Family fitness: the top 3 metrics this parent tracks on his kids’ smartwatch

By: Ray Pastore

Today’s smartwatches track more than just steps. A tech expert and parent explains what metrics he tracks with his kids and why.

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Father And Daughter Checking Smart Watches | Family Fitness

My wife and I have always made a healthy lifestyle a priority for our family, focusing on everything from exercise to diet. However, we often struggled to know if our children’s activities had the right impact on the things we care about: Were they getting enough playtime at school? Were they sleeping well? Today, smart technology is helping us keep track of things that matter to us.

As an IT professor and someone who’s been focused on health and fitness for 30 years, I’ve long used a smartwatch to monitor my own health data. Based on that experience, my wife and I decided to outfit our three children with these devices to better monitor various measures of health and fitness. When I started paying attention to the fitness metrics on my kids’ smartwatches, I was astonished to see how many steps they took per day—it was a lot more than I expected. I also hadn’t considered how fun these devices could be. For example, there were badges for accomplishing various family fitness goals, and we could compete with each other as a family. I knew the technology could be beneficial, but I was amazed by how much information we received about the activity, diet and sleep routines for each of our children.

Today’s smartwatches can track many health data points. Here’s the three categories we check regularly: sleep, heart rate and calories burned.


We pay attention to guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which notes that the American Academy for Sleep Medicine recommends that children between 13 and 18 get approximately 8 to 10 hours of sleep per night, while those 12 and under get 9 to 12 hours. Smartwatches can help determine if your child is sleeping soundly through the night and whether they are waking up frequently.

For example, we were aware that our youngest child occasionally woke up at night and played quietly in his room, but his sleep data showed that we underestimated the frequency and duration. Based on what we saw, we collaborated with a sleep clinic and his doctor to develop strategies for improving his sleep.

Heart rate (HR)

Stanford University says that some smartwatches can help identify certain heart abnormalities, such as atrial fibrillation. This is more than just something important to me—it’s personal.

When I was 24, I was diagnosed with a rare, potentially lethal heart defect that I’d had since birth, which required a complicated heart procedure to fix. Given my experience, it is important to me to monitor our children’s heart rates.

Understanding our kids’ typical heart rate patterns during rest and during activity is important to us because it helps us understand what’s normal and what isn’t for them. It’s one thing if one of them is watching a scary movie and their heart is racing. But we would consult our family doctor if we started seeing patterns we didn’t understand.

‘I Like To Think Of Calories Burned As An Upgraded Version Of The Step Count Metric.’ By Ray Pastore, Ph.D., Professor Of Esports And Online Teaching And Learning | Family Fitness

Calories burned

Smart watches can use data from various daily activities, including step count and heart rate, to estimate energy expenditure and calories burned. I like to think of calories burned as an upgraded version of the step count metric that looks at overall activity.

Monitoring how many calories my kids burn each day can provide valuable insight into their physical activity levels. This metric covers activity all day—not just “active time.” So it’s calculating when they’re running outside, doing chores around the house, bounding up the steps, doing the dishes, or just sitting around. For example, if my kid burns an average of 2,500 calories a day but only burns 1,800 sitting around all weekend in front of screens, I can suggest ways to get them more active. 

My kids are coming of age in a world where health and fitness measures can be tracked—a concept they’ve always been familiar with in our family fitness goals. In addition to discussions about healthy habits with parents and teachers, this can empower children to make healthy decisions from a young age.

Keep an eye on their phone activity, too, with Smart Family. Learn more.

About the author:

Ray Pastore, Ph.D., is a professor of Esports and Online Teaching and Learning within the Instructional Technology program at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. He bridges the realms of scholarship and modern engagement as an accomplished author and YouTuber.


The author has been compensated by Verizon for this article.

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