Best Smartwatch for Your Kid

“It really was an ‘in case of emergency, break glass’ thing,” Brookman says, relishing the lack of features. It didn’t present nearly as many distractions as a phone.

Many experts today applaud such efforts to delay that first smartphone purchase. 

Brooke Shannon, founder of the non-profit advocacy group Wait Until 8th, advises parents to hold off until a child finishes eighth grade, citing the amount of time young people typically spend on phones once they have them—sometimes upward of nine hours a day, she says—and the negative impact that may have on mental health and quality of life. 

“How many hours outside are not being played?” she asks. “How many books are not being read? How many in-person conversations are not happening? How much of childhood is being missed out on because of this device?” 

A kid-friendly smartwatch is less troublesome than a fully loaded iPhone, she says, though she does endorse a pared-down “dumb” phone that can be stowed in a backpack, not to mention total tech abstinence, too.

But Dr. Catherine Pearlman, a licensed clinical social worker and author of the book “First Phone: A Child’s Guide to Digital Responsibility, Safety, and Etiquette,” notes the limitations of such alternatives. “Parents want to know where their kids are and you can’t do that without GPS tracking,” she says. “I think a smartwatch with GPS is a great way for parents to let go and give [kids] a little bit of independence and freedom.” 

A smartwatch can also help counter certain disconcerting trends among adolescents, coaxing them to spend more face-to-face time with friends. “They’re socializing at home on their computers, but it means they’re not out in the wild,” Pearlman says. And so, kids are getting less practice making the everyday decisions that lead to an independent life, whether that’s navigating transit or ordering food on their own. “It’s important for adolescents to stretch the boundaries while they’re still in a safe space,” she explains.

To get a better understanding of the pros and cons of handing a smartwatch to a child, plus a few tips on what to look for when selecting a smartwatch for a young person and, yes, product recommendations, I reached out to a few experts, including a number of CR colleagues, who tend to be really thoughtful about such purchases, especially when it comes to value, performance, and digital rights.

Here’s what I learned.