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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!

8 Persistent Parenting Myths

September 1st, 2016

By Judy Arnall

There are always some common parenting myths that seem to pop up as questions in my classes of teaching parenting over the last twenty years.  I am constantly amazed at how wide-spread they are across North America and Europe. There is no research that supports the myths, but they tend to persist as advice gets passed down from the generations.

  1. Bad habits last a lifetime.

I'm sure you have heard at least one relative or friend say, "You don't want to bring your baby into bed with you because then you are starting a bad habit and he will never leave!"

If that was the case, we would never start our babies off in diapers for fear that they will get too cozy in them and never learn to use the toilet. I often ask parents, "Should I start hitting my child over the head with a frying pan now so he gets used to the pain when he begins having childhood headaches later? No!"

It's the same with other lessons in life. Preparation is good, but it doesn't take years. It takes days. Children change and learn new things when they need to learn them. Bad habits take 3 days for children to break and 21 days for adults. (We are a little more set in our ways as we age!) So do what works now. When the time comes to make changes, such as when the situation no longer works for anyone, then make the change. This applies to everything in parenting, from sleep hygiene, to bribing kids to use the toilet, to instilling good study habits.

  1. Children should have impulse control by age 3 and should therefore "listen" to the adults.

No, they don't have impulse control by age 3. Young toddlers and preschoolers are ego-centric, meaning that their needs matter more than your needs. As it should - this is normal development. As they get into the school-age years, they grow aware of and begin to care about other's needs. They will have better executive function (self-control, listening, paying attention) by age 5 and 6, which is why they don't start mandatory school until that age. Even through the school years, they don't have maximum executive function.  They begin to have a good dose of it in puberty.

Educators have long known that preschool children's brain development is not there yet, to hold off on their self-desires for the needs of someone else.  Parents have to learn this too.  Even though young children know that "No!" is a sharp word that means something scary, they still don't have the self-control to restrain their wants when it is said.

  1. You must correct things in the moment or young children will immediately forget.

Again, there is no research that supports this. Yes, children forget the place in time when events occur, but they do remember something from earlier in the day. If you are angry, take your 10-minute timeout to calm down and then come back to address the situation - calmly and wisely. Or, address it at bedtime when everyone is feeling good and the teaching might stick. Young children will still remember! Lots of repetition will help them develop routine choices.

  1. Children remember things forever, so pack in lots of learning, activities, lessons, experiences and travel while they are young and before they resist as teenagers.

I wish! For all the world-wide travelling we did carting 5 children across the globe, they remember nothing before age 12. For all those lessons we stuffed into their heads, they remember nothing now, years after they dropped them. Well, maybe one or two memories stick out, like three-wheeled cars in England, and sinking boats in the bathtub as a science experiment, or the one cool snack someone brought to the soccer game when they were six, but nothing else brought back memories, when I showed them photographs of when they were young. I'm sure those experiences built their brains unconsciously, but they don't even remember their childhood best friends. On the flip side, when I asked my university-aged kids if they remember how much yelling I did when they were young, they replied, "None!"  Good thing too!

  1. Toddlers need harsh discipline to nip bad deeds in the bud, or their deeds will snowball and they will turn into raging, rebellious teenagers at age 16.

Children develop and grow their brain in stages. Caregivers should learn about physical, emotional, brain, and social development and what to expect at each stage. A child at 13 is a different child than age three. He has a much more developed brain to understand needs and adjust his behaviour. He has much more self-control to hold off on hitting and using his words instead.

Don't project ahead. You have many years in the school-age years to teach and explain, and it will stick because then they will get it. Parents feel they have to teach the most important lessons, hard, at a time when young children's brains are least equipped to understand them. That doesn't mean you just let little Nathan hit his friends. Address the behaviour with teaching words over and over again. "No, we don't hit our friends.  Here, stomp your feet when you are mad!" By 13, Nathan will have the self-control to do it on his own. Aggression is like water coming from a tap - none in the baby stage, full gush at age 2, flow at age 4, trickle at age 6, dribble at age 8 and occasional drip at age 10. By age 12, most children use their words instead of their hands, simply because of brain development and self-control, and certainly less, because of harsh discipline.

  1. If I don't enforce consequences on my child, how will she learn how the world works?  She needs to be punished to learn.

All the other "parents" in your child's world, including teachers, friend's parents, coaches, etc., will be happy to issue consequences to your child, along with jail time-outs, taking away privileges, and a host of other punishments. Let them.

You, on the other hand, have the vested interest in your child of teaching a real life, handy skill, called problem-solving. It takes time but pays off in increased communication, mutual respect and love. When you problem-solve with your child, aiming for a win-win solution that works for her and you, you are teaching her a great employment and relationship skill that is valued much more and has greater long-term use than punishments. There is no research that supports that punishment enhances parent-child respect, communication and close relationships. There are plenty of studies that show how detrimental it is.

  1. Children want limits to feel secure.

No, they don't!  In fact, children want their way just like adults do.  We hate it when we really want something and someone says "No" to us and children feel the very same way. What makes children and adults feel secure is maintaining their autonomy while being informed of expectations.  For example, if we are attending a ball, we want to know some idea of what to wear.  We don't want to be dictated to, or demanded that we wear a certain item.  We want the choice, but also want to know what is expected so we can make an appropriate choice.  Children are the same way.  They want information and the ability to choose.  That is why offering children choices, along with a little background information, helps them with decision making and gives them empowerment.

  1. Teens don't want to hang around with parents.

Wrong. Most studies done on teens who rebel, act out and engage in delinquent behaviour, do not have warm, caring parents who have structure in the home.  Teens want privacy, but they want involved parents who respect them, care about where they are, worry about them, and help them navigate the world.  Teens don't want or need parents that punish, belittle or dismiss them. Be close to your children but let them set the pace for contact. If you are their trusted coach, non-judgmental information source, and problem-solving mentor, as well as a fun person they can beat in video gaming, they will love you forever!

Judy Arnall, BA, DTM, CCFE, currently teaches parenting courses at The University of Calgary, Continuing Education, and has taught for Chinook Learning, Families Matter, and Alberta Health Services for the past 13 years. Judy is the author of the international print bestseller, Discipline Without Distress: 135 Tools for raising caring, responsible children without time-out, spanking, punishment or bribery and the newly released Parenting With Patience: Turn frustration into connection with 3 easy steps.  WWW.PROFESSIONALPARENTING.CA 403-714-6766. Join their list for monthly notifications of free parenting webinars.  

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