Fitness trackers work for many but not all kids – Boston Children’s Answers

Fitness trackers work for many but not all kids – Boston Children’s Answers

Some pediatricians recommend wearables, saying they lead to improved fitness routines. (Image: AdobeStock)

Energetic children run circles around their parents. Wearable devices can count how many footsteps go into those circles. 

Depending on the model, fitness trackers can measure the steps a child walks and the miles they bike, all while monitoring their heart rate, body temperature, and other vital signs of health. More importantly, the devices can incentivize children to meet daily goals to move more often. 

Keep in mind that a recent study on teenagers’ use of fitness wearables observes there isn’t much medical research on the technology’s impact on adolescents and younger children. And the tech companies that manufacture them only recently started to market to young kids. Nonetheless, some pediatricians recommend wearables, saying they do lead to improved fitness routines.

Your child or teen might ask for one. But before you buy a device, Abigail Seibert, PhD, a psychologist in Boston Children’s Optimal Wellness for Life (OWL) Program, advises that you first consider some disadvantages and advantages. 

Possible disadvantages

Your answers to these questions should reveal whether a fitness tracker is appropriate at this time or if it’s best to put aside the idea, Seibert says. 

  • Will a fitness tracker distract your child, especially if they already spend time on other electronics?
  • Does your child want one only because their friends have them?
  • Is your child likely to break or lose the wearable? 
  • Will your child use the technology without a parent or sibling also tracking their fitness, potentially causing your child to not be as engaged and lose interest? 

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

A young boy throws a football to an adult, who is crouched on one knee on a wide expanse of grass, as the sun sets behind him through a line of trees.
Hut, hut! Fitness trackers can measure the steps a child walks and miles they bike, all while monitoring vital signs of health. (Image: AdobeStock)

Assured advantages 

If now does seem like the right time, there are benefits to consider:

  • Trackers can be affordable. Some fitness wearables can have a price tag as low as $25, and those with a simple analog pedometer can cost only a few dollars. Sophisticated devices can run several hundred dollars.
  • Some fitness trackers are simple devices and offer only basic measurements of movement, like how many steps a person walks each day. More advanced wearables can be customized for more complex movements and health vital signs during activities such as sports, marital arts, or dance. 
  • Children respond to technology. Many devices can display your child’s patterns of activity in easy-to-read graphics. The data will illustrate how they can ease or jump into exercise patterns and encourage them to modify activities if needed. They will likely react to these prompts.
  • Wearables track more than activity; they also gauge inactivity. You’ll be able to see if your child isn’t moving much at school or at home.
  • When parents wear one and get the whole family involved, it can be easier for children to set and reach fitness goals. 
  • The technology can be a kick-starter to getting them, and you, having fun with new activity adventures, like playing kickball at a local playground, hiking a small mountain, or kayaking a gentle river.  

Settings make a difference
Ensure that privacy settings are easy to use and allow you to manage data and apps, as well as voice and text conversations, so that only approved people have access.
Determine if you can control all settings for younger children.
Decide if you want GPS location tracking turned on.
Make sure Bluetooth pairs only with known devices.
You can use the settings to limit how much time your child spends on the device, which helps when they’re already using other electronics.

Have fun and meet fitness goals

Kids need physical activity. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends children get at least 60 minutes of daily physical activity. The OWL Program and New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center at Boston Children’s further encourage kids to exercise vigorously for 20 to 30 minutes within those 60 minutes, at least three times a week. 

Even if your child doesn’t wear a fitness tracker, you should still encourage them to get moving. If you’re stuck for ideas, especially in the cold of winter, the center offers a “fit kit Circuit” of exercises that kids can do inside the home or outdoors. Read the step-by-step guide to the fit kit Circuit.

Sometimes, your child will move less on weekends and vacations than on school or camp days, Seibert says. If they’re getting enough exercise over several days, those few “off” days won’t hurt. 

Just remember to make exercising a fun family activity, even if it’s dancing in the living room or going on a walk around the neighborhood. Set challenges you and your child can achieve together. Small weekly goals are a way to build up doing more over time. Having fun with your child while exercising will let your family focus on the quality of movement, and not numbers.

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

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