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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!

Does Your Child Suffer From Affluenza?

February 25th, 2013

Wouldn’t it be great if children were born with a “best practices handbook for child-rearing?”  Unfortunately, this is clearly not the case and, while we all want what’s best for our child, that “best” requires parents who are responsible and raise their children with consistency, love and active parenting. 

But within the context of consistency and active parenting, there is a balance.  Children who are over-protected and overindulged become young adults who over-rely on their (helicopter) parents to complete their college applications and negotiate health benefits with future employers.

Psychologists and child-rearing experts are concerned with an epidemic we call “Affluenza” – the disease of too much, too soon with no appreciation.  What is the prognosis for a child with affluenza?  A lifetime of entitlement. 

Being a responsible parent means that you determine and react to your child’s needs vs. wants.  What your child needs is your unconditional love, despite shortcomings and mistakes.  Being a responsible parent means you provide guardrails when your child tests limits and boundaries. And, being a responsible parent means you allow your child to be unique, while teaching confidence, respect, and how to deal appropriately with emotional struggles.  Delaying gratification and caring about the consequences in the choices he makes, can only make your child a more resilient young adult.

So how do you know if your child is already inflicted with affluenza and how can we reverse its effects?  To leverage a change, we must first recognize some of the more noticeable signs:

  • Your child gets everything NOW.  “No” means “Maybe” if he pressures long enough.
  • Happiness is temporary and almost always conditional on his getting his way.
  • She does not make friends easily because only her needs are important, the world revolves around her.
  • Wants/gets new toys, gets bored easily and then discards them quickly.
  • Misplaced/lost items are not accounted for and replaced by parent without concern.
  • Measures all she has against what her friends have.
  • Cannot accept a failing grade, does not share credit in classroom with other children.

What is the best anecdote?  Finding the right balance between dependence and independence.  Parents must make decisions for children they may not understand or like.  A responsible parent knows you cannot always make your child happy.  In order for children to learn and grow, they must learn how to face and overcome emotional struggles, in order to build a strong foundation needed to conquer adult challenges and struggles.  It is imperative that parents not allow children to take the shortcuts, past the lessons, to get to the prize.

In order for parents to raise a resilient, responsible and respectful child, these are the top 10 best practices:

  1. Meet the needs, check the wants.
  2. Children learn as much from how you teach them, as what you teach them.  Responsibility is a character trait that has to be taught and learned, it’s not instinctive.
  3. Fiscal responsibility must be taught at a young age.  Parents should teach what money is, where it comes from, how to spend it wisely and how to save, spend and give back (charity).
  4. You won’t make your child happy all the time.  They are allowed to make a mistake – but, the lesson is to teach your child to own it, admit it and move on from it.
  5. You are the parent, he is the child. You are your child’s confidante, ally and best cheerleader, not their friend.
  6. Allow your child to make age-appropriate decisions.  Letting your child take ownership and have active participation in the real world will teach responsibility and accountability.  Hold your child to the consequences of his actions.
  7. Routine and chores create “predictable order”.  Chores create time management skills, self-respect and confidence to help him feel helpful and capable.
  8. An additional benefit - chores teach caring for one another, how to share space and time in the home, and individual contribution to the greater whole

While there are no rule books and best practices for every child and the household, you do know what’s best for you and your child.  Take a deep breath and relax.  You will have many decades to be a parent and work on getting it right.

Lori's vibrant  engaging personality have led companies to request her services for workshops and seminars,  lunch and learns and organizational events. She has been quoted in numerous national and international newspapers, magazines, and nationally syndicated radio and television and is the co-author of the widely respected, Good Manners Are Contagious, which is being sold nationally and internationally.  Visit her website at www.GoodMannersAreContagious.com  and for speaking engagements call: (856) 751- 8485.

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