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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 to Enjoy the Warmer Weather with the Whole Family

May 5th, 2014

By Jennifer Jacobellis


1. Visit a farmers market 

Spring is a great time to visit a farmers market with your family. You get to enjoy fresh, locally grown food that tastes better and is good for you. Buying local food also helps to support your local economy and supports eco-friendly farming practices. When you buy food from a farmers market you're able to ask questions about where the food comes from, how it was grown, the best ways to cook it and more.

2. Plant a garden

Growing a vegetable or flower garden in your own backyard is a way to teach your family about being eco-friendly and eating healthy. Food tastes better when you know you've had a part in growing it and it teaches your kids to appreciate the value of food. If your yard doesn't have room for a garden patch you can start a container garden or even find a community garden in your neighborhood where you can secure a patch of land for your family to garden.

3. Have a picnic in the park

Going to the park in the spring is a relaxing way to enjoy the nice weather outdoors and get some fresh air. Make it even more fun by inviting the whole family to help make sandwiches and snacks to put in a basket and take with you for a picnic. Bring along a large blanket or even a Baby J padded play mat for kids to lie on the grass. Along with your healthy snacks, your family will enjoy playing a few games so bring some cards, a board game, a frisbee, glove and mitt or other fun outdoor activities. Enjoy, soak up the sun, listen to the birds chirp and have some good old-fashioned fun with the family.

4. Visit the zoo

Visiting the zoo with your family in the springtime is a way to see all of the new baby animals that have just been born and teach your kids about the circle of life. You'll get to see elephants, giraffes, lions, and monkeys and it's an educational trip for the kids as well. If you do not have a zoo near you, look for a petting zoo as these are fun too!

5. Take a trip to the museum

Spend the day at a science or art museum with the kids and let their imagination go wild as they learn and explore while building their curiosity. A museum with interactive exhibits will keep kids' attention as they get some hands-on learning and discovery and they're fun for adults too. Encourage your kids to ask questions and participate in any tours, programs, or activities. When you get home, ask your kids about their favorite and least favorite museum exhibits and talk about the different things you got to see.

6. Go on a nature walk

Going on a nature walk with your family will have them getting active and getting in touch with mother earth. A nature walk is very calm and relaxing and can help kids improve their ability to concentrate. Have your kids point out the different kinds of plants, birds, and insects they see. Encourage them to focus on their different senses and pay attention to the different sights, sounds, and smells around them. You can also bring a camera to take pictures of flowers and birds; then when you get home, you can look them up on the internet to try to identify the different species.

7. Make sidewalk chalk art

Have your kids get in touch with their artistic side by handing them a box of sidewalk chalk. You can play hopscotch in the driveway, draw pictures and fun designs or make up games to play with each other. Wet the chalk for more vibrant colors and a smoother texture. Another fun thing to do with sidewalk chalk is to find shadows of objects on the sidewalk and have your child outline the shadow and then have fun coloring it in!

8. Go horseback riding

Kids love the experience of horseback riding because it's not something you get to do every day. They get to learn about the horses and how they are cared for and it's fun to walk or trot with your horse and learn the signals for guiding your horse. It's an outdoor activity that can be enjoyed by children of all ages. Also, depending on where you go horseback riding, you might be able to take in some spectacular views.

9. Take a family road trip

For your spring break consider taking the family on a road trip to the beach, lake, mountains or any place that will be a new experience for your children. A road trip is an adventure in itself as you can stop at different landmarks along the way to your destination. For a relaxing road trip, make sure you pack the essentials like snacks, toys, a first aid kit, and some comfortable clothes.

10. Camp out in your backyard

You don't have to leave home to have some fun in the spring. Use your own backyard for a family campout and you'll be thankful you still get to use your own bathroom and kitchen. No campout is complete without a large tent, some sleeping bags, flashlights and s'mores! Gather all of your regular camping essentials for an authentic experience. Plan some fun outdoor games and activities and bring plenty of snacks so you won't have to make too many trips indoors. While you're at it, go for a hike around the neighborhood and explore some roads you haven't traveled before. Once it gets dark at night, lay out the sleeping bags and gaze up at the stars to end your memorable family campout.

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