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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!

Bundle Up and Get Outside

December 20th, 2016

Why Kids Should Play Outdoors in Winter

As winter and cold weather approaches, children’s play is often limited to the indoors. Adult fears about safety and negative attitudes toward exposure to cold weather are the barriers that prevent children from accessing play in winter months. It is common to hear adults say that “my child will not like being in the cold weather,” or “the cold is too dangerous to play in,” or “there’s nothing to play with.” It is up to adults to focus on the importance of children’s play, regardless of the season. After all, play should not be restricted to warm weather. Let’s welcome this upcoming winter season with a playful attitude.

How Snowy, Cold Weather Benefits Children’s Development and Health

When the weather drops into the single digits, it is common for parents to want their children to stay indoors to play. Before you go and curse the cold weather for keeping your playful children indoors all winter, let’s consider all of the benefits that cold weather has when it comes to children’s health, development, and well-being.

1. Children get to see the outdoors through a new lens

During the summer months, children become used to the warm, green climate that the season has to offer. After the change in season or the first snowfall, children view their environment through a different lens: fallen leaves, brown grass, snow, ice. This new lens enables them to imagine the outdoors differently and to be creative and play in different ways.

2. Increases in Exercise and Using Different Muscles

The winter months provide us with different ways of moving our bodies, such as sledding, walking up a snow hill, or building a snowman. Our larger muscles are put to great use in the winter months due to the challenges that snow provides. This large-muscle use and increase in physical activity support children’s gross motor development and overall health.

3. Getting Fresh Air and Avoiding Bacteria

Most adults associate the winter months with getting colds and illnesses such as the flu. However, it is not the cold weather that necessarily causes colds and flus – it is increased exposure to indoor environments where bacteria and viruses live. For example, during the winter months, you turn on your home’s heating and venting systems. The bacteria and viruses within your home are continuously being moved around inside. Adults and children who spend long periods of time in a heated and poorly ventilated home, without exposure to fresh air, can easily pass germs to each other.

4. New Challenges and Problem-Solving

Weather that we consider “messy” provides environments and materials that are inspiring and fun for children; for example, patches of ice, large snow hills, and trees covered in snow. These environments provide children with opportunities for new challenges, such as sliding down the ice patch and climbing a snow hill. Engagement with outdoor environments in the winter provokes new problem-solving skills – “How can I slide down this ice patch without falling?” “How fast can I run up this snow hill?” “Can I climb this tree using a branch as a snow pick?” The ever-changing environments that the winter months have to offer provide children with the challenges that they so often crave.

5. Vitamin D Exposure

When we stay indoors during the winter, we are not only missing out on play, but also on necessary vitamins that the outdoor environment gives us. Children get vitamin D through sun exposure, and absorb it even though the sun is not as warm in the winter. Vitamin D helps regulate mental and emotional moods, doing so by increasing serotonin levels in the brain. Serotonin plays an important role in regulating mood and keeping us happy. So the more exposure you have to the sun, the higher your serotonin levels will be. It is recommended that you get at least half an hour of playtime outdoors in the winter.

How Snowy Weather Benefits Kids - Why Kids Should Play Outdoors in Winter

Sometimes we think of winter as being a time of “nothing to play with” because everything is covered in snow. Parks may be empty, local outdoor events may decrease, and items that we use in the summer months may not be practical anymore. However, creating and engaging in winter play activities is actually fun for both you and your child, and very easy to do! Here are some activities that you and your child can do in the backyard with very little prep or materials to buy.

Winter Play Activities - Why Kids Should Play Outdoors in Winter

For you and your child to have a great time in the cold weather, the most important thing to consider is appropriate clothing. Here are some tips to make gearing up easier for you and your children.

Layers

Layers are really important for outdoor winter play. If you dress your child in layers, their body heat stays close to them and they are able to play for long periods of time. Also, layers are easy to add or take off as needed, depending on the weather that day. To appropriately dress your child in layers, you will need: a base layer, a middle layer, and an outer layer.

A base layer such as a long polyester shirt wicks moisture away from the skin and keeps your child dry and warm for long periods of time. You want this layer to be snug to the body so that any moisture will be wicked away. The middle layer should be made of down or fleece material, as the purpose of this layer is to insulate the body. You want the middle layer to be close to the body, but make sure that it does not restrain movement. The outer layer should consist of a waterproof winter coat, as this layer protects your child from winter weather elements such as wind, rain, and snow. You want this layer to be loose enough to have at least two other layers under it.

Mittens

Mittens are better for keeping children’s hands warm, as fingers generate more heat when they are not separated from each other as in gloves. Gloves are also important to include in your child’s dry pack because gloves allow better dexterity than mittens. Choose mittens that are waterproof and insulated with either down or a synthetic down.

Headgear

It’s important to choose a hat that covers the whole head, including the ears. Children often do not enjoy wearing hats, so you may want to consider getting one that is childproof, such as one that has long strings to tie around the neck or tuck into a coat. Hats are also one of those items that can be very personalized and fun, so involve your child in the process of choosing their gear to ensure comfort and likeability.

Snowpants

You want snowpants that your child can move in, is warm, and, most importantly, is waterproof. Suspenders built into the snowpants will ensure that the pants stay secure and do not fall down during play. Some snowpants also have drawstrings at the bottom to tighten around boots.

Boots

A good children’s boot is one that is both warm and stays on during active winter play. You want a boot that is waterproof, is insulated with down or synthetic down, and has drawstrings at the top to ensure a close fit to the legs. This will prevent any water or snow from soaking in. Some boots also have velco fasterners over the top of the foot that you can tighten for extra protection. Don’t forget to choose a good pair of warm (non-cotton) socks for your child’s feet. Wool and down are great choices.

How to Dress Kids For Cold Weather - Why Kids Should Play Outdoors in Winter

Other Gearing-Up Rules to Consider:

 

  • Try to avoid cotton as this material absorbs sweat. Wet cotton mixed with cold weather makes for cold kids!
  • Extremities such as ears, hands, and feet are more prone to cold-weather exposure. Be sure to get the appropriate gear for these areas.
  • Bring extra clothes that will keep your child dry and comfortable all day. The dry bag should consist of extra gloves, a scarf, pants, and a long shirt.

 

Let’s have a playful and positive attitude toward winter this season. It’s important to show your children that winter can be very fun. You can model various ways to fall in love with cold weather and snow – stomp your feet on ice patches, have a snowball fight, make snow angels, and be sure to engage in activities with your children. Take a breath of that cold winter air and remember that you are supporting your children’s health and happiness.

This article originally appeared on Fix.com 

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