The mission of the Brave Parenting Ministry is to equip Christian parents with information so as to make informed decisions about technology for their children. One decision today’s parents will need to make for their children is whether to give them a smartwatch. As with most technology available today, there are pros and cons to each of the various options when it comes to smartwatches.
BETTER THAN A SMARTPHONE BUT IS STILL PORTABLE TECHNOLOGY
First and foremost, Brave Parenting believes that a smartwatch is the best option for younger (elementary) kids who need to have communication tools while away from their parents. Even more than getting a “kid-safe” phone like Pinwheel or Gabb, a smartwatch can ease them into portable technology and communication while avoiding the pitfalls of having a larger screen to look at or distract your child from real life.
However, a smartwatch can become a crutch or distraction without proper precautions. Therefore, choosing the right watch with the right limits is imperative.
BEST SMARTWATCH OPTIONS AVAILABLE
APPLE WATCH (SE)
The Apple Watch is the most expensive option on the market when it comes to watches for kids, but its features can be opened up as they get older, and the watch can last your child quite a long time.
- Parents can pair it to their iPhone; it doesn’t require its own phone
- Cheaper than a $1000 iPhone 14
- On Average, the cellular plan is $10 for major carriers like Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile.
- Screen Time Parental controls allow you to disable the app store, web browser, and everything else they don’t need.
- Grows with them and is not embarrassing to have in middle school
- Expensive if it is lost or broken
- Battery life of 18 hours
- Only works with iPhones
VERIZON GIZMOWATCH (2)
If you are a parent already using Verizon, this makes it even easier. This watch is marketed for ages 6-12, which is reasonable.
- Location tracking and limited texting and calling
- “Trusted contacts” can be added by parents
- Parental control app available on iPhone or Android
- No installation of outside apps
- Battery life of 3+ days
- Some users have reported technical issues
- The Gizmowatch 3 has an unnecessary camera, so make sure it is a “2.”
GABB WATCH 2
Gabb was one of the first companies to make kid-safe smart devices. They are affordable and super practical. And it doesn’t matter what carrier or smartphone you, as the parent, have.
- Unlimited calling and texting with up to 25 pre-approved contacts.
- GPS tracker, step counter – no additional apps
- Parents can set up “safe zones” to receive automatic notification when a child arrives or leaves a preset location.
- No additional downloadable apps
- Affordable, FREE with a 2-year service contract of $14.99/month
- Not fully waterproof, only resistant
- Kids can choose from 9 virtual pets within the watch to raise and take care of, which is unnecessary.
OTHER SMARTWATCH OPTIONS
There are many other smartwatches on the market, and while there can be extra features you may like, there may also be some that you don’t like.
For example, the Xplora X5 Play and VTech Kidizoom Smartwatch DX3 boast “fun diversions” like 2-player games, movement games, and cameras “for all the selfies they can want.” Some even allow for video calls. One of the top-rated smartwatches on many parenting websites is the TickTalk 4. While it does have good parental controls, it also has free music, two cameras, and two-way video calling. Those features may seem nice for an adult but are unnecessary for a child. Even more, the Garmin Vivofit Jr. 3 rewards physical activity with unlocked games and activities that teach them about the world around them and allow them to have adventures around the globe.
This is where we, as Christian parents, must be discerning. Whose worldview is that Garmin watch preprogrammed with as the kids go on adventures around the globe? This matters because every idea they take in from media informs their worldview more so than any other source of information. If you don’t know what they are taking in, how will you know how to combat a bad idea? Also, we have to question: how much watch screen time will my child be getting if they can play games on the watch? What value does taking pictures through a watch add to their lives?
We wholeheartedly believe that minimizing the distraction and temptation to indulge in self-satisfying behaviors is non-negotiable for young kids. There is NO NEED for games of any sort, a camera, or – and this might sound radical – music through their smartwatch.
You have to keep your parenting priorities the priority. What is your end goal? Is it happiness or holiness? Is it to communicate with your child when they are away from you? Or to make them comfortable, distracted, and numb with a digital tool? A watch can be super beneficial for your 7 or 8-year-old, but it can also be a door into a digitally distracted lifestyle. Limited screen time must also apply to smartwatches and, to a greater extent, for younger kids.
