By Kotie Geldenhuys
In February 2020, a family from Pretoria East had a harmful experience with a smartwatch which was meant to keep their children safe. They got rid of the watch after an unknown voice asked their seven-year-old daughter what her name was. Her mother contacted the manufacturer to ask whether they had received similar complaints and they informed her that it had happened once before. She was shocked to hear that there were basically no regulations in place to regulate the apps on these smartwatches (Meyer Jansen, 2020). This incident made us wonder whether more harm is being done when parents fit such a smartwatch to their child's wrist in an attempt to keep them safe, and whether they are potentially placing their children at more risk when doing so.
A GPS smartwatch is a security and educational device, focusing on children up to the age of 12 years which provides security features for children such as emergency calls and a panic button. With a smartwatch fitted on the child's arm, "helicopter parents" can lie back a bit and let their children be the little explorers they should be (Watchful Dad, Nd).
Some parents argue that before they give their child a smart phone, they should rather consider providing their child with a smartwatch with a GPS (Global Positioning System). Such parents typically argue that to give an expensive smart phone to a child is troubling for many reasons. The fact that a smartwatch is less expensive and wearable, which creates a smaller chance of it getting lost or broken, as could happen to a smart phone, makes it a more attractive option for smaller children. A smartwatch provides parents with the ability to communicate with their children and know where they are, even if they do not answer the call (Watchful Dad, Nd).
How does a smartwatch work?
The Norwegian Consumer Council (NCC) explains that smartwatches for children contain a SIM card, allowing them to connect to the Internet through GSM networks or through a Wi Fi connection. In its most basic form, a smartwatch functions as a cellphone attached to the wrist, which connects to the parents' cellphones through an app. The features of the devices vary between devices and apps, but this article will focus on those smartwatches with basic GPS functionality, allowing parents to track the movements of their children in real time through a companion mobile app. These apps are connected to the Internet, allowing a variety of other features (NCC, 2017).
Useful features of smartwatches
Watchful Dad (Nd) provides a list of useful features of smartwatches for children and their parents. Some of the features include the following:
- It allows for phone and video calls between parents and their child;
- it allows for voice and text messages between parents and their child;
- the child can only contact or be contacted by a limited number of people namely those whom parents have set up;
- it allows for the tracking of the child, wherever he or she is, be it that he or she is playing at the local park or is participating in a school activity;
- some GPS watches offer the possibility to track the child in real-time;
- the GPS technology enables parents to create a virtual geographic fence and receive an alert if their child leaves this perimeter;
- the GPS location history of where the child was is saved and can be recalled at a later stage. However, kids are smart and may leave their smartwatches at a friend's house in an attempt to fake that they were there the whole time, while in fact they were somewhere else;
- in case of an emergency the child can push the panic button and the parent will receive an immediate alert. Parents can preset a phone number to reach in case of emergency and the alert along with the exact GPS location will be sent to this number;
- some smartwatches with GPS tracking can send parents updates and notifications at a set time;
- some smart watches for children allow parents to listen to what is going on in the vicinity of the watch. Similar to a baby monitor, parents can check-in to determine whether their children are fine;
- parents can record emergency information within their child’s smartwatch in the same way as with medical bracelets;
- parents can set a tamper alert to be notified if the child (or someone else) removes the watch. If this happens, the parent will receive an alert message with the last known GPS information; and
- some smartwatch models have built-in educational games such as to learn about geography or extend vocabulary.