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Family Matters

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!

13 Ways to Get Your Child Gardening

May 1st, 2015

By Fran Sorin

  1. Show your kids how much you love gardening. Even if you’re a beginner, don’t worry. You can learn with your children. It’s your attitude that’s going to inspire your kids as much as anything else initially.

  2. Make spending time outdoors a priority. It can a fun time- building forts and tree houses, chasing toads, pulling dandelion weeds (who can get that root out?), and playing barefoot on the grass are all tools for getting kids more connected to nature. When kids are young, it’s especially important for them to take the lead. Or you can have some comfortable chairs and a hammock in a shady area where your child can do her homework, read, draw, or just sit and relax  surrounded by the beauty of nature.

  3. Take your kids on nature walks, to visit public parks, local arboretums, and community gardens as family outings.  If you live close to a city, expose them to city parks. Pack a picnic lunch. Turn these events into special times that will be remembered. Also, use them as times to teach your kids about slowing down and awakening all of their senses to the beauty around them. You can walk through an arboretum passing by trees and flowers OR you can slow down, walk up to a tree with your child and have her look closely at the bark and touch it to feel its texture and embrace the tree.

  4. Take a trip to your local garden center together. Let her spend time going up and down the aisles and asking as many questions as she wants. (yes, you’ll need patience). If she just has to ‘have’ that rose bush (even if you weren’t planning to buy it but you do have a space where you can plant it), let her buy it –establishing up front that this will be her special bush.

  5. Create a small butterfly garden together. It’s as easy as planting a butterfly bush and a few native perennials that attract butterflies…like Joe Pye Weed, Russian Sage, and Black Eyed Susan. Your child will flock to that area to keep an eye out for butterflies.

  6. Encourage your child to take a pair of pruners and cut flowers from your garden that can be brought indoors or given to neighbors as bouquets

  7. Let your child select  4 or 5 easy to grow veggies or cutting flowers they want to grow from seed. I think it’s great fun perusing through catalogues together and letting them dog ear the varieties that appeal to them.  Suggestions- sunflowers, tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, cosmos, lettuce mixes

  8. Help your child sow certain veggie seeds – like tomatoes- in egg/yogurt containers— in sunny location indoors to get a jump start.  I have never met a kid who doesn’t love doing this.

  9. When the weather is warm enough, select a small sunny location close to the house- or if you already have a veggie/flower cutting garden- allocate a certain amount of space to be your child’s designated area.

  10. Spend time building organic, rich soil together for their plot. Show them the difference between sandy, rocky, clay like soil and how you’re going to work together to make the soil for their garden rich and crumbly. It is really important that your child feels free getting dirty and playing with the different types of soil. By the time you and she have finished developing organic, rich soil for her garden, she’s going to feel VERY excited.

  11. Make seed planting fun and a learning experience BUT focus on the process rather than just the end result.  Your child’s garden plot doesn’t need to meet your standards. If it has weaving rows, rather than straight ones, no big deal. Let it go.

  12. As far as maintenance, watering , and weeding, do some behind the scene work to keep things healthy – if need be. When my kids first got involved in gardening, I urged them to get out and water and weed. Sometimes it worked- other times not. Don’t turn gardening into yet another ‘task’ that your kids need to tend to. If you have to do a bit of behind the scene maintenance, until they are firmly turned onto gardening, my suggestion is to do it.

  13. Celebrate your child’s gardening and their gardening success once flowers bloom and harvests begin. The rewards will come when your child observes seeds germinating, fruits forming and flowers blossoming.  Once your child picks her first juicy ripe tomato off the vine or snips some lettuce cuttings for the salad for dinner or cuts a few sunflowers and place them in a vase, the magic of gardening will be instilled in her. It is important to make a big deal about the miracle of nature and how when we work hand-in-hand with nature, beautiful things happen.

Fran is the author of Digging Deep, and is passionate about keeping children interested and inspired, and instilling a love of nature at an early age.

Tags: advice, kids

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