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How my 6-year-old conned me into buying him a Marvel Vivofit Jr. 2 fitness tracker

The kids are not all right.

Sarah Tew/CNET

I remember it like it was yesterday.

The year: 1988. The location: Glasgow, Scotland. It's cold up north in this council house, and the atmosphere is even icier. I'm 7 years old. My parents and I are sitting at the dinner table, forks in hand, potatoes uneaten. I am talking. I am babbling, and the skepticism is thick. Brows remain furrowed as I, a child obsessed with video games, use every rhetorical trick in the book in an attempt to convince my parents that I "need" an Amiga 500.

I don't "want" an Amiga 500. I "need" one.

Then, the greatest lie ever told:

"It'll help me with my homework."

Mum, Dad. Please. I need this thing. To help me. With my homework.

And of course homework had nothing to do with it. Of course. Every adult my age understands the dilemma and they understand the line I was selling. I already had a computer so I didn't need anything, but the computer I had was bad. The games were also bad. I wanted an Amiga 500 because it could display 32 different colors in a 320×200 resolution, and the Spectrum 48k I was currently rocking was a piece of hot garbage in comparison.

"It will help me with my homework."

It was a gigantic pile of bullshit. I knew it. I suspect my parents knew it. But it worked. Within the year I had my 32 onscreen colors in crystal clear 320x200 resolution. I had my Amiga 500.

Parents. What a bunch of dummies.

The tables have turned

The year is now 2019. The location: Sydney, Australia. The tables (dinner tables in this case) have turned. Now I'm on the receiving end of the bullshit. I'm a 37-year-old father of two, and my oldest son, just turned 6, is using the same rhetorical nonsense I used back in the day. The forks are still in hand, the potatoes are still uneaten. The brows remain furrowed as my son attempts to convince me that he needs, not wants, a new piece of tech.

But that piece of tech isn't a computer or a laptop. It's not even a tablet. It's a -- wait... what?

A Garmin Vívofit Jr. 2?

Vivofit Jr. 2

We have the Spider-Man one.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Welcome to the dystopia. The world is melting, 1 million animal species are at risk of extinction and, in elementary schools the world over, 6-year-old children are obsessed with -- get this -- fitness trackers. If you're a parent of a child aged 6 to 10, you're most likely nodding vigorously in bemused agreement. Don't have kids? Congratulations. You might want to consider making that a permanent arrangement.

This is a living nightmare.

Some context: For the last year, my oldest son has been saving up for a Lego set. An expensive one. A ninja dragon or something, Christ, I don't know. My wife and I set up a system that I'm quite proud of. Instead of doling out money for doing chores (I firmly believe kids should do my chores for free) we give out monetary rewards when our children achieve something that requires effort or persistence. My wife is a psychologist, it was her idea. "Growth mindset" or something.

As a result, my oldest has been earning money for doing some pretty weird stuff. When he was five, I gave him $7 for landing a front flip on a trampoline. I also flung him cash when he taught himself how to spell the word "D-R-A-G-O-N." A few bounties remain. He'll get $20 if he teaches himself the times table, and $10 for a back flip is still on the table. Hilariously, I've promised him $1,000 if he can beat me in a 100-meter footrace. Relax, he's got no chance. This won't backfire at all.

For the last year, my son has been earning money this way. It's been a long road for the little guy. He's earned around $65 for his achievements, but his priorities have changed. He no longer wants the Lego set. He wants a goddamn fitness tracker.

Turns out he's not alone. Ladies and gentlemen -- fitness trackers are a "thing." Kids used to lust after Ninja Turtles and Tamagotchis. Now they want fitness trackers. A friend of mine spent last Christmas working as a mall Santa. He said 50% of the kids who sat on his lap begged him for a Garmin Vivofit Jr.

What the hell is going on?

The Garmin Vivofit Jr.: it's a fitness tracker explicitly aimed at children. It's relatively cheap at $70, and the focus is battery life, ease of use and unlockable games tied to step counts. Children are obsessed.

Why? I'm not 100% sure. At a guess it's an unwieldy combination of parental anxiety surrounding child obesity rates and Ben 10. More likely it's marketing and the fact Garmin made the genius call of purchasing the Marvel license. Now superhero obsessed children can lust after Captain America-, Thor- or Iron Man-themed watches they're only vaguely aware they need.

Now playing: Watch this: High-tech fitness equipment for your home

My son wanted the Spider-Man one. It's part peer pressure, part cool factor. My son was certainly aware that fitness trackers were "cool." He'd seen me wearing a Fitbit and begged to borrow it on more than one occasion, but I suspect his "need" for a fitness tracker was a "my friends have one so I want one too" situation.

So of course, I buckled.

And insanely, I buckled for much the same reason as my parents had all those years ago.

"It'll help me with my homework."

Parents. What a bunch of dummies.

The dance of the damned

My son is already a very active, healthy kid (see aforementioned front flips) so my reason for buckling wasn't the activity tracker (which unlocks a video game after 60 minutes of exercise). I'm not too interested in tracking my kid's steps either.

I was sold by the "chore tracker."

Incredibly, my son was aware of this to the point where, when trying to sell me on this watch, he had the good sense to say, "It'll help me do my chores and my homework."

Vivofit Jr. 2

BRB, loading my kids app with chores.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The Vivofit Jr. 2 connects to a phone app that enables parents to assign chores and dole out virtual rewards when those chores are completed. It's sort of genius and, yes, could probably be used to "help with homework." If my son ticks "completed homework" on his little task list, I will probably assign him some sort of digital reward.


And so far, so good. My son and I are tethered partners in the dance of the damned. He thinks he's pulled off the con job of the century by convincing me to pay for a fitness tracker he totally doesn't need. I think I've conned him into thinking he's got the better of the deal, when in actual fact I'm loading up the chores and reaping allllllll the benefits.

The reality is we're both losers and the only winner is Garmin itself, or consumption culture in general. A friend of mine was sold on his kids' fitness tracker with a line that haunts me to my core: "Before you buy them a phone, buy them a fitness tracker."

Yes, the phone discussion is on the horizon. I know this.

I'm absolutely consciously aware that this is just the entry point. The gateway drug to a whole different level of pain. God knows I didn't stop at the Amiga 500. Who knows -- when he's a teenager he'll probably be inserting these things directly into his brain.

Time passes, we turn to ash, but the cycle remains the same. All that changes is the gadgets themselves. "It'll help me do my homework." Lord help me.

I only pray that one day, in the near future, this god-forsaken planet lasts long enough for my son to go through the same old bullshit with my future grandchildren.

Parents. What a bunch of dummies.