Apple's New 'Family Setup' Turns the Apple Watch into a Communication Device for Kids

Your child no longer needs a smartphone of their own to have their own Apple Watch, offering families new ways to stay connected while on the go.

Apple made a big announcement Tuesday that will make communicating with your kids even easier as they re-enter into the daily activities that likely were paused during the pandemic—a software update that lets parents set up a smartwatch just for their kids.

Apple Watch Family Setup

Previously, Apple Watch users needed an iPhone of their very own to pair their watch with. If you weren’t ready to get your child a phone, there was no way they were able to use an Apple Watch either, no matter how much they begged for one. That's not true anymore. Apple’s new “Family Setup” lets parents connect both their own watch and their child’s watch to one iPhone.

Here's what parents should know about the new software update.

Premium Parental Controls

“Family Setup” gives you a unique phone number and Apple ID for your child that allows them to send and receives messages from their watch and contact other approved watch users over Walkie-Talkie. You can also, of course, set up limitations on who they are allowed to contact through the device and what third-party apps they are allowed to download—parental control at it’s finest. But that’s not even the best feature to help your child safely stay in touch with you throughout the day. You can also set up location notifications using the Find People app on Apple Watch—for full transparency purposes, the child has to give guardians permission to set up these tracking notifications. If your kid is going to grandma’s, school, or basketball practice, you can receive an alert exactly when they arrive and when they leave, giving you peace of mind—especially after months of them barely leaving your sight during various stages of lockdown.

Parents can also set up alerts that notify them when their child is not where they are supposed to be. "My daughter sometimes rides her bike with friends to softball practice," explains Deidre Caldbeck, director of product marketing for Apple. "For my peace of mind, I can set up an alert to tell me if she did not get there by the time practice starts. I only get that notification if something happened on the way to practice that slowed her down."

Apple Watch Family Setup on iPhone Display

Do Not Disturb During Classes

While your child is in school—be that in a formal classroom setting or at the dining room table—you don’t have to worry about them being distracted by their watch. Just turn on “Schooltime Mode,” which sets the watch in Do Not Disturb mode, restricts interactions on the watch, and locks the watch face on a recognizable yellow analog clock.

"During class, my daughter can wear the watch and get activity credit, but she can't use it for things like texting, phone calls, or apps when it is in restricted mode," says Caldbeck. "I can edit her class schedule in my Apple Watch app and can also give her permission to exit the mode so she can get in touch with me in case of an emergency. Once she stops using it, the watch will go back into Schooltime Mode."

Encourage a Love of Health and Fitness

"Family Setup" also allows your child to access standard resources of the Apple Watch including activity tracking, maps, and safety apps like Emergency SOS, which calls for emergency help and texts an emergency contact. The activity metrics on the health trackers are intentionally more child-friendly: Instead of seeing how many calories they burned in the health trackers, kids can count minutes of movement and see distance traveled. They can also share activity competition invitations to other Apple Watch users to start challenges and celebrate athletic achievements.

Kids will also have access to pull up their medical ID, which can document any chronic conditions, allergies, or medications that are critical for caregivers to be aware of. And a bonus for these times, they can track how long they wash their hands, helping them hit the recommended 20-second marker.

New Pricing Options

It’s hard to gloss over the fact that the price tag on an Apple Watch can be steep. If your child isn’t the most responsible just yet, this likely isn’t the best communication watch for him. But Apple did introduce a new model of the device, Apple Watch SE, that starts at $279 with $12/month financing option—that’s more than $100 less than the latest Apple Watch Series 6. FYI, in order to use “Family Setup,” your child’s watch needs to be a cellular model of series 4 or later.

The Apple Watch SE is available for preorder now and starts shipping on Friday. "Family Setup" will be available on cellular model watches series 4 or later in a software update today.

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