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Rules for Kids' First Cell Phone

Are you considering getting your child their first cell phone?

If they are in the double digits, starting to spend a little time on their own or getting home by bus or walking, a cell phone can be a parent's friend. Some of us have chosen an age when a cell phone will happen; whether it's grade 3, 7 or 10, no judgment here. Every family is different and has different reasons for getting their child a mobile phone. Our oldest two set the precedence in our family when they were 12 and started bussing and being away from us for short stints. If you've decided your child will not have a cell phone until they are an adult or old enough to pay for it monthly, these rules may not be relevant for you and I applaud your resolve. I chose differently and I've had to learn along the way what that choice meant.

What I've learned and want to share is how to avoid or address some of the pitfalls we've faced as parents of five kids with five different cellphone experiences. These are mostly for elementary and junior high and are fluid, always changing. Our access and privacy rules definitely changed when they entered high school.

First, consider why your child NEEDS a cell phone. If it is for safety and your piece of mind knowing where they are, do they need a smart phone with access to the World Wide Web when they are out of the house with no supervision? If they are in elementary, probably not, but again it's your call. Just realize that your sweet, innocent 9 year old is curious and has friends who may be more curious. If you just put one curious word like... Say, "boobs" in a search engine, guess what will show up on their screen? A whole lot of boobs! This may or may not be a big deal to your family but imagine all the other curious words they can choose to access, with photos and videos! I had a friend find the word "fagina" in her computer Internet history when her sons were 8 and 10, which was her time to figure out how to safeguard them on the computer. Thank goodness for poor spelling :)

You can still get cell phones with voice and text only options or you can get a smart phone with no data plan for it: however, know they will still have access in wifi areas like friends' houses or at school. Be prepared to find questionable history if they have access to everything and anything. Kids are curious and you have just given them the answer to all their questions at their fingertips in Google!


Here are the RULES I wish we had started with before giving any of our kids a phone:

1. Access
The point of getting a cell phone for kids is usually because we want to be able to reach them (and they can reach us) when we or they are away from home. If we call or text, they should answer or respond as soon as possible.
Moms/dads have all the passwords and WE OWN the phone. The child is allowed to use the phone but it is not their possession to keep from you. If they are younger, maybe they only get access when they will be separated from their parents.
We will check the activity on the phone and the kids need to know up front that nothing is private, even if they delete it we can access the account history. This is not a spying tool for parents but an opportunity for our kids to learn about doing the right thing and for parents to help guide their child's journey in the online world.

2. Safety
If you do go the smartphone route, whether they are little or in high school:
- install a "find my phone" app. This allows you to find a lost phone... Or a lost or non-responsive child. Their location services must remain on at all times for this function to work.
- No communication with people they do not know. This holds true if they have a phone or when they begin playing online games on the family computer or tablet. These are scary discussions to have with our kids but if they are online, you need to have them. Age appropriate examples of online predators and the risks may save their lives.
- No downloading of apps without permission. Moms and dads need to know what's out there to be able to say yes or no. This is a daunting task if you aren't tech savvy and I guarantee your kids are more in-the-know then you are. If they ask to download an app you aren't familiar with, look into it. There are loads of parenting reviews available online. Say no if you're not comfortable and set an age when you may be more comfortable and they can have it.
- Set up parental controls on each device so they need a password to access downloads or certain apps. Each phone is different so check your specific phone details to do this. Don't wait, do it now.

3. Phones do NOT go to bed. The temptation of texting friends all night, the ambient light of a phone ruining sleep patterns and just a total disregard for the importance of sleep all get tested if phones go to bed with kids. They may try the "but it's my alarm clock" or "I just use it to fall asleep to music". Do not fall for this! Get them a clock radio or CD player with an alarm.

4. No phones at meals (I've broken this one on occasion and heard about it). Meal times should be spent together as much as possible and without the distraction of texts, games, videos, etc. It is a hard habit to break if you don't make the rule from the get-go. The people in front of you are much more important than the device in your hands; show them that.

