more susceptible to experiencing panic if they don’t meet their fitness goals. If you notice your child seems distressed if they do not meet their exercise goals or if they develop strict rules around eating, reach out to your child’s pediatrician.
  • Make sure the fitness track they are using does not equate exercise with weight: Becareful what your child has access to on their wearable, as some trackers count calories, calculate BMI and provide recommendations for the number of steps needed for weight loss, which is not something children should be focusing on.

The bottom line

Ultimately, you know your child best and will have a good idea if a fitness tracker is a good fit for them. If your child has a history of disordered or restricted eating or disordered exercise, then a fitness wearable is probably not advised. But if they just need a little motivation to start becoming active and conscious of their health, then it could be a great tool to have.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alicia Tucker Alicia Tucker, MD, FAAP, is a general pediatrician with an interest in community health and childhood obesity. She provides care for children as both a primary care pediatrician and through a specialty clinic at the Children's National Obesity Institute.

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