#parent | #kids | Apple Watch can now be your kid’s phone, and it’s easier than expected

Setting up an Apple Watch for a kid isn’t that difficult, but you need a cellular watch and cellular plan.

Scott Stein/CNET

This story is part of Apple Event, our full coverage of the latest news from Apple headquarters.

I can give my kid an Apple Watch to use as a phone now. I’ve already started doing it. The new Family Setup that Apple introduced at its event on Tuesday is a path to free up family members to use the Apple Watch. It’s aimed at kids and older relatives.

The Apple Watch always needed an iPhone to work. It still does, basically. But there’s now a way you can set up a family member’s Apple Watch so they don’t need an iPhone of their own using Family Setup. I’ve been thinking about getting my kid a phone for school and for riding his bike, but maybe now the Apple Watch could be that phone.

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Apple sent me a test Apple Watch SE and iPhone with a preset phone number to try Family Setup ahead of the Watch SE’s release, and I was curious to see how it would work. So far it’s been a much less painful process than I expected, but you need the Apple Watch to be a more recent cellular model, and have it set up with phone service. The cost could add up.

The Apple Watch SE is the least expensive Family Setup watch, but the cellular model starts at $329, which isn’t cheap. (Family Setup also works with the Apple Watch Series 4 cellular, which Apple doesn’t sell anymore but you might be able to find on sale, and on Series 5 and Series 6 watches.) One quick note is that Apple only charges an extra $50 to add cellular to an Apple Watch SE, while it’s an extra $100 to add it to the full Apple Watch Series 6. This makes it pretty clear that the SE is tailored to these Family Setup scenarios.

Adding a new family watch happens in the iPhone watch app, and a family member needs to already be added to you via Family Sharing in iCloud settings (which means you need to set that up, too).

A new phone number for the watch was created, but that also means an added cost to your cellular plan. It should be around $10 a month. All of that could add up.

From there, I was allowed to also optionally track health data on the other watch. That sounds weird for your kid, maybe, but a fantastic idea if you were giving this to an older relative. Apple’s remote health monitoring opens up the possibility of letting someone have a watch as an emergency device. But keep in mind, whoever had the watch would still need to know how to use the watch, and also charge the watch — the new Apple Watches still need daily charging.


Setting up Schooltime, which basically is a timed period where a Do Not Disturb mode is on.

Scott Stein/CNET

School time focus mode

There’s a school time feature on Family Setup that’s meant to help a kid focus, keeping one basic watch face on and blocking everything else. My oldest kid’s doing remote school in the side room downstairs, so we’ll see how this works. Like the new do not disturb mode while sleeping on WatchOS 7, turning the side crown overrides School Time and turns on the rest of the watch… but it also sends an alert to the parent that the mode’s been turned off. It turns back on when the watch is left alone again.


Schooltime Report sounds intimidating. I think it just means your parent knows when you’ve checked other things on the watch?

Scott Stein/CNET

I feel weird spying on my kid like this… except I already do that by monitoring Screen Time settings on their devices. Is this any different?

Contacts get added on to their watch

I put my number and my wife’s onto my kid’s watch, but he could still dial out to other numbers too. I haven’t had him leave the house yet with this on, so we’ll see how that goes.

It’s pretty easy, and maybe it’s an answer for a basic phone

The Apple Watch really could be a phone for my kid, which is cool. But at $329, that’s not much less than the $399 iPhone SE. There’s not much cost savings here, but it’s possibly a great way to give my kid a phone without opening a door to needing a full smartphone. That is, if my kid’s OK with it.

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