5. Take care of it!
Consider what feels right for you, making them earn money for their first phone or gifting it to them. Kids are growing and learning to be responsible and they will make mistakes - that includes with their phones. Whether you bought the first one or they did, you have to decide if you will have mercy if they have one accident or lose it. I guarantee they will appreciate it more and take better care of it if they paid for it but that will work too if the repair or replacement phone was earned. Just whatever you do... Do not repair or replace a second time. It will never end! Trust me .

6. Photos, Videos and Sexting (I know, but read it!)
For the little ones, no taking pictures or videos of people without permission. Elementary kids have gotten themselves into hot water just being silly and thinking it's fun to share or show pictures of classmates in embarrassing situations, but it isn't fun for everyone. See, that was easy!

Now the hard part... Sending pornographic pics or videos of themselves or others through their phones (tablets and computers too) happening at far too young ages. I know this sounds horrific if you have kids who are very young and the concept of even bringing this up seems ridiculous; However, it's happening everyday in almost every junior high in the city. Ask your school administrators and you will find they are dealing with online bullying and sexting issues all the time. Cell phones make these situations very easy to get involved with and sadly it has become the norm. It freaks me out too, but if we don't have these conversations, monitor online activities and stay in the know, it may be our kids making this mistake, and it's a big one.
Can you imagine yourself when you had your first big crush? Can you remember peer pressure? Talking about societal issues and sexualization in the media is a whole other post, but media is influencing a generation and we can't turn a blind eye hoping it's not our child participating in these activities. I hope it isn't either, but they likely know, have seen or heard about a boy or girl who sent nude photos. Have the conversation.
Taking nude pics of underage kids is child pornography. Sending it through the Internet or a cell phone is distribution of child pornography. Even if it's the child taking and sending pictures of them self, it is still illegal. There are too many examples of kids being expelled from schools and some have been charged with these offenses. Even worse though is how it impacts the child when their private photos are shared with the entire class, school or on social media. They just didn't know how bad it could be sending one simple picture, but it can be horrible.

We need to educate our kids and prepare them for how their actions with their cell phones can change their lives in a moment. We also need to educate ourselves on the realities and dangers having access to anything can create.

Communication about the tough topics, set clear boundaries and rules, research apps, and "you own the phone" messaging all can help you in navigating the rough waters. Kids will make mistakes so be prepared for bumps in the road but by knowing and discussing in advance I hope these tips will help make your child's first cell phone experience a good one. Good luck!

10 Tell-Tale Signs Your Aging Parent Can’t Live Alone

January 1st, 2016

By Carolyn Brent

It’s a sad reality that, as we age, we become less independent than we once were – but for most blessed with longevity, it’s inevitable. With baby boomers caring for elderly parents, throngs of adult caregivers struggle with determining if their parent is fit to remain living alone.  It’s a difficult, multi-faceted decision not to be made lightly as there is much at stake – both the physical and emotional well-being of the parent in question and for the extended family at large.

To help ease the process of determining if an elderly parent should no longer live on their own, here are 10 tell-tale signs that can give you better peace of mind with making this all-important decision:

