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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 Ways for Families to Celebrate Family Fun Month

August 3rd, 2016


By Grainne Kelly

We don’t want to hear it – or at least the kids don’t – but summer is already almost over and soon it will be back-to-school time. But the summer fun doesn’t have to be over just yet and with August being Family Fun Month, it’s a great time for families to get out and enjoy some time together while having fun these last few weeks of summer. The list of possibilities is only limited by how far you can stretch your imagination and not your wallet. There are plenty of activities you can enjoy as a family that won’t break your summer budget. Here are a just a few to get you started:

10 Ways for Families to Have Fun Before the Summer Ends

Set up a scavenger hunt

Whether you make a specific list of things found in nature for everyone to bring back or just ask that each member of the family find one item to represent each letter of the alphabet, a scavenger hunt can be hours of good fun. A challenge for one and all, either as individuals or divide everyone up into teams, if you have younger children, and make sure there’s a super prize at the end of it! (Hint: the dollar store is a GREAT place to find the prize!)

Picnic at the park

Nothing says lazy days of summer like lounging on the grass, soaking up a little sun in a park with a cooler of goodies, some Frisbees, soccer balls, blankets and pillows. Even better if the park has a splash pad or some other way to cool off, but even if it doesn’t, a fun game of paddle ball can work up an appetite for sandwiches and fruit salad like nothing else. Don’t forget the sunscreen!

Meet the neighbors and start a game night

Are there other families in your neighborhood? If you don’t know them already, now is a great time to deliver invitations for a family game night. Perhaps a neighborhood water balloon fight? Or maybe an epic round of charades or capture the flag? It can become a regular thing for everyone to look forward to, putting down tablets and turning off the television for an evening of laughter and good times! Even if you don’t have other families who can join in, a family game night is one of those traditions that everyone begins to look forward to and can be carried throughout the school year.

Family outdoor movie night

Going to the movies with several adults and kids can be a little hard on the wallet, with the parking, tickets, and snacks. Improvise your movie night! Many theaters have family movie days, where the films are low cost or even free. And look for local outdoor movie nights, where you can bring blankets and snacks and enjoy a flick in the great outdoors. If these don’t grab your fancy, just set yourself up at home with a big bowl of popcorn and treats, pillows and blankets, and a rental that everyone can enjoy. Take turns picking out what you will be watching so that everyone gets a chance!

Go on a nature walk

Support your local parks and trails and head out on bike or on foot with the family. Look for plants, flowers, trees and animals that are indigenous to where you live. If you’re more adventurous, add in rock climbing, zip lining or canoeing. 

Get into the yoga habit

Check out your local yoga studio for an introductory (often free or low charge) lesson for families. You can learn some basic poses and practice the art of relaxation as a family. Who knows? You might enjoy it so much that it becomes a part of your weekly routine throughout the school year too! Downward dog anyone?

Make a fairy garden

It is said that fairies that visit a garden bring good luck to the family who welcomes them! But to get them to come, you must build them a home! Build them a tiny house (popsicle sticks are perfect for this) decorated with flowers, paint and stickers, all in wild colors. That is all you need to entice fairies to your garden. Dig a path, line it with stones, put in a bush or a ‘tree’ and don’t forget a tiny welcome mat. If you really want to wow your kids, leave a treasure in the house and when your kids are safe in bed, switch it for a fairy sized thank you note. The looks of surprise and joy on their faces will be worth the late night garden run!

Set up camp at home

Going camping in the backyard (or a friend’s backyard) is a great way to enjoy the spirit of a camping expedition without losing the convenience of things like running water and toilets! Not all kids are comfortable sleeping outdoors at first, so a trip to the yard with tent and sleeping bags is a great introduction to a camping adventure, right at home. Don’t forget the flashlights, s’mores and the ghost stories!

Catch a sunrise

Take an early morning hike to see the sun rise.  Pack a breakfast picnic and enjoy the brilliant colors that spread across the sky at dawn.

Become the local tourist

Get to know your own city or town and pretend you’re a visitor. Put together a series of themed tours and you might be surprised at what you learn.  Ideas include: an architectural tour, historical tour, museum tour, restaurant tour, shopping tour, parks and lakes tour.  

Whatever you do with your family this summer, remember that like the season, childhood doesn’t last forever: so take the time to play. You won’t regret it.

Grainne Kelly is a Family Travel & Entertainment Expert, and a former travel agent who revolutionized the child travel industry by inventing 
BubbleBum ( the world's FIRST inflatable booster seat that weighs less than one pound and can deflate in minutes, making it simple to throw in a backpack or purse. Perfect for daily and vacation travels.

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