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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 {Unexpectedly} Fun Family Adventures

September 1st, 2016

By Elvira Berezowsky

The splash pads are closed….kids are back in school…the parks have morning frost on them…Fall in Edmonton is here!  It’s time to look for new and exciting places to explore, with summer behind us.  Here are five places you may not have thought to visit around Edmonton…but will be glad you did!

Devonian Botanic Gardens – devonian.ualberta.ca

“Hey kids!  Let’s go look at flowers!”  You might be forgiven if you don’t expect your children to jump up and down with excitement at these words.  But, spread over 240-acres, the Devonian Botanic Gardens offer so much more than ‘just’ flowers.  The enclosed Tropical House boasts a large variety of butterflies; the perfect place to wander and play hide-and-seek with beautiful winged creatures from around the world. Walking through the Japanese Gardens, find the large prayer bell hidden in the corner and give it a ring.  After walking through the main gardens, or hiking one of the forest paths, families can get lost in the Hedge Maze towards the edge of the garden.  Or continue up the path to “John’s Folly” – the tall castle on a hill overlooking the gardens – to play knights and dragons, and search for fossils in the limestone walls.  Although the main gardens close in mid-October, the Devonian also offers a variety of special programs and events for children and adults throughout the year.  There is a small café, however, a picnic lunch is always a great way to sit and enjoy the changing leaves in Fall.

The Federal Building – www.assembly.ab.ca

While many people may have played in the spectacular fountains on the promenade of the refurbished Federal Building, few actually venture inside this beautiful historic structure.  When you walk through the doors, a spectacular living wall of plants greets you, drawing you up into Legislative Assembly Visitor Centre towards the back of the building.  To your right, the Agora Interpretive Centre invites families to learn about Alberta’s political history through hands-on exhibits.  Make a giant photo-collage of yourself, look through the photo “pods” at images from around Alberta, dress-up as officials from the Legislature, and take your picture in the Speaker of the House chair.   Head back to the main hall and check out what is new and interesting in the changing Borealis Gallery.  In the Pehonan Theatre, experience a 4-D immersive movie about the history of Alberta.  Then finish your visit by browsing original Alberta art in the Alberta Branded gift shop…and pick up a candy stick for the road.

Art Gallery of Alberta (AGA) – www.youraga.ca

Many parents shy away from taking their kids to the art gallery because they themselves feel that they don’t “know” about art.  The fact of the matter is, art is for everyone.  If you like something you see…that’s great….if you don’t like it…that’s okay too.  All the information you may need can be answered, either by reading the tag for the artwork, or talking with one of the helpful and knowledgeable Interpreters in each gallery.  One of the great features of the AGA is the BMO World of Creativity gallery.  This changing exhibit space is completely hands-on and allows children to explore art in a very tactile way.  And even though the main exhibition spaces are strictly “no touching”, there are still some fun ways for the family to interact with the work on display, without actually putting your fingers on the art.  Try these three games as you make your way through the rest of the building:

  1. Tell me a story.  Have your children make up stories about what they see in the art on the walls, or what the sculptures are doing today.
  2. Name me.  Everyone in your group can make up a name for the artwork based on what they see in the piece.  Then, read the name the artist gave the artwork and see if everyone agrees with their choice.
  1.  Can you find me?  A game of eye-spy with the art.  Have your family sit near several pieces of art and try and find different elements ‘hidden’ in the art.  You may be amazed by what you find.

Historic Highlands Community – edmontonhighlands.ca

Nestled in Edmonton’s Northeast, historic Highlands community is a beautiful area of the city to experience, especially in the Fall.  Start your journey in the small shopping area at 112 Avenue and 65 Street at Mandolin Books & Coffee Company.  Grab a latte (or tea) for yourself and an Italian soda for the kids and browse the amazing selection of used books.  Venture a few blocks west to Be-A-Bella candy store and gifts to treat yourself to some bulk confections or imported goodies.  Use the energy from your sugar high to venture eight blocks east to the Highland Park and Community League to play on the old-school metal merry-go-round and newer wooden structures.  Then head south towards Ada Boulevard for a walk to see all of the beautiful historic homes and mansions along the ravine.  Enjoy the long sugar-crash/play-exhaustion nap your children will take on the way home.

The Muttart Conservatory -  muttartconservatory,ca

Another beautiful venue that is more than just pretty flowers.  The four pyramids of the Muttart are home to three different biomes – temperate, arid, and tropical – as well as a fourth changing feature space.  Wander through the glass pyramids and find all the sculptures hidden among the foliage, count the koi fish, and see if there is fruit in the trees (Figs!  Peaches!  Bananas!).  Hand your camera to the kids and let them look through the lens at the bold and beautiful colours; you may just end up with some new art for your walls!  Then grab a delicious lunch at Culina Muttart, eat under the blown-glass sculpture by artist Keith Walker at centre court, and look for the animals hidden in the Alex Janvier mural surrounding the area.  The Muttart also offers programming for children and adults throughout the year.

Elvira Berezowsky is an Edmonton writer, arts-educator, and mom who particularly loves “Family Adventure Days” with her husband and kids.

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