Apple Watch Family Setup is a handy feature for families, allowing parents to set up an Apple Watch for kids and older relatives without the need for a paired iPhone, and control how the smartwatch is used.

There are some caveats, and it doesn’t work with all models of Apple Watch, but we explain everything you need to know about Apple Watch Family Setup right here.

What is Apple Watch Family Setup?

While at one time you could only set up an Apple Watch using an iPhone, that all changed with the introduction of Apple Watch Family Setup as part of watchOS 7 in 2020. The feature allows an Apple Watch to be set up using a parent or guardian’s iPhone, and crucially, allows the Apple Watch to function independently of the parent’s iPhone thereafter.

The functionality is great for families with kids or older relatives that want to stay connected; using built-in cellular connectivity, they get their own phone number and account to download apps, use FaceTime, Messages, Emergency SOS and, of course, call people.

There are also features specific to kids, like the ability to block use during school hours, location tracking and limits on elements like Phone, FaceTime, Messages and contacts to help keep them safe.

Importantly, the parent or guardian will be able to control various factors of the experience directly from their iPhone.

That includes managing your child’s contacts and when they can access the watch, putting blocks on certain Apple Watch apps, and in the case of older relatives, you’ll get a notification if the smartwatch detects the wearer has had a fall or reports an irregular heart rhythm.

In the US, there’s also a feature called Apple Cash Family that lets you send money to kids to spend on the Apple Watch using Apple Pay, with the ability to see purchases in Wallet on your iPhone.

Which models of Apple Watch support Family Setup?

Family Setup is undoubtedly a handy feature, but there is a catch; it’s not universally supported on every model of Apple Watch.

Instead, Apple Watch Family Setup is only available on cellular models of Apple Watch Series 4 or later running watchOS 7 or newer. It’s not available on the budget-friendly Apple Watch Series 3.

The parent or guardian will also need an iPhone 6s or later running iOS 14 or newer to set up the functionality.

How to set up Family Setup on an Apple Watch

To use Family Setup on the Apple Watch, you’ll need a few things; your iPhone 6s or newer, an Apple Watch Series 4 or newer with Cellular connectivity, an Apple ID for your kid or older relative and to have already set up Family Sharing.

If you’ve already got Family Sharing set up and you just want to use Family Setup on an Apple Watch, skip to the next step.

Family Sharing setup

The first step is to set up Family Sharing on your iPhone or iPad, essentially linking the Apple IDs of family members into a single group in Apple’s ecosystem.

It comes with benefits like shared payments, subscriptions, iCloud storage and more, making it much easier for children to use Apple devices while still having tight restrictions on what they can and can’t access.

For those new to the world of sharing Apple ID functionality, here’s how to set up Family Sharing on an iPhone or iPad:

  1. On your iPhone or iPad, head to the Settings app.
  2. Tap your name/Apple ID at the top of the Settings menu.
  3. Tap Set Up Family Sharing.
  4. Tap Get Started.
  5. Select the feature(s) you’d like to share with your family, and tap continue.
  6. Select a Shared Payment method – this is the card that’ll be used by family members to buy apps, songs and more – and tap continue.
  7. Tap Invite Family Members.
  8. Enter the security number for your Shared Payment card if prompted, and tap Next.
  9. An iMessage window should appear with the link to the Family Sharing invite. Add the name/number of your family member and tap the Send button to share the invite.
  10. Tap Done, and repeat the process for any other family members you want to invite.

Once the family member taps the link and accepts the invite, they’ll be linked to your Apple ID.

Family Setup on the Apple Watch

Once you’ve got Family Sharing set up, you can now use Family Setup on the Apple Watch – as long as it’s Series 4 or later with cellular connectivity, as noted earlier. To set up Family Setup on the Apple Watch, follow these steps:

  1. Get your family member to put on their new Apple Watch, and attach the strap accordingly.
  2. Turn on the new Apple Watch by holding the side button until the Apple logo appears on screen.
  3. Bring your iPhone near the Apple Watch and wait for the pairing screen to appear. If it doesn’t, make sure both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are enabled on your phone. You can also head to the Apple Watch App > All Watches > Pair New Watch to kickstart the setup process.
  4. Tap Set Up for a Family Member, and then tap Continue.
  5. Align your iPhone and the new Apple Watch so your phone can scan the Apple Watch display with its rear camera.
  6. Tap Set Up Apple Watch, and follow the on-screen instructions.

Once complete, your child or elderly family member should be able to use the Apple Watch with all the benefits we outlined earlier including the ability to make calls, track its location and block usage for kids during school hours.

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