Family life

Your kid's first phone can now be an Apple Watch

With Apple's new "Family Setup," your kid can use an Apple Watch to do a lot of the things an iPhone does.

I got my kid a smartphone when he started middle school and nobody was more surprised about that than I was. I always thought I’d hold out until grade 9 or so.

But it wasn’t because he begged. To my husband and me, it felt necessary. After a lifetime of attending after-school child care and literally never being without adult supervision, my tween would now suddenly be set free in the world at 3:15 pm every day, and taking public transit to get home. Right or wrong, we couldn’t live with the idea that he’d be unreachable in that time.

So last year, as he entered grade six, we gave him an iPhone. But here’s what’s interesting. Had I been making that decision today, I’d have another option: I could get him an Apple Watch with Family Setup.

“But I need to be able to call and text my kid,” you’re thinking. “Apple Watch only lets you do that if you also have an iPhone.” That’s what’s new. With an Apple Watch set up through a parent’s iPhone, kids can get their own phone number and can make and receive phone or FaceTime audio calls on the watch. They’ll also have access to apps such as Messages, Maps, Mail and the voice assistant, Siri.

Obviously, an Apple Watch isn’t inexpensive, but it’s less than an iPhone. And strapped to your kid’s arm, it’s less likely to get lost or broken than a phone is.

If safety is a concern like it was for me, you’ll appreciate that your kid’s location can be shared with you through the Find People app on Apple Watch (and location notifications are customizable, meaning you can get an update for one occasion, or on a recurring or time-based schedule).

Two Apple Watches strapped together, one showing a bitmoji of a little boy and the other showing text messages between a boy and his grandma

Photo: Apple

Worried your kid will be playing with their watch during school hours, when all the other kids have dutifully tucked their phones into their backpacks? Cue Schooltime mode. Tell the watch when your kid is in school—say, 9 a.m. until 3 p.m.—and during that time, a distinctive yellow circle is displayed on the watch face for teachers to easily recognize, signifying that access to apps is restricted and Do Not Disturb is turned on. “We actually built Schooltime along with educators and former teachers that actually work at Apple,” says Deidre Caldbeck, director of product marketing at Apple. “We wanted to ensure that Apple Watch could be managed responsibly, even if the child is in the classroom.” If your kid wants to use the watch during this time, they can—but you can see exactly when and for how long they did, and ask them about it later.

And in case this doesn’t sound enough like The Jetsons to you, there’s one more eerily timely feature: You can track how often, and for how long, your kid is washing their hands at school each day.

“We wanted to bring the benefits of Apple Watch to more people, including those who don’t have their own iPhone,” says Caldbeck. “That family member now gets all the great benefits of Apple Watch without having their own iPhone, which we think is a huge benefit to younger demographics.”

Family Setup is available on cellular models of Apple Watch Series 4 or later or Apple Watch SE paired with iPhone 6s or later. A wireless service plan is required for cellular service, currently available through Bell.