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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!

Folk Fest with the Kids

July 20th, 2015

Thinking of hitting folk fest with the kids but never done it before? We chatted with one local mom who's a bit of a "folk fest with kids" expert to get some advice!

***Tickets to the festival are mostly sold out but can often be found either in weekend passes or daily passes on both Kijiji and the folk fest ticket swap page. Kids under 12 are free!

1. Parent to parent - do you have any advice for parents on how they can prepare their kids for the atmosphere and what the day will be like? Do you give them an idea of how long you'll be there?

The first year I took them I had the three older children (6,5,3) and Hailey. So I went Thursday and Friday night without the kids (adult time) and then took them for the weekend experience. They had previously been to different festivals so I told them we would be going to a festival all day for both days (with the option of leaving earlier if everyone was feeling done with the day). I told them it would be very busy and a fun loud environment. That it would be important for us to stay together and for the older one to check in with us if she wanted to wander more. We did buy two pairs of ear muffs for Rachelle and Hailey as they are more sound sensitive.

2. What are some must pack items when taking kids to a festival like the Folk Fest?

You NEED a tarp! And pegs to stick it to the ground. Our essentials look like this:

- Tarp & pegs. A big one that we can peg down and leave on the hill as a landing point all day and to crash for the night sessions by the main stage. Also serves as a rain shelter if needed.

- Carrier (buckle and wrap in case the second youngest needs a rescue too.

- Water bottles!!! (They have a refill station set up at the bottom Of the hill)

- Sunscreen, Hats, Rain gear, hoodies and long pants (usually left in the car so we can walk back for them in the evening when it gets cooler). 

- Food (food is available on the hill but gets pricey for a family). We usually bring sandwiches and hummus and veggies. We buy popcorn and green onion cake.

- Extra blanket to carry with us from stage to stage.

- Backpack for all of our stuff (the older two each carry a bag as well that we split food and water in if needed or extra clothes).

- Glow sticks for the kids when it gets dusk.

- Proper shoes or good walking sandals. Those hills are steep and you're up and down them all day.

- Hearing protection for those that need it.

3. Do you prepare any sort of safety precautions? Safe words, take pictures of them in what they are wearing, write numbers on their arms?

Sooooo I've totally lost a child at folk fest before. My first year there were three families and all our kids were running from the spray pad to the park at the bottom of the hill. She lost track of us(and us from her). Security is awesome and the whole area is fenced off so she wasn't lost more than a couple minutes. She was literally in front of me when I went to security to report. I do take a picture each morning of their attire and I try to make sure I have them in something I can easily spot in a crowd. I write my cell number w a sharpie in the inside of their arms and put liquid band aid on it to keep it on during the day. They have safe words. At the beginning of each day we talk through who we know that will be there that day & we have planned to meet up with or will be going with. The older kids have more freedom and often wander a little further so we have check in times or points and they are more vigilant. Overall it's a good environment and people look out for each other

Any other advice you would give to parents taking their kids to folk fest - or any other full day festival?

It's an awesome festival!!! So worth going even once! But don't set expectations too high the first time until you know what to expect. A one day or evening pass may be enough for some people or go the whole weekend and make it a yearly tradition to attend. The kids remember it year after year and as we go more they get better at knowing the group rules for going to festivals, staying safe and having fun. Stay hydrated! Because you get sun and wind and heat (or rain) all day, it will hit you hard if you're not careful. We go with another family every year. And pairing off with another group is totally the way to go! It gives you a parenting backup and extra adult voice if needed. Totally worth the companionship to save you sanity if the kids gets crazy. I hear that as the kids get older the experience gets a little less hectic and a lot more enjoyable too! Just embrace the chaos and enjoy the experience for whatever it is. Because it only comes once a year. The music and sun and atmosphere is worth all the chaos and planning.

Erin Heard is an Edmonton Mom of four. Master of the household chaos.

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