THE ONLINE NARRATIVE ABOUT SMARTWATCHES FOR KIDS
Many narratives found online must be carefully considered when making a decision about a smartwatch for your child. Most websites reviewed present similar arguments advocating smartwatches for children. The website kiddingzone.com lists ten reasons they believe every parent should get one for their child. We’ll highlight a few:
- Smartwatches nurture good habits: This reason is based on the contention between parent and child when they forget to do chores. Since some watches have “to-do list” capabilities, parents can set reminders for the child to be told to do their chores.While this idea is enticing, technology being used as a tool, part of building memory muscles and situational awareness, is found in the expectation for chores and their required memory to do them.How can we expect children to hide God’s word in their hearts (Ps 119:11), which comes by intentionally trying to memorize and understand Scripture, if they cannot remember to take out the trash when it’s overflowing or to take the dog for a walk when it’s whining by the door. Also, the parent is removing themself from communication with their child. They are avoiding the difficult and sometimes painful role required of parenting: discipline, accountability, and training. It’s outsourcing their role to the watch. This will not teach children how to have a heart of obedience and service but to only do something for someone else because a reminder went off.
- Smartwatches allow for real-time location tracking: This is a great feature for parents when your child is at a sports practice, playing in the neighborhood, and if your children attend school outside the home and you worry about their safety, for example, a school shooting. This enables the parent to know exactly where they are at all times. However, we must be careful not to take tracking too far. Children need to be allowed to develop autonomy, resilience, and problem-solving by being untethered and gradually gaining independence as they mature.
- Smartwatches encourage an active lifestyle: They say that some of the games and challenges featured in smartwatches are geared towards keeping your child up and active. The features include step counting, sleep monitoring, and active competitions between smartwatch owners that are encouraged through motivating messages to cheer on the child.While there’s no debate that this feature that promotes an active and healthy lifestyle is good, the problem is that while many adults use this feature as intended and find great benefits from it, the likelihood that children and teens will also use it this way is small. It’s simply not part of what they find enticing about a smartwatch. Kids don’t use technology the way adults do—context matters. Parents and kids use tech differently because we’re living in different contexts. Kids try to get entertainment out of their tech because they can’t fathom making their own entertainment. They are not usually interested in using it for health benefits.
- Take and store fun photos and videos. This website claims that when children snap photos, they can trap those wonderful moments for life. If they are interested in photo-taking, video-making, and art in general, they can develop and nurture their talent from an early age. They can even use filters and other fun edit features to make the memories even more awesome.
It’s not likely that a watch will be used in any artistic, creative outlet such as fine art photography or video making. It’s much more likely that any videos or photos taken from a smartwatch would be of themselves. We do not need to instill any more self-love, self-worship, or self-adoration into young people. If we don’t recommend the camera utility to be allowed on a first smartphone, we certainly don’t advocate for a camera on a watch at younger ages.
- Smartwatches are fun gadgets. All in all, kiddingzone.com tells us that smartwatches are great toys, too. Sometimes, it is not just about being serious. A little fun never hurt anybody. A smartwatch is NOT a toy. We have to teach kids that tech devices are tools. A Barbie is a toy. Legos are toys. Smartwatches are not toys. Smartwatches are tools, and unless we begin teaching kids to treat them as such and to respect the power they have, they will be continually misused and abused. All of these accumulated screen distractions can develop into a larger screen obsession as they grow up.
The bottom line is that the best watch for your child is one with minimal features that can simply make calls and texts to trusted contacts and track location.
Applying Scripture to your Decision
Proverb 22:6 tells us to raise up a child in the way they should go and they will not depart from it. If we raise them to view technology as a comforting distraction from real life when they are a child or teenager, they will continue living that way with their smartphones. And when they are adults, nothing will change. They will continue to be distracted with their laptop, smartphone, watch, and gaming console.
Our primary calling as a parent is to disciple our children – to raise them up in the fear and admonition of the Lord (another version says knowledge and discipline of the Lord Eph 6:4). Therefore, set ground rules around the watch and stick to them. Ensure the device doesn’t control their emotions or behavior or distract their devotion to the Lord.
This is what the apostle Paul has to say to the church in 1 Corinthians chapter 7. He addresses marriage and the divided devotions a married person has between God and their spouse in relation to singleness. It is a hard teaching, and in anticipating their backlash, Paul adds in v 35: this I say for your own benefit; not to put a restraint upon you, but to promote what is appropriate and to secure undistracted devotion to the Lord.
How can you promote what is appropriate and secure your child’s undistracted devotion to the Lord?