The idea of raising children in an always-connected digital world can be daunting. The maze that parents have to navigate to keep their kids safe online is a complex problem. From growing screen time to cyber bullying, social media addiction, inappropriate online content, and more – parents are looking for safe solutions and better options.
What we know is that more young kids than ever are connected to the open internet via smartphones. In fact, more than 50% of kids under the age of 11 in the U.S. now have smartphones. There’s still lots to be understood about the developmental impacts of screen time and smartphones on young kids, but we do know that the emerging research is concerning. Numerous studies have shown strong correlation between social media, screen time, and elevated risk of depression in teens, as well as lower mental performance and test scores.
As these concerns have grown in recent years, parents have faced a tough choice: On the one hand, leave youngsters with no way to call or communicate with parents; or on the other, give them a cell phone with all the challenges and dangers that come with it.
Why should parents have to choose between helping kids stay healthy & safe and keeping the family connected?
The growing trend in cell phone alternatives for kids
As more parents are raising the alarm, there’s a growing trend toward safe alternatives that don’t sacrifice safety for connection. Leading the way are connected smart watches for kids. These kinds of kid-friendly devices have quickly become a worldwide trend, driving 10%+ year-over-year growth in the First Device market. And it’s just getting started; that growth rate is expected to increase substantially from 2021-22.
But parents should know that not all kids connected devices are created equal. Many devices available on Amazon are, at best, just game watches or low-quality 2G devices that require finding your own SIM card and service connection. At worst, they are non-secure and leave your kids vulnerable to hacking or communication from strangers.
So what do parents need to know? To help you out, we’ve got the top reasons why parents are looking for cell phone alternatives and what features to keep in mind.
1) Staying connected without worry
It’s somewhat shocking that until recently there haven’t been reliable options for parents who do want to stay connected with their kids, but don’t want to hand them a portal to the world wide web. While there are a number of options for “dumb phones” or walkie-talkie style devices, a kids smart watch is increasingly parents’ top choice – especially for young kids.
The best quality kids smart watches come ready out of the box with SIM cards for nationwide calling and messaging, along with simple instructions and easy to set up. There are no shortage of kids game watches or activity trackers out there, but for parents who are looking for peace of mind, a kids smart watch with reliable service for calling a messaging is the top priority.
A key element to look for is a company with a solid reputation. These include things like a clear selling record, publicly available privacy statement and terms and conditions, as well as a customer service line. Trust me – there’s lots of low-grade, foreign products out there that don’t meet these simple criteria, so knowing what to look for is key.
2) Keeping track of your little ones
Let’s be honest – parents tend to worry (it’s a full-time job!) But that’s especially the case when kids are away and out of sight. One major reason kids smart watches are becoming so popular is because of their location tracking capabilities.
The best kids smart watches are equipped with a GPS tracking feature that can send real-time information to a parent app. Think about the last time you wondered in panic where your kid was. Remember that? Yep, that’s why this feature is so powerful.
For the next level of worry-reducing features, parents should look for customizable geolocation safe zones that let you set designated areas on a map and be automatically alerted when kids enter or leave.
3) Having a “training wheels” approach to technology
It’s amazing when you think about it. From child safety seats in cars to training wheels on bikes, we work hard to prepare kids for each new phase in safe steps…that is, except for when it comes to technology.
Parents today are more concerned about connection, the internet, and digital life than ever before – and rightly so! (Have you seen the documentary The Social Dilemma? Then you already know what I mean). There’s a growing collective voice from parents pushing against the rise in young kids with smartphones – and the consequences that come along with it.
The simple but brilliant thing about a kids smart watch is that it’s specifically for kids – not adult technology with parental controls slapped on top. When searching for the right kids smart watch for your family, look for ones that automatically prevent internet browsing, social media, or calls and messages from strangers. These kinds of devices can also give parents the visibility and control they need with an accompanying parent app for managing your child’s activity and approving contacts.
When it comes to tech, look for a device that helps you build a cyber seat belt or training wheels approach, so kids engage with technology in the right ways at the right age!
4) Staying connected in an emergency
When was the last time you had one of those heart-stopping parent moments? A parent’s worst nightmare is not being able to protect their child in an emergency. Of all the reasons that parents are rushing toward connected kids devices, this may be the top of the list. Kids smart watches offer a natural alternative to cell phones (and one that stays on their wrist!), and the best models are equipped with designated easy-access SOS features that let kids quickly contact parents or guardians if trouble is near.
The leading models not only give parents peace of mind with easy-to-activate emergency calling, but also have the additional feature of auto-GPS tracking and sending location updates to the parent’s phone whenever SOS mode is launched. That’s the kind of peace of mind you can’t buy (but in this case, the good news is you can!)
5) Developing healthy habits
According to Common Sense Media (a great resource for parents by the way!) kids between the ages of 5 and 8 years old spend over three hours per day in front of screens on average. That average has never been higher, and it’s a big reason why many parents are increasingly concerned. Some of that time is necessary for learning and good play (especially in this past COVID year), but more and more parents are looking for ways to help encourage kids to get outside and stay active.
That’s where features like step counters and activity trackers come in! The top kids connected devices generally include pedometers or step counters, along with other features like calling and GPS tracking. Many watches are only activity trackers but there’s certainly affordable options for ones that do it all.
A bonus feature you can look for is the ability to set goals on a parent app that kids can track each day, week, or month. Think of it as a tool for creative family fun and incentivizing an active lifestyle. Maybe you set a family step goal each day or week and pick a prize for the winner!
While there are lots of reasons for parents to be concerned in our digital age, the good news is that more tools than ever are now available helping families stay safe and connected. Ultimately, finding the right cell phone alternative for your kids is more than just picking a device. It’s about helping kids be kids and giving parents peace of mind.