Are fitness trackers for children a step too far?

Tech Review: Garmin Vivofit Jr 2 can be controlled from parent’s smartphone

Garmin Vivofit Jr 2
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I'll admit I had reservations about giving my not-quite-four-year-old daughter a fitness tracker. Especially a €92 one. It just seems a little bit extreme, considering she's active about 98 per cent of the time she's awake during the day. She doesn't really need an incentive to keep moving; in fact, among requests most likely to be heard in our house is: "Would you please just stay still for one minute?" Also, it's €92.

But circumstances overtook me. She spotted the Minnie Mouse box in my bag – there's also Star Wars, Avengers and Captain America bands – and that was it: it was hers, whether I liked it or not. Plus, I'll admit, I was curious about how much she (constantly fidgeting child) moved during the day compared with me (deskbound journalist with a coffee addiction).

The Vivofit Jr 2 has two important things: a soft, stretchable silicon band, and a battery that lasts more than a year. There’s no charging to worry about, and once the battery wears out, you can replace it. It’s also swimproof, which is lucky considering the band has been plunged into water unexpectedly on many occasions over the past few weeks.

There's a little bit of set-up involved here. First, you need to download the parent-controlled app, Vivofit Jr, to your smartphone or tablet and create an account. Then it's a matter of adding devices to your Garmin "family" and you are ready to go.


The app is key to the whole thing, While the display on the band will show steps and activity levels, the app will control rewards and the adventure map unlocked by your child meeting daily activity goals. If you are a competitive family, there’s a leaderboard that lets you see who the top mover is in your family. I neatly ignored this one, because I’m not (that) competitive, and besides, she would win every time.

Besides, this device is more than just keeping close tabs on how much your child moves during the day. It can also be the conduit through which you encourage them to do things such as brush their teeth for the dentist-mandated two minutes, or eating during an allotted time during the day. Completing the tasks within the time allotted is a win for everyone, particularly meals, which at this age can drag on for far longer than they should. I found it especially useful in the morning when trying to get out the door on time for summer camp (her) and work (me).

On the band itself, you’ll see the time and date, the total number of steps taken each day, the total number of active minutes counting towards the 60-minute goal set daily, chores completed, coins earned and new levels unlocked on the adventure map. The task timer can be started on the band too, although it sends a notification the nearest paired smartphone.

There’s a move bar too, which works like a regular activity tracker. If your child is still for too long – an hour, in this case – the move bar appears. For every 15 minutes after that the child stays inactive, the bar adds extra segments.There’s a simple way to reset this – move.

I’d like to say I could test this thoroughly. But a fidgety child is not the best testbed for an activity tracker’s “idle” setting. I had to take it off her and leave it on a shelf to get the move bar.

It would be nice to think that activity trackers for children are completely unnecessary at best and extreme at worst. And maybe they are, but the truth is that, according to official figures, four out of five children don’t meet the recommended one hour of physical activity each day for school-age children. Obesity rates are now one in four for Irish children, and that is more likely to lead to obesity in adults.

It’s simplistic to blame the situation solely on activity levels in children. There are other factors to consider, such as diet, medical conditions and so on. But while “move more” sounds simplistic, it can’t do more harm than ignoring the situation.

So in the comparison of who moves more, who won? She did, of course. Even wearing the watch only half the day. Which means the Vivofit Jr 2 inadvertently helped with my activity levels too. Can’t be beaten by a three-year-old.

The good:

A soft band and no charging make it ideal for kids. Plus it’s easy to set up, and can be controlled from a parent’s smartphone.

The bad:

At €92, it’s expensive enough for a child’s activity tracker. Plus, do we really want to start the obsession with step counting at that age?

The rest:

This isn’t just a step counter though. The task timer and chore tracker are good incentives for children, plus it doubles up as a watch.

The verdict:

The Vivofit Jr 2 is more than just an activity tracker, but it’s a little pricey for younger children.

Ciara O'Brien

Ciara O'Brien

Ciara O'Brien is an Irish Times business and technology journalist