When my kids were younger, I would have been that parent, the one who would track them, especially if it didn’t involve taping foil to their heads and beaming a laser in their direction. Now my teens use phones, but kids’ smartwatches are gaining in popularity as a beginning step to semi-monitored independence.
Bonus: Watches are better than phones, at least for young kids, because you can strap the devices to small wrists, helping to prevent loss. With the arrival of warm summer days, watches with tracking capabilities can be a soft launch into letting kids have a little autonomy. Here are seven to consider:
This watch has all the basic features without a lot of bells and whistles. It offers reliable GPS tracking, unlimited talk and text (with a voice texting feature and 15 preset texts to choose from), up to 25 parent-managed contacts, an SOS/emergency button, parent-controlled lock mode (to limited distractions during school), a step counter and six themes to choose from, designed to appeal to kids of various ages. It does not have internet or social media.
This is a stand-alone device with its own phone number. You can choose a variety of plans, some with a contract some without, and service is $14.99 per month.
Pros: This has a simple design, easy for kids to navigate and is water and sweat resistant. Kids can get a virtual pet with the Gabb Go app and earn coins by taking care of their pet, hitting their step count goals and crossing items off their to-do list. Coins can us used to unlock new pets and more.
Cons: The watch only comes in two colors, which are very similar (gray and silver), but there are a variety of wristbands to choose from. There is no camera.
This watch comes in three colors (Green Burst, Black Camo and Lilac Flora) and is durable and swim-friendly. Great for active kids on the go, it comes with all the features you're looking for in a smartwatch for kids: calling and texting, location tracking, parent-controlled contacts and activity tracking. This watch also has a kid-friendly weather display, a stop watch and alarms. Parents can lock the watch by using the Garmin Jr. app on their phone to block distractions during school hours or at night.
Using the Garmin Jr. app you can assign parents or guardians full permission to contact, locate or manage your child's Bounce. You can choose between a monthly ($9.99 per month) or annual ($99) subscription plan.
Pros: This watch has lots of additional features beyond tracking and communication. There are games the child can play during parent-approved times, including math flash games. Parents can assign chores and tasks from the Garmin Jr. app, and kids can collect virtual coins when the request is completed. Parents can also set schedule alerts on the smartwatch with an icon that will pop up and show the child what needs to be done.
Toe-to-Toe challenges allow parents and kids to compete in timed step competitions or multifamily weekly step challenges. If your child has a phone you can give them limited access to the Garmin Jr. app and allow them to monitor and check off their own chores and view their accomplishments.
Cons: This smartwatch has a lot of features and might be too distracting or complex for the youngest users.
With secure messaging to parent-approved contacts, a GPS tracker and a base for charging, the TickTalk 4 is a rugged, high-end kids’ smartwatch option with tons of features. The watch includes music streaming, an activity tracker and games. It works with the AT&T and T-Mobile networks, and the service plan costs $9.99 per month, with no activation fee.
Pros: Good durability, SIM card included, Emergency SOS, free music streaming, can take photos and videos, HD video calling, Wi-Fi connection, option to block strangers, very responsive customer service.
Cons: Some families report that battery life doesn’t last longer than 8 hours and that the tracking feature isn’t always accurate. It's bulky and can only be charged with the TickTalk base.
If you’re looking for a budget-friendly, game-free, GPS-tracking smartwatch for your child, the Cosmo JrTrack 2 might fit the bill. With a simple touch screen, kids can take photos and send messages while geo-fencing keeps them from leaving designated safe zones. It comes with a pre-installed SIM card that operates on the T-Mobile network. Membership plans cost between $14.99 and $24.99 per month.
Pros: Relatively simple compared to other watches that have more bells and whistles, game free, and no social media, adult content or internet browsing. The brand claims a net-zero plastic footprint by partnering with rePurpose Global.
Cons: Not as many features as some other watches, magnetic, non-standard charging cable, users report that only pre-set text messages can be sent from the phone, can be cumbersome to set up, tracking can sometimes be spotty.
This sleek black, adult-looking watch comes with colored strap options in pink, gray and blue. The Xplora X5 Play works on Wi-Fi or the T-Mobile network, and many users report successfully using Speedtalk SIM cards with this device. It features location tracking, safe zones and school mode, which disables interactive features while in class. The watch has no access to social media and doesn’t allow calls outside of the approved contact list. Plans start as low as $5 and go up from there.
Pros: More water-resistant (rated IP68) than most other kids’ smart watches. The screen protector available has a more adult aesthetic than some other kids’ watches, responsive customer support, long battery life (72 hours standby or 5 hours of continuous calling), no activation fee, and can earn Xplora “coins” for movement which can then be spent on tangible items from the GoPlay store
Cons: A kid can deactivate the device through phone settings, and some reports of location accuracy issues.
Verizon bills its kids’ smart watch as “designed to empower children and give peace of mind to parents.” It uses characters from Disney, Pixar, Marvel and Star Wars to animate many of the phone’s tasks, like checking the weather and viewing notifications. A less expensive waterproof, Gizmo Watch 2 is also available with customizable watch band colors but without the character fun. Both versions work with the GizmoHub App that parents can customize on their own phones. The plan costs $10 per month plus taxes and fees.
Pros: Fun and familiar characters for your child to interact with. It has a feature that allows caregivers to prevent the watch from being turned off by your child or someone else. The Gizmo 2 has a timer and stopwatch features that can be helpful reminders for children to “read for a half-hour” or “come home after 45 minutes.”
Cons: It only works on the Verizon network, some users have reported short battery life and fragile screens, requires a one-time $35 activation fee.
AngelSense is a no-frills GPS tracker for kids (and adults) with special needs and/or sensory issues. The tracker can be worn around the wrist like a watch, in a belt, a pocket, or a special compression undershirt with an appropriately sized pocket. The device is difficult to remove without the help of a caregiver and allows an unlimited number of guardians to locate a child. It can be used with AT&T or T-Mobile. It includes a speakerphone, an SOS button, immediate alerts for emergencies, and the ability to share your child’s live location with medical personnel or search teams if necessary.
Pros: Sensory-issue friendly designs created by parents of children with special needs, securely attaches to your child with little risk of removal
Cons: No bells and whistles. This is a straight-up GPS tracker with voice and emergency services. It’s also not inexpensive, with plans ranging from $33 to $53 a month. Currently, the devices are free and the activation fee is reduced from $59 to $19 if you sign up for an annual subscription plan
While smart watches and associated costs can seem like another extra expense and an extra device to manage, they can give some parents a little peace of mind if their kids are roaming free this summer. Teaching your kids basic personal safety skills is equally, if not more, important than tracking their location.
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Editor’s note: This article was first published several years ago and was most recently updated in 2023.