These days, it seems like adults everywhere want to measure every step they take and every wink of sleep they get. From popular wristband fitness trackers to other wearables such as smartwatches, biometric clothing and earpieces that track sleep, heart rate, calories burned, steps and more, the quantified-self movement is hot.
Not all kids may be interested in wearing a fitness tracker. While it is better to focus on the fun of play rather than the analytics of activity, some kids may want to know and track their activity metrics. Before your child begins using a fitness tracker, be sure to discuss appropriate use and beware of warning signs of compulsive exercise, such as constant preoccupation with weight and exercise, skipping out on social activities and responsibilities to exercise, and feeling anxious or guilty when not able to exercise.
With a thirst for technology, today's kids won't be left out of the trend. And, some new products and devices are being designed just for kids. The question is whether they work and if this technology is appropriate for the younger population. Kristi King, MPH, RDN, LD, CNSC, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, says children often are more comfortable with technology than some adults because they are exposed to it at school and home. "Many children may be exposed to fitness trackers at home or are already using them because mom and dad are using them, too," she says.
While they don't sense all activity (and at times sense too much), all fitness trackers have one thing in common: they motivate and encourage movement. Kids might even see it as a game to track their progress throughout the day and compare it with friends. Some are now exploring opportunities to incorporate fitness trackers into the video game industry. For instance, kids might gain extra powers for play or rewards for activity done in real life.
Older kids tend to do better with fitness trackers, according to King. "Younger children have a tendency to lose or forget things, such as passwords, a bit more often," she says. "Older children and teenagers are starting to take more responsibility for their health and well-being and may be more apt to keeping up with devices."
Most fitness trackers come with a mobile or web app to view progress and track food intake. Many of these apps include a bar code scanner to easily upload calorie information from cereals, snacks and other packaged foods, which can be a fun feature for kids. Unlike the automatic activity tracking, entering every bite of food requires effort and may be too much to ask of a child. Many fitness tracking devices are compatible with popular food tracking apps. Also, it's important to note that these apps are designed with adult needs in mind and may require you to be at least 18 years of age.
Most devices use software to track food intake and share real-time progress via a mobile or web app. Because kids don't always have access to their own cell phone or tablet for syncing, they may lose interest in tracking their progress. Though many of the trackers are now designed with fashion and comfort in mind, some kids won't wear the device because they don't like the way the tracker looks or feels. Plus, younger children may lose the charger, forget to recharge the device or forget to put it on.
If your kids have shown an interest in fitness trackers and you'd like to let them give it a shot, make it a family affair. Encourage the entire family to wear bands and challenge each other to meet personal goals or see who can rack up the most steps in a week. Though 10,000 steps may be the standard step goal for adults, don't be afraid to start small. "Everyone likes a sense of achievement, including kids," says King. "Starting with smaller goals may help a child feel good about the accomplishment and get excited about going even further."
To reap the benefits, you don't have to invest in an expensive tracker. Download a free pedometer-style app to a mobile device or buy a wearable device that fits your family's budget and lifestyle.