Wearables for Kids: Must-Have or Safety Hazard

Andrey Koptelov -
Illustration: © IoT For All

Wearable technology has skyrocketed in recent years, driven by the global consumer trend toward healthy living and technological advancements in IoT software development. Today, people of all age groups are increasingly using smartwatches and other connected accessories to monitor their health.

These devices are most popular around the world among adults aged 25-34 — in 2019, they constituted a third of all wearables users, according to Statista. Nevertheless, children and teenagers are becoming more active adopters of wearables, drawn to them by curiosity or parental request.

However, there’s an ongoing controversy over wearables for kids. While some say these devices help parents monitor their children’s well-being, others believe they invade children’s privacy and pose a serious security threat. In this article, we will listen to both sides and try to get to the truth.

The Value of Wearables for Kids

Location Tracking

For most parents and caretakers, keeping track of their children is the primary reason for buying them a wearable device. Unlike smartphones, these are worn directly on the body, which makes it difficult to lose them. Most GPS-enabled watches synchronize with companion mobile apps that display real-time data from the watch and give parents peace of mind.

Some models enable parents to see the child’s location on a map in real-time, while others leverage a more advanced technology — geo-fencing. It allows setting up virtual geographical barriers and receiving immediate alerts if the child leaves the designated area.

Above that, some wearables have more advanced safety features, such as an SOS button or voice/video call to let children get in contact with parents in case of an emergency.

Health and Activity Tracking

Obesity is the scourge of our time, that affects even the youngest generations. The 2019 Atlas of Childhood Obesity predicts that the number of overweight children globally will reach 206 million in 2025 unless proper measures are taken.

Although shocking, these figures are not surprising: children today are less active and spend too much time in front of the screen. Wearables can track a child’s physical activity during the day and help them take on a healthy lifestyle by encouraging exercising, drinking more water, brushing teeth, and sleeping well. For example, gamified activity trackers with motion sensors and a pedometer may unobtrusively encourage the child to move more and reward them for each achievement.

Moreover, wearables with more sophisticated sensors allow parents to monitor their children’s key biometrics (heart rate, body temperature, blood pressure, etc.). Such smart devices detect abnormal patterns using machine learning to alert parents about the child’s illness or stress and offer recommendations on mitigating this. In this regard, wearable tech will prove particularly useful for parents of infants, helping them keep track of their children’s well-being at any time.

Games and Entertainment

Devices for kids should be entertaining, and wearables are no exception. Several manufacturers power up their devices with game dynamics or technologies like AR and VR to make them more appealing to children. The prime example is the LeapBand smartwatch that employs the good old Tamagotchi model. The user is tasked with keeping their digital pet alive and happy by being physically active.

Certain companies take a step further and combine entertainment with education. For instance, the VTech KidiZoom Smartwatch DX2 smartwatch is packed with puzzles and games that develop the child’s logic and other cognitive skills and encourage their creativity.

Downsides of Wearables for Kids

Poor Security

The opponents claim that kids’ wearables put their owners at great risk, and this opinion is not entirely off base. First of all, there are no unified security requirements for such connected devices and only selected countries and states have enacted their own IoT security laws. To aggravate this situation, most manufacturers do not invest sufficient money and effort in children’s wearables’ defense mechanisms, thus leaving multiple cybersecurity holes. In 2019, Avast researchers detected serious vulnerabilities in some 600,000 trackers for children sold on Amazon.

This way, children wearing insecure devices become an easy target for so-called black-hat hackers. Exploiting security flaws, they can easily access children’s personal details, monitor their location and movements in real-time, and even listen to what is happening around them. This information can be gathered and used for blackmail or will help criminals track down the child in the worst-case scenario.

Privacy Concerns

In the hands of parents who are overprotective or overbearing by nature, wearables may become a digital leash of sorts. GPS or other location-tracking technologies will allow them to keep track of the child’s whereabouts every minute and control whether they leave the permitted area. This may be a sound security measure for kids of younger age when used within reasonable limits, but restricting teenagers and young adults this way is a pure and simple limitation of their rights and freedoms.

Even though using surveillance technologies for protection may be a good intention, it deprives children of the possibility to gain experience on their own. Kids should be allowed to enjoy their childhood, while technology should only help keep children safe instead of stifling them with ongoing supervision. Otherwise, a child controlled to such an extent might grow up dependent on their parents and unable to make decisions for themself.

How to Make Wearables Useful and Safe

Like any new technology, wearables for kids have their supporters and opponents. Given its unique benefits, it’s safe to say that wearable tech has all the makings of becoming a childcare staple and an integral part of our lives in the near future.

However, wearable device manufacturers and IoT software developers should take a responsible approach to ensure their technology is secure for children. Huge companies like Apple, Samsung, Fitbit, and Xiaomi have already begun paying extra attention to wearables’ safety and incorporating advanced security features into their devices, from remote erase function to data encryption and biometric authentication.

Parents, in their turn, should also follow basic security principles when they consider buying wearables for their kids, such as:

  1. Carefully research available models and their functionality to choose the most secure wearable device.
  2. Change the default password immediately after purchasing a new device.
  3. Reset the password every month or remind your child to reset it.
  4. Review the default settings, especially those for privacy controls, and change them if necessary. For example, some fitness tracking services may share user data publicly in their branded social accounts, but you may choose to make this data private.

This is how consumers and manufacturers can cooperate to make connected living safer for kids.

Author
Andrey Koptelov - Innovation Analyst, Itransition

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Guest writers are IoT experts and enthusiasts interested in sharing their insights with the IoT industry through IoT For All. If you're interested in contributing to IoT For All, cli...
Guest writers are IoT experts and enthusiasts interested in sharing their insights with the IoT industry through IoT For All. If you're interested in contributing to IoT For All, cli...