Should I Buy My Teen an Apple Watch for Christmas? 4 Questions to Consider
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Is an Apple Watch on your teenager’s wish list this year? Don’t be surprised.
Following an initial launch aimed at adult techies with money to burn, Apple has begun aggressively marketing their new [digital smart] Watch to a much younger audience this Christmas season. If the recent ads are any indication, Apple is intent on making this new wearable device as ubiquitous as smart phones and MP3 playing pods have become over the past few decades.
But in a world full of teens who already seem glued to digital screens, the thought of yet another glowing device, and one that is literally attached to them, has many parents wishing they could turn the clock back to when a Mickey Mouse timepiece would suffice.
Although the Apple Watch is still way too expensive for many of us to even consider buying for our kids (not to mention ourselves), we thought it might be helpful to begin thinking about how to discuss this; with each other as adults who care about the young people in our lives, as well as with teens who might be considering, asking, or begging for an Apple Watch this Christmas.
1. Is it time for a watch?
Wearing a wristwatch, in and of itself, is a responsibility. Remembering to put it on each morning, being mindful to avoid scratches and damage, and knowing when to take it off all requires an adjustment period. A helpful starting point for conversations about the Apple Watch might be, “Can you handle wearing and caring for a wristwatch on a daily basis?” There are way cheaper options on the market with which to teach your kids ‘Watch Wearing 101.’
One recent study found that roughly 66% of college students currently own and wear a wristwatch; 35% reported wearing theirs’ everyday, 32% wore one on occasion, and 34% said they never wear a watch. Interestingly, when the same study asked if these young people were interested in wearable tech like an Apple Watch, just 44% said they were very interested.
2. How many hands do you have?
Earlier this year a friend who had been using a pre-release version of the Apple Watch told me his favorite thing about the watch was how it allowed him to put his phone away, but still casually glance down to be sure he wasn’t missing urgent messages from his spouse or kids.
Adolescents are biologically hardwired to be more hyperconnected and vigilant about checking in with peers than we are as adults. This is why, when it comes to screens, teens tend to be like an over-confident circus performer; always eager and willing to try juggling one more. The Apple Watch may help some adults with putting their phones away but it remains to be seen whether the same will be true for young people.
It is important to think about the Apple Watch as a potential new piece within the existing ecology of digital devices your teen already uses.
3. Is this about fashion or function?
Conversations about digital devices are often very practical and focus on how a young person will use a particular device to connect, study, or play. We tend to overlook how a new digital device has social implications, as a kind of fashion accessory, for today’s teens—which is something the Apple Watch seems to cater to even more than previous devices. It is helpful for adults to remember how, for young people, owning a new device is both a matter of what they’ll be able to do with it and how they will feel about themselves as someone who does or does not have one.
When parents use practical reasons like safety, responsibility, and cost to explain their decisions to not allow a teen to have a new device, it fails to address social and emotional aspects that may feel much more urgent for teens. It is important to talk with young people about how their sense of belonging and self-worth should not be dependent upon what they wear or which devices they use. The old argument that “all my friends have one!” is as much about a young person’s friends and peers as it is the device in question. (If this is a pressure or pain point in your home, we explore this idea in much more depth in Right Click!)
4. What does it do?
You probably remember the ads that helped launch Apple’s iPod. Youthful looking silhouettes dancing to upbeat music in front of vibrantly colored backgrounds. These ads instantly told us what the device did and sold many of us on the idea of buying one. By focusing on the fashion side of their watch, Apple has struggled to effectively convey what exactly their latest device actually does.
Most product reviewers have said, as either a praise or criticism of the Watch, that it is essentially a convenient accessory to the iPhone. Not quite the “phone on your wrist” that some speculated it might be, but also not the kind of fun “new toy” that smart phones and portable MP3 players were after their initial releases. Two things that caught our attention about the Watch were that: 1) It does not have a built-in camera, which is a favorite smart phone feature among younger users. 2) In order to reply to a text, or any kind of messaging, users have to either dictate (i.e., speak into the watch) or select from a list of available responses—neither of which seem like appealing alternatives to texting for teens. Plus your iPhone still has to be physically nearby.
Alongside our recognizing the social and emotional side of having a new device to fit in with their peers, it is still very important that we teach young people how to “kick the tires” and take the time to weigh the costs and benefits of purchasing an expensive device. The Apple Watch is going for roughly $350 right now, and it raises many of the same sorts of questions about usefulness, necessity, and additional recurring costs that should be considered for bigger ticket items like laptops, appliances, and automobiles.
Maybe an Apple Watch is still out of the question for your kids but you’re thinking about purchasing one for yourself or your spouse this Christmas. Include kids in this decision-making process to help them learn what kinds of questions to ask, and how to make purchasing decisions that aren’t purely peer-pressure or impulse driven.
 Lauren Slome. “Most millennials are interested in wearables but only 40% own a device.” Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Research Center; University of Missouri School of Journalism. Dec. 2, 2015. Available at: https://www.rjionline.org/stories/survey-most-millennials-are-interested-in-wearables-but-only-40-percent-own
 Some Christmas sales are offering cheaper versions but, as always, Apple has a lot of add-on options and products available. Keep in mind that the Watch is tethered to an iPhone as well, so this is in addition to, rather than instead of, the cost of the phone.