How to Set Up an Apple Watch for Your Kids

It finally happened. On a sunny weekend, I sent my 7-year-old a block ahead to the playground while I helped her little brother sort out his new pedal bike. We must have taken a long time because I started getting a bunch of calls from an unknown number. When we finally caught up, my daughter was standing with a stranger and crying. He was holding his phone. “You weren’t here,” he said accusingly.

“I was 500 feet away!” I protested. It was no use. It was time for an Apple Watch.

The Apple Watch is one of the company’s most versatile (and popular) products. Some people use it for texting or as a style accessory. I mainly use mine as a fitness tracker. In 2020, Apple released Family Setup with WatchOS 7, which explicitly marketed the more affordable, and older, versions of the Apple Watch to children and elderly relatives. I don’t want to give my kid an expensive cell phone that she’ll use to watch YouTube Kids and then immediately lose or break. I do want her to be able to find me, and vice versa, as she exercises her growing independence.

If you have an iPhone, you probably have an old Apple Watch that you can repurpose for your older or younger family members. The Series 7 has been a game-changer for my kid. Did you want to buy a watch? Check out our guides to the Best Apple Watch or the Top Features in WatchOS 9 for more.

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What Do You Need?

Apple introduced Family Setup in 2020 with WatchOS 7. To use Family Setup, you need an Apple Watch Series 4 or later with cellular capabilities that you will add to your cell phone plan. You also need an iPhone with iOS 14 or later.

Both you and your child also need an Apple ID. If both of you already have one, you can go to Settings on your iPhone, iPad, or Mac, and click Family. Then click Add Member. If your child doesn’t have an Apple ID, you will be given the option to Create Child Account. From there, follow the instructions to add the child’s name, birth date, and email address. If they don’t already have an email address, you can use the suggested iCloud option.

A Blank Slate

First, unpair and erase your old Apple Watch. Open the Apple Watch app on your phone and click All Watches. Tap the info button next to your old watch and click Unpair Apple Watch. You can opt to keep your cellular plan (you’ll need it for your kid).

Unpairing is supposed to erase all content and settings on your watch, but in my case it did not. If it doesn’t work for you either, tap Settings on the watch, then General > Reset > Erase All Content and Settings.

Since my kid is 7, I found it easier to set the watch up on my own. But at this point, you can have your kid put it on (if it’s charged). The watch will say Bring iPhone Near Apple Watch. If you open the Watch app, it lets you choose to Set Up for a Family Member. Aim the phone’s viewfinder at the slowly moving animation to pair, or select Pair Manually.

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