Kids and activity trackers: good or bad?

The ups and downs of getting one for your child

This year, my kids’ Christmas lists include activity trackers. With more and more kids sporting them on their wrists, I guess I can see the appeal.

The purpose of the trackers is to get the wearer up and moving more — something that can be beneficial in this day and age of rising childhood obesity

But are they a good idea for kids? To find out, I turned to Jenita Lyons, manager of health and wellness for Norton Children’s Prevention & Wellness. According to her, they can be a good thing but also have some down sides.

The up sides

“Activity trackers can make you more aware of how much your kids are actually active,” Lyons said. “You can then use them to set movement goals for your child.”

The recommended amount of daily activity for children is one hour, but there is a misconception that you have to be active for this long all at once. Instead, the time can be broken up into smaller segments. Ideally, your child should be getting around 10,000 steps a day.

“Whether jumping, skipping, running or playing ball, activity is so important for children because it leads to life-long healthy habits,” Lyons said. “If an activity tracker helps with that, it’s well worth it.”

If you’re looking to motivate your child or even your entire family, trackers can help set realistic goals. You can even have competitions or incentives to meet those goals. Some trackers have a friends feature that allows you to see others’ progress via an online program or mobile app.

The down sides

Children, especially younger ones, are notorious for losing things. You may not want to spend money on a tracker that has a high probability of disappearing. Younger children do better with trackers that they can wear on their wrists. Clip-on versions are more likely to go through the wash or even fall off as they go about their day.

When it comes to spending, trackers worn on the wrist are not cheap. Some companies have developed lower-priced, kid-friendly trackers for as low as $20.

The accuracy of trackers often is brought into question. Add to that kids’ rough-housing and you may not always get a good step count. Also, clever kids may end up looking for ways to up their counts without actually putting in the steps.

Trackers may be more beneficial for older children — tweens and teens. However, children as young as 5 may see some benefit as well, especially those who aren’t as active as they should be.

“Keep in mind your child will need a mobile device or computer to get the most out of the tracker, which can be an issue for younger children,” Lyons said. “Plus, some companies put age restrictions on their apps.”

Bottom line

“A tracker can be a good thing for your child as long as you know what you’re getting into, understand how it works and you are ready to engage with your child on progress and offer feedback,” Lyons said.

Finally, research devices that may be best for your child’s age and for your bank account. If you find one that fits the child’s wishes and your budget, paired with a family focus on health, then why not check it off that Christmas list?


If you are concerned about your child’s weight or activity level, talk to your child’s pediatrician to develop a plan of action or find resources.

Coming in February 2017, the YMCA and Norton Children’s Prevention & Wellness will offer Healthy Living Workshops, a new family wellness series aimed at teaching families tools for managing weight and promoting healthier habits. To learn more, call (502) 629-7358. Space is limited.