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.
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.
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. Younger children have a tendency to lose or forget things, such as passwords. 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. Unlike the automatic activity tracking, entering every bite of food requires effort and may be too much to ask of a child, not to mention a behavior that could lead to disordered eating.
If your child expresses interest in tracking their food intake, explore their motivations. Do they have body image concerns or do they have a genuine interest in nutrition? Help them learn about balanced eating by serving a variety of nutritious and tasty foods. Encourage them to rely on their internal hunger cues and taste preferences to guide their food choices rather than a tracking device.
Most devices use software to 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.
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.
Marisa Moore, MBA, RDN, LD, is an Atlanta-based registered dietitian nutritionist.
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