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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!

Teaching Kids Animal Compassion: Choosing the Right Pet for Your Child Is Key

October 29th, 2011

By: Dr. Tim Hunt, DVM

Children can learn so many valuable lessons by caring for a pet. Having pets at a young age instills children with a sense of confidence that they can take care of an animal and help it to live a thriving life.

More importantly, I find pets can be great therapy for children. Have you ever seen a child talk to a pet and the animal responds by wagging its tail or purring? A pet gives a child a way to share their feelings with another living creature that will never respond in a judgmental or bullying way. Animals are unbiased companions, just what many children need.

Having pets also teaches children that animals are not expendable items. Involving children in the daily care of animals can help to make them a more compassionate person later in life. Over the years I have been able to follow children who first owned pets in elementary school as they grow up through high school, and I have seen them grow to be compassionate young adults.

On the other hand, children that don't get the experience of having a pet early may become afraid of them, especially if their parents don't particularly care for animals. But even parents who aren't crazy about pets or did not own them as kids can help change this trend.

People sometimes ask me what are some good pets for a young child to have, and why. Here are some pointers for choosing your child's first pet:

When to get a pet – I’m often asked what the best age for children to have a pet is. I believe between ages four and eight is ideal, although older children can also benefit. I got my first pets, mice and guinea pigs, when I was eight. I didn't get my first dog until I was 20, but since then I have been making up for lost time. Today I own 40 outdoor dogs and two more that live indoors!

Start with easier pets – Many people don't want to start with the responsibility of a dog or cat. For these folks, I recommend a non-traditional pet like a rat or a guinea pig. Rats are extremely cuddly; they don't bite and they only live two years. Guinea pigs also don't bite, unlike hamsters and gerbils that can be nippy.

Aim for “fail-safe” pets – Children are very impressionable. The worst thing that can happen is a six-year-old getting bitten by a dog and then being fearful of dogs for years to come. Choose pets that are easy to care for. Spend time with your child and the new pet, together reading and learning how to care for the animal.

Pick a pet that fits your family's lifestyle – Look at the purpose the pet will serve in your family. Do you and your kids spend more time indoors or outside? Is your child very active or does he or she prefer reading or playing quietly? If a child has ADD or ADHD, I recommend starting with a calm dog to help give them an example of what calm can be. For a hyperactive adult, I recommend the opposite: a high-energy dog they can play with to form a bond, such as a Lab or Golden Retriever, German Short-Haired Pointer or Border Collie.

Pets and exercise – With so many overweight children, people wonder if a dog can help their child get more exercise. The answer is yes, and it has less to do with the kind of dog than the simple act of walking it. A particularly excitable dog is not necessary. It is more important that the child spend at least half an hour a day walking the dog. Get a kid away from the screens and electronics for that long and they will start to realize there is more to life.

Purebred or mixed breed – It is not necessary to pick a purebred dog for your first pet. Many mutts you can get from the pound or animal shelter make terrific pets. I strongly encourage people to adopt pound and shelter animals. Try to find out what breeds are in the dog’s background to help you better understand the dog's behaviour. With purebred animals, it is especially important to do your research and make sure the pet fits your family's lifestyle.

Cats for quiet children – I find that cats are great pets for very introverted children. Having a cat helps draw the child out in a non-threatening way. Once the child and cat get to know each other, the cat will come and sit in the child's lap. Cats also don't require as much work or attention as dogs. I find that cats are particularly good for children with disabilities that limit how much they can care for a pet.

No matter what kind of animal you choose for your first pet, remember that your attitude toward the animal can influence how your child treats animals for life. This is particularly important when an animal becomes sick or old. If a parent views the animal as disposable, the child will too.

Whether your family chooses a hamster or a dog, be prepared to care for your pet in sickness and in health. If the animal gets sick, at least seek treatment. Even if the outcome isn't good and the animal passes away, children will remember that “we tried.” And that will stay with them for their whole life.

 

 Dr. Tim Hunt is a licensed veterinarian in both Michigan and Alaska. Drawing upon his 22 years as a vet and 17 years racing sled dogs, he created Dr. Tim's Premium All Natural Pet Food to replicate the natural, wild diet of dogs and cats. Dr. Tim is recognized as an expert on all aspects of pet health and a staunch advocate for the welfare of all animals. He and his wife Mary live on 50 acres in Michigan's Upper Peninsula with four house cats, two house dogs and 40 outdoor dogs. Learn more at www.DrTims.com. Contact him at drtim@drtims.com.http://www.DrTimHunt.presskit247.com/

 

 

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