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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!

Finally, a Stress-Free Holiday: Six Shortcuts to Your Peace on Earth

November 13th, 2011

By: Ashley Davis Bush

Oh the hustle and bustle of the holidays. The music.  The lights. The festivities.  “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.”  Or is it?  Isn’t it also the most busy, most harried, and often the most stressful time of the year?

Well not this season!  These six simple shortcuts will help you chill out, open your heart, cultivate gratitude, and remember what the holidays are really about.  The shortcuts are well-being exercises that are triggered by ordinary daily events.  These easy tools will naturally integrate themselves into your holiday rhythm, creating more space for joy.   

1.    Take Five

Trigger: When you’re wrapping presents

Tool: Breathe in through your nose to the count of five. Hold your breath to the count of five. Exhale through your mouth to the count of at least five (longer is even better). Repeat several times.

Purpose: Breath work is universally considered grounding and relaxing. Deep exhalations stimulate calming mechanisms in your body.  When you redirect your mind to an awareness of breath, you create a moment of calm in which inner peace can bloom.

2.  Eyewitness

Trigger: When you’re feeling overwhelmed by too many visitors, too many parties, too much mayhem with kids in the house

Tool: Rub your hands together vigorously to create heat and friction in the palms of your hands. Then cup your hands over your eyes. Let your eyes and face relax under your hands. After several seconds (up to a minute) remove your hands, open your eyes, and imagine seeing your world with a fresh perspective, as if you had just returned from a long and difficult journey.  Remember that this year is unique, never to be repeated.  See the scene around you as the once-in-a-lifetime event that it is.

Purpose: This exercise anchors you in the moment. Visualizing the world afresh, you create perspective and stimulate gratitude.

3.  Remember This

Trigger: When you’re waiting in a checkout line at the mall or waiting while holiday shopping online/on the phone 

Tool: Ask out loud, “What do I need to remember?” Listen to your heart for substantial answers like, “I need to remember that I love my husband and I’m committed to our relationship,” “I need to remember how lucky I am to have healthy children,” “I need to remember how grateful I am for the gift of life,” “I need to remember that the spirit of the holiday is about giving,” or “I need to remember that this too shall pass.” When the answer comes to you, feel the emotions behind the remembrances and let them flood your body.

Purpose: When you focus on positive emotions, you reduce your stress. Redirecting your thoughts to life’s big priorities helps snap you out of patterns of stressful thinking.

4.  Who Is Your Mother?

Trigger: When you are in front of a cashier in the store or at the grocery

Tool: Look at the person in front of you and for a moment reflect on the question Who is (or was) your mother? Mentally shrink this person to a small child and imagine her relationship with her mother. Consider whether it was a happy or strained relationship. Imagine that relationship today, full of joys, struggles, expectations, and lessons in letting go. Recognize that this person, like you, has a history, a family, a mother (who she is still connected to even if her mother has passed away).  Breathe in the relationship between this stranger and her mother, and breathe out compassion to them both.

Purpose: When you connect with the human condition, you get outside of your own sphere, thus generating compassion. You dissolve the barriers between yourself and others and wake up to your interconnectedness. 

5.  Shakedown

Trigger: When coming home at the end of the day, after work or holiday shopping, before you enter into the sanctuary of home

Tool: Before you walk through the door, spend a moment “shaking down” your body, as if you are shaking off water. Shake your right leg and foot, then your left leg and foot. Shake your right arm and hand, then your left arm and hand. Gently shake your head and let your shoulders relax. Finish with a little twist of your torso to shake off any remaining tension. Finally, take a deep breath and heave a long hearty sigh (a prolonged exhale).

Purpose: Relaxing your limbs sends a ripple effect of calm through your body. When you clear or shake off energy from a hectic outing, you restore yourself to a place of calm so that you can be present as you transition to home.

6.  Joy to The World

Trigger: When you’re stuck in holiday traffic

Tool: Take a moment to look at the people in cars around you.  Just like you, they have joys and struggles, hopes and dreams.  Just like you, they are planning for holidays with their loved ones.  To each person you focus on, say or think something like “I wish you happy holidays.”  Or “I hope you find some joy during this season.” 

Purpose: When you spread positive and loving energy out into the world, it makes you feel better inside. By opening your heart and creating momentum for compassion and goodwill, you break out of your own world and broaden your connection to something more.


Weave these simple shortcuts throughout the season and you’ll go from ‘humbug’ to ‘ho ho ho’ in no time flat.  Guaranteed, this year will be your most peaceful holiday ever!

Ashley Davis Bush, LCSW is a psychotherapist in southern New Hampshire and a self-help author.  Her most recent book is Shortcuts to Inner Peace:  70 Simple Paths to Everyday Serenity (Berkley Books).  For more resources, visit her website at


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