My little boy is all grown up. It’s hard enough to see Michael shoot up from the tiny acorn he was, always by my side, to suddenly being nine years old. But here’s a milestone they don’t tell you about in parenting books: the moment you see your child unbox their first smartwatch. His little face. Finally his own freedom to make calls, instead of having to fight for time on my phone with his little brother. This time the screen was his own, and his dad and I were in his world. We couldn’t help but swell with pride to see him gain confidence and an air of independence as he realised he could call Mum or Dad at any time, day or night.
I felt strangely nervous about my son taking this leap into a connected world. Would he be ready for it? As much as Michael wanted a smartphone, the prospect of him meeting strangers online, peer pressure and cyberbullying were all things I worried about.
But the Neo smartwatch feels safe because it doesn’t connect to the internet – your child can stay in touch while you’re apart, with calls, chat and emojis. It counts steps and helps kids feel in control of their day with their own calendar. It even allows children to personalise their watch with Disney characters – there are loads of fun features that will undoubtedly help keep kids interested and ensure they continue using it. It helps me feel in control because I’m the one who adds my son’s contacts, and I can see the watch’s location on a screen on my phone. I chose the 12-month, £11-a-month contract. It’s a safer introduction to tech before they get into the all-consuming world of smartphones.
Because there’s no access to the internet on the Neo, it meant that Michael wasn’t staring at the screen for hours. Instead, his smartwatch encouraged him to get active. So whether that was going to the park for a runaround and impromptu picnic with his brothers, or walking to trampolining, the activity tracker gave him new motivation. The location feature is useful, too, so I always know how long I’ve got before he’ll be through the door with his dad for dinner.
The call function was Michael’s favourite. Calling our extended family really brightened up his day and gave him something to look forward to. “And check this out, Neo can do messages and tell you the weather and it’s got a calculator so I can pretend to play Numberblocks all the way to 100. It can do pretty much everything,” Michael said.
When Michael needed the Xbox password to play Pac-Man with his brother, no one had a meltdown about it: “I know, I’ll just phone Dad and get the password.”
“But he’s driving,” I said.
“That’s OK, I’ll send the ‘call me’ message, he’ll call me back when he sees it.”
The smartwatch has a selection of simple pre-written messages to communicate with your family: “call me”, “yes”, “no”, “I’ll be late”, and, my favourite, “I love you”.
With a child who drags out bedtime for as long as he can, the Neo has proved extremely useful. “But I’ll be lonely,” is his usual wail. Yes, even though he’s nine years old.
Nestled under his covers, a sleepy voice calls from his bedroom: “Goodnight, Dad. Are you going to bed, too? Night, night. See you in the morning. See you at breakf … ,” before he gently drifts off.
Talk about the gadget of dreams. Literally.
Whatever your style of family communication, feel connected to your child with Neo, the smart kids’ watch. Find out more at Vodafone