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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!

Think Safety First During 'Spooktacular' Halloween Family Festivities

October 24th, 2011

By: Paul van Gorkom

Halloween is the second largest commercial holiday. There are fun and frightening activities to partake in this fall season, but keep in mind the following safety tips so festivities remain a treat for all. 

Have a Safe Scare at a Haunted House

Haunted houses may be required to abide by fire and safety codes and may be subject to inspections before the general public is allowed to attend. Some may also be required to have a sprinkler system, early warning smoke or heat detectors, emergency lights, easy access doors, and other safety features. But regulations may not be the same in all areas and you are responsible for your own safety. To stay safe while visiting a haunted house:

  • Take a flashlight with you. Even though the safety lighting might be fine for others, it may not be great for you.
  • If you are going with small children, attach a glow stick to their clothing so they can be easily found in the dark.
  • If there are stairs in the haunted house, be sure to use handrails and walk, do not run, up or down the stairs.
  • If visiting a haunted house in a group, have a meeting place in case you get split up.
  • Know where the exits are before entering the haunted house. Some attractions will provide you a map of the house so you are aware of where you are going when inside.
  • Keep an adult in the front and rear of your group going through the haunted house to help monitor young children so they do not stray.

Don’t Get Lost in the Corn Maze

Corn mazes are large fields of corn stalks, anywhere from a small field to more than 20 acres in size. They can be great fun if they are completed safely.

  • Equip your group with flashlights and cell phones and try to stick together.
  • Some mazes provide young children and groups with colored flags to wave in the air if they get lost. There are also mazes that have call boxes that will turn on a light to alert an attendant that you are lost or need assistance.
  • Teach young children to not go outside of the maze’s path. There may be a busy road or another unknown property beyond the corn stalks.
  • Wear appropriate clothing and shoes as you will be outside. If the path is not wide, corn stalks may scratch your arms. Remember that rain can create muddy, slippery surfaces. Fallen corn stalks may also be a tripping hazard, so watch your step.
  • Avoid smoking while in the maze as dry corn stalk could easily catch fire.

Hold on During the Hayride

Hayrides, whether haunted or not, can be a very enjoyable experience for any age. Sitting atop a truck, wagon or sleigh decorated with hay or straw is a great family tradition. Be sure to follow all signage at the hayride along with these tips:

  • Be cautious when loading and unloading from the hayride. Make sure the hayride is at a complete stop before getting onboard or off. If there are steps, they could be slippery because of the hay or straw.
  • Be careful when finding a place to sit. Your foot could easily slip between bales if you walk on them.
  • Make sure everyone in your group is sitting at all times during the hayride and all arms and legs are kept inside the wagon.
  • Hold on to small children and railings as bumps in the path could easily bounce you and them off of your seat.
  • If the hayride is horse-drawn, be careful around the horse and do not approach it if the hayride operator states not to. If it is a tractor pulling the wagon, do not touch it as there are many handles and buttons that could accidently be pushed. The tractor could also be hot from running for a long period.
  • Do not walk in the hayride path. Stay in a safe, well-lit area when you are not riding.

Always remember to wear proper attire and footwear and plan for weather restrictions . Enjoy fall festivities by planning in advance and being safety-conscious.

Paul van Gorkom is the Vice President of Operations at AlliedBarton Security Services. AlliedBarton is the industry’s premier provider of highly trained security personnel to many industries including higher education, commercial real estate, healthcare, residential communities, chemical/petrochemical, government, manufacturing and distribution, financial institutions, and shopping centers. 

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