  1. Mom or Dad has always been a great housekeeper, but the house just doesn’t look like it used to: You may remember a parent who was constantly on you about tidying your room or putting things away after you were done with them. The house was always spotless and everything was organized, clean and in its place.  There was much pride in this fact. However, upon visiting with Mom or Dad today the home is decidedly cluttered and not nearly as clean as normal.  Of course, this can mean a lot of things. Your parent may actually have an active social life and is more concerned with staying busy than tidying up. But, it could be a more ominous sign that your parent is having a difficult time keeping up with all the chores. She may feel overwhelmed or his physical health is slowing him down. Ask your parent if help is needed with the clutter, but do it in a nonchalant way that could prompt a conversation indicating assistance is needed here. Keep a keen eye to discern if the clutter and filth is getting worse with each visit - it’s often a key sign.  
  1. The bills and other mail are piling up: While we all get busy – even those who are retired –basic tasks that were often dealt with quickly and easily when younger, but that are now falling by the wayside, is a sign that your older parent could be getting overwhelmed and not able to manage their daily affairs. This may also indicate some signs of forgetfulness and memory issues. Often, especially if a parent is alone without a spouse, they may not have someone to remind them to go through the mail and check to see if it’s time to pay certain bills.
  1. The checking account balance is wrong and bills are going unpaid: If the mail, with bills included, is piling up, there is a good chance that the bills are not getting paid. You may also discover amongst mail issues that your parent’s checking account ledger balance is wrong or in arrears. These are also signs that your parent is having memory issues or difficulty with simple math cognition. It can also indicate a general apathy – a mindset that can be equally problematic for someone with the glut of responsibility required to effectively live alone.
  1. Your parent is losing a lot of weight: A parent who may have lost their partner or who is generally depressed often loses interest in eating due to a reduced appetite. They may feel that it is not worth the hassle of shopping for and preparing meals if they are now living all alone. Accordingly, pay close attention to your parent’s weight. Also, check their refrigerator and pantry to see if there is an appropriate supply of food and that what is there is fresh and edible. If the cupboard is bare and your parent’s frame is shrinking, living alone might become problematic. At the very least, you may want to think about bringing groceries by or looking into a service that offers prepared meal delivery. Otherwise, you may have to think about putting them somewhere that helps them eat regular, healthy meals.
  1. They have forgotten the basics of hygiene: If you notice that your parent is wearing the same clothing day in and day out or that their hair or skin appears dirty on a fairly regular basis, they may have lost the motivation, ability and/or forethought to look after himself. Living alone, they may feel like they don’t have to dress up or clean up for anyone. Worse yet, they may have forgotten – or simply no longer cares - that such personal hygiene and cleanliness is an important part of daily living and maintaining one’s good health.
  1. They appear in inappropriate clothing: While you may not share your mother or father’s sense of style, there is cause for concern if your parent dons summer clothing in the dead of winter or leaves the house in a nightgown and slippers for a trip to the store. This often happens when the elderly are suffering from confusion and lose the ability to have discretion in social situations. In this situation, wardrobe can be the least of the concerns as the problem manifests in other dangerous ways.
  1. There are signs of forgetfulness in the home: Confusion can also show up in the kitchen and can prove to be deadly if not dealt with quickly. All too often there are stories of older people who accidentally burned their houses down because they left a pot on the stove for hours and fell asleep or have flooded the home when they forgot to turn off the tap. Or, perhaps more subtly, the milk is in the pantry and the bread is in the refrigerator. These are all tell-tale signs that it may not be wise for your parent to be left home alone for extended periods of time.
  1. Your parent regularly misses appointments and other important items: Forgetfulness, absentmindedness and memory issues may also show up when it comes to keeping certain appointments, recognizing key dates, or, even more importantly, maintaining medication dosages on schedule. This is a clear sign they need to live with someone who can help them stick to their schedules and stay on task.
  1. They are just acting plain weird: This is always the sign that families dread the most. No one wants to turn into the “crazy cat lady” or the “man who mutters to himself.” But, unfortunately, between aging, mental degradation and the side effects from medication, you may note that your parent has lost their personalities and behavior has taken an odd turn for the worse. If you see signs of paranoia, fear, strange phone calls and conversations and nervousness, this should not be overlooked as it’s a blatant sign that living assistance is in order.
  1.  They exhibit signs of depression:  There are a number of classic signs that can be connected with someone suffering depression. A loss of interest in caring for one’s self as well as a lack of participation in socialization and in once-loved hobbies can mean that your parent needs treatment or should reside in an environment where they can be around other people. Sometimes, depression comes from a sense of loneliness or the realization that they can no longer do things for themselves. Putting them somewhere that offers assistance, socialization and activities can help cure the loneliness and put them back on track to a more fulfilling, active and engaged life.

Aging and elder care authority Carolyn A.  Brent, MBA, is the author of the acclaimed book “The Caregiver's Companion: Caring for Your Loved One Medically, Financially and Emotionally While Caring for Yourself” – a “systems” book detailing outlining step-by-step processes so caregivers know what to do and what to ask in every situation that may arise. She may be reached online at www.CareGiverStory.com

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