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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!

Just in Time for Halloween: Lessons Learned While Living with the Dead

October 7th, 2011

By: Rebecca Fisher

The bodies that lay just beyond my front door were rigid and still, lifeless and festooned for their final farewell.  For the most part the mortuary was dead quiet, especially after hours, but every now and then it would teem with inexplicable activity.

I had just put the baby to bed for the night and was indulging in the weekly magazine I saved for that quiet time when everyone had gone home or was out picking up our newest client.  Just as I had settled into my corner on the couch, the floorboard outside my door creaked with the heaviness of a footstep. With a suddenly accelerated heart rate, I awaited the next step…but it didn’t come.  Either someone was standing just outside my door, or I had imagined it.  A loud crashing noise shook me from my frightened anticipation.  Someone must have returned and was making a raucous while transferring a new body.  I slowly opened the door an inch or two, keeping the chain securely fastened.  Nobody was in the hallway.  Upon thorough investigation of every room, I found that the mortuary was empty, save me and the baby.  Walking quickly, as if followed by death, I made my way back to the apartment, heart racing, hair raised.  I watched as an orb of light followed close behind my reflection in the mirror at the end of the hallway.  I raced into the apartment, quickly locked the door – chain, deadbolt and knob – and returned to my corner on the couch, knees pulled up.  While I rationalized the events, trying to laugh it off, it came again…the creaking floorboard.

The first thing people ask me when they read my book or hear a bit of my unlikely life story is, “You really lived in a mortuary…with dead people?”  Yes, I did.  And their next question is always the same…“why?”

I was newly married at twenty years old, six months pregnant and without many options for work and a home.  This particular mortuary offered both and it was an offer impossible to pass up despite its obvious flaws.  Needing a home and a way to provide for my new baby trumped the trepidation I had about whom, exactly, we would be living with.

The only mortuary experience I could remember before moving into that Northern California, family-owned funeral home was the service for my 92-year-old great grandma.  I was barely into the double-digits of life and trembling while my grandpa firmly held my hand and walked me to the casket to pay my respects to one of my favourite people.  When I got close, I was stunned by the lack of resemblance between the pasty, soulless body in front of me and the grandma who so often leaned over to peek at my cards while smiling as if she had a secret before asking, “Do you have any 4’s?”  He made me kiss her cheek and I remember the smell, of what I now know to be formaldehyde, making me sick to my stomach and the cold, stiff feel of her cheek giving me the chills.

With this my only home-of-the-dead experience and the memories still haunting, I was a tad more than terrified to walk through my new front door. But as is the case with much of the unpleasant in life, I adapted.  I began venturing out into the red-carpeted hallway, long and narrow, which led into the business office, casket show-room, chapels and, of course, the embalming room.

I helped after hours since I wasn’t technically an employee, only to find that it’s after hours that the place really comes to life.  I ran the vacuum over every inch of carpet, at one point hugely pregnant and later with a baby dangling from a papoose slung over my shoulders.  I cleaned the bathrooms, replaced the tissue boxes, collected and documented flower cards and gradually worked my way closer and closer to that room.  Once inside, I came face to face with the morbid, matter-of-fact realities of death, and eventually, I painted those faces.    

The first lesson I learned is one that has helped me through many uncomfortable situations.  Human beings are surprisingly superb at adapting to our environments.  At first mention, the idea of living with the dead was unfathomable, and I did spend many terrified moments curled up on the couch anticipating the next haunting footstep, shadow or looming light.  But with time, I actually found myself unaffected by their presence, applying their make-up with the same matter-of-fact mindset I had while filing paperwork at a law firm months before, only with more cooperative clientele.  I found a way to survive circumstances that had once seemed untenable, and I reminded myself of this when later faced with some of my darkest hours.  I would repeat over and over the mantra, “no matter what, I’ll survive.”  This mindset helped get me through a violent and at times life-threatening marriage, divorce and custody battle.  It helped get me through single-motherhood.  It still helps me with the uncomfortable uncertainty of life.

Life is fleeting.  This is another lesson I learned from my time with death.  The ironic contrast between the death that continually passed through the mortuary doors and the new life I held in my arms was unmistakable.  It was terrifying, too, as I was quickly made aware that no one is immune to this certainty.  Shortly after I brought my beautiful baby home from the hospital, another mother was bringing her still-born baby to our home for a service.  With empathetic grief, I clung tightly to the life I would die to protect and grappled with the inevitability we must all face.  I saw many ages, races and faces come through those doors.  I saw natural causes and violent tragedies.  Many who work in the business find themselves so consumed by death they can’t live life.  Many turn to drugs and alcohol.  I can’t really blame them.  If death is the end of the road, life can seem futile and cruel. Luckily, before I was overwhelmed by the unforgiving and unrelenting reality of death, I caught a glimpse of what would become the most valuable lesson of all.

Any of us can play dead.  It is, in fact, recommended as a useful tool while being mauled by bears.  Hollywood goes to great lengths to recreate its likeness.  But, the truth is, we can’t recreate it.  It is undeniable that something is missing when you look at and touch a body that once was a living, breathing person.  No matter how much make-up, glue or formaldehyde you use, you will often hear the family say that the body before them is not their loved one.  They are most certainly gone…but where to?  What is missing that made them who they were?  These questions were ever present, and as haunting as the whispers in the hallway.  It had been a long time since I had considered the Christian faith I was raised with.  But the questions were demanding my attention.  I began seeking answers and ironically, that place of death would become the beginning of a new faith and as a result, a radically new life.

Despite the many hair-raising events I suffered while living in that mortuary, I gained a lot from my time there.  It was life-changing.

So if you are planning on taking up residence in your local funeral home, I have some advice:  brace yourself for what might pass you in the hallways.  And be respectful of the dead and their loved ones – for it will, most definitely, be you one day.  

Rebecca Fisher graduated with a B.A. in English and an M.S. in Education, and teaches high school English. Her own experiences living in a mortuary in Northern California and raising her daughter on her own serve as the inspiration for the many macabre and eccentric encounters in her novel. She lives in California with her husband and two daughters.

All the Wrong Places is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble online, and the Rebecca’s website in both paperback and e-book format.


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