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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!

A New Baby - A New Beginning: 15 Things No One Ever Told You

December 31st, 2013

By Blythe Lipman

You did it! You're now the proud owner of an adorable, soft, cuddly sweet-smelling cooing newborn. But where are the instructions. How do you know what's right and what's wrong? Worry, worry and more worry! Why doesn't your baby like tummy-time, do you need to swaddle her, is she going to throw up at each feeding, is her poop supposed to be green, why is she crying? This is the time to enjoy your beautiful little miracle and put those worries aside. But it can all be so confusing.

Here are 15 questions and answers to help keep those worries to a minimum:

Do all newborns like to be swaddled? Swaddling is not only warm and comforting, but simulates that safe feeling     of being in the womb. I never met a baby that didn't like to be swaddled. However, many babies like to be swaddled with their arms out and still love that wrapped-up feeling around their tummies. Try warming up the blanket in the dryer first, it's even better. Ahh!

Does the house need to be totally quiet when the baby is sleeping? No, no and no. Get your baby used to the household noise from day one so she will be able to fall asleep anywhere. Remember, the womb was a noisy place!

Should you keep your home five degrees warmer when you have a new baby? If you have a healthy, full term baby, the answer is no. The rule of thumb: if you're comfortable, baby should be too. If you're too hot or cold, adjust the temperature accordingly. 70-72 degrees is the ideal temperature to keep everyone comfortable.

If you are going to have a house full of excited guests coming to meet your newborn, is it okay to pass her around like a football? First, make sure no one is bringing along the cold or flu. The house is off-limits to anyone with an illness, even if they say they feel fine. Second, timing is everything. If you feel comfortable having your guests hold your baby, make sure it's after a feeding when she is happy and full. And last, if an elderly relative would like to hold the baby, ask her to sit down and gently place your precious in her arms. But remember, you're the parent and it's okay to keep your baby to yourself - your baby, your rules!

Do you have to do tummy-time each day? The answer is no. Tummy time is meant to help your baby practice strengthening her neck muscles and also have fun playing with mommy and daddy. Some babies love it at a month, some at four months and others never. Take a cue from your precious baby. If she cries, don't force it and try again in a few days. But remember to lie on the floor in front of her face and have fun. Tummy time is not supposed to be painful!

If you are going to bottle and breast feed, should you introduce the bottle that first week? According to, "while sooner is better than later, starting too soon can spell trouble for moms who want to continue nursing. A good rule of thumb: Begin the bottle no earlier than three weeks of age — and preferably five. Why? Because suckling from an artificial nipple is a whole lot easier than drawing milk from the real thing, so premature bottle-feeding can mess with the successful establishment of nursing. (But don't wait too long: Babies who are exclusively attached to food from the boob may — loudly — reject any other.)"

Will the baby throw up if you don't burp her every few ounces during a feeding? Not necessarily, as each baby is different. When a baby takes in air along with breastmilk or formula, the air can get trapped in with the liquid and has to come out. When it does, some of the liquid can come up through her mouth or nose. And sometimes it takes time for a newborn to get the hang of eating. According to the BabyCenter Medical Advisory Board, almost half of young babies spit up regularly, the peak age being four months, so try burping your baby every few ounces, especially if she starts getting a little squirmy. But no burp after a few tries, don't stress, feed some more and try again.

If you are bottle-feeding your newborn and it takes her forever to finish, is it okay to change to the next stage nipple? When your baby is hungry, she should be able to suck down her bottle in 20-25 minutes once she gets the hang of eating. If she burps fine but is still slow and pokey after a few weeks, try the next stage nipple. Each baby is different and the instructions are just guidelines and not the gospel. A word of caution, if you try the next stage; be sure she sucks at a moderate, even pace and is not gulping the liquid down too quickly as it may come up just as fast as it went down.

Do babies cry hysterically if they have a wet or poopy diaper? Most babies are not aware of their bodily functions until around five to six months. The only exception is if they have a diaper rash. So hysterical crying is a signal for another discomfort.

Do you need to put diaper ointment on your baby's bottom at each diaper change? As long as you thoroughly clean her with a wipe or clean, warm washcloth at each change, she shouldn't get a diaper rash. Dr. John Mersch says, "Parents often incorrectly feel that the rash is a visual representation of poor caretaking skills. However, parents need to understand that the basic causes for this common kind of skin irritation are still under active debate in the field of dermatology and that neglectful parenting is not among the possible factor."

Do babies need to have a bath each day? The answer is no. Once the umbilical cord falls off and you have the okay from your pediatrician, every other day is enough. Bathing each day can create dry skin. The exception is when they have a messy, up the back diaper blowout. If not, let's face it; they really don't do anything to get dirty each day.

If I don't put mittens on my baby's hands the first few months, will she scratch her face? Baby’s nails grow very quickly and can be sharp. As long as you check a few times a week to see if they need trimming, she shouldn't need mittens. Try using a soft nail file instead of clippers for safety's sake. And the perfect time for a manicure is after a feeding when everyone is calm and happy.

Do you need to put a hat on your baby each time you take her outside? If it's not cold and you are just walking to the mailbox or going a very short distance and she won't be in the direct sunlight, the hat can stay home.

Will you hear your baby crying if you take a nap? Believe it or not, most new moms will wake up from a sound sleep any time of the day or night when their baby is crying. According to a study at the Mind Lab Institution in the UK, men are not conditioned to wake up to the cries of a baby. In fact, it doesn’t even make the top 10 lists of sounds most likely to wake a man up. Hmmmm…so, as the article claims, while a woman’s maternal instinct kicks in when a baby cries, a man’s instinct kicks in when a car alarm goes off or the wind howls.

If I just can't figure this parenting thing out, is it okay to surf the Web for answers? There are many useful sites that can answer your parenting questions, but you must take their advice with a grain of salt. And remember, if you visit 10 sites, you may get 10 different solutions and be even more confused. Each baby is different and you know your newborn better than anyone. So before you panic, take a breath, listen to your gut and try to decide what works best for you and your baby. If you are still unsure, call your pediatrician, especially if it could be a medical issue.

Remember, you are all new at this. So relax, don't sweat the small stuff and enjoy your little miracle as they grow so fast. In the blink of an eye, she will be starting kindergarten and you will be smiling with pride knowing what great parents you are.

Blythe Lipman is the president of Baby Instructions ( She is passionate about babies, toddlers and their parents. After working in the field for over thirty-five years, she wrote her fourth award-winning book, Help! My Toddler Came Without Instructions. Blythe hosts a weekly radio show called Baby and Toddler Instructions on Wednesdays, 11am EST @ Become her Fan on Facebook and Twitter.


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