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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!

5 Simple Ways to Help Children Learn About and Experience Kindness

September 1st, 20151 Comment

By Charmaine Hammond

It’s back to school time - back to routines, structure, packing lunches, and education - a time that many parents celebrate, and teachers look forward to. For some children however, the return to school is not a welcomed occasion, rather, is met with apprehension, fear and resistance.  With recent studies stating that at least one in three children will experience being bullied and other reports indicating that students are victimizing each other at alarming rates.

Teaching children about kindness does make a difference in the development and mental wellness, and positively impacts their success at school.  It might seem that kindness is pretty straight forward thus easy to teach, but that’s not quite the case.  Children learn what they see. If they experience parents gossiping about their in-laws, laughing at jokes that contain a racial slur or put down, or even being self-critical and judgemental, they may not learn how to be kind to self and others.

Patty O’Grady, an expert in neuroscience, emotional learning, and positive psychology, specializes in education states: “Kindness changes the brain by the experience of kindness. Children and adolescents do not learn kindness by only thinking about it and talking about it. Kindness is best learned by feeling it so that they can reproduce it.”

Here are 5 Simple Ways to Help Children Learn About and Experience Kindness

1.       Drive Time

The time we chauffeur our children to sports, lessons and errands is treasured time.  It’s just you, your child and time.  Use this time wisely, instead of putting a video on or giving them your cell to play games, take time to talk to your child.  Some of the richest conversations can happen during drive time. You can also create kindness games to play while driving. Ask your child to be on the lookout for people showing kindness (putting their litter in the garbage can, holding a door open, smiling, waving thank you). We know that witnessing and experiencing kindness creates a “pay it forward” result, it changes our mood, and how we view situations and people in our lives.

2.       Dinner Time

Make mealtimes an opportunity to sit around the table. Some families have made their kitchen table a technology free zone.  Take opportunity to have “family meetings” at dinner, and find ways to have your children involved (e.g. be the time keeper, write the agenda, help make sure everyone’s perspectives are included in the conversation). Not only do dinner time conversations help the family, they provide positive opportunity for life skill development.

3.       Script

From the first day of school, children learn and practice fire drills and scripts for stranger danger. Repetition works!  Work with your child to develop a script to safely respond to bullying behaviour and to not be a by-stander.  This provides children with words they can use, and practice builds confidence and courage to speak out safely and with respect.

4.       Peaceful problem Solving skills

My dog Toby and I have presented to more than 15,000 children in schools on the topic of leadership, bully prevention and kindness.  We often see that children confuse conflict and disagreement with bullying. Helping your child learn that a disagreement is not bullying will support the development of effective conflict management. Bullying is repeated and intentional actions intended to cause emotional or physical harm.  Disagreement is simply that… two different perspectives. You like green, I like blue. When your children learn how to differentiate conflict and bullying, they will respond more appropriately. Here are four simple steps to teach your child how to respond to disagreement and conflict, with an easy to remember acronym – SALT.

S- Stop.  Be calm.

A - Ask questions

L- Listen to answers

T- Talk it out - talk out a solution


5.       Family kindness activities

Your family pets provide valuable teachable moments for your children.  According to PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), “Children trained to extend justice, kindness, and mercy to animals become more just, kind, and considerate in their relations to each other.”  Helping children learn responsible loving pet care also helps them learn about empathy, which ripples over to how children treat each other.

Join the Family 10 Day Kindness Challenge with Charmaine Hammond and Team Toby.  It is super simple and free. Simply visit to download your family kindness activities, kindness certificate and activities for your child.

Charmaine Hammond, MA, BA is an expert in leadership, conflict resolution and resilience.  She has appeared at events around the world, has presented to thousands of businesses and together with her dog Toby, they have presented to more than 15,000 students. Charmaine is the author of several award winning and bestselling books including Toby the Pet Therapy Dog Says Be a Buddy Not a Bully, and,  Toby the Pet Therapy Dog and His Hospital Friends, and,.   She and her dog Toby are on their Million Acts of Kindness Tour across North America, and our magazine is a proud supporter and partner on their mission.  If you would like your child’s school to receive Toby’s kindness programs and a presentation, please contact Team Toby.

Tags: advice, kids

Reader Comments (1)

Charmaine said on October 7, 2015

thanks so much for sharing!!

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