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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!

Gift Guide for the Modern Girl

November 1st, 2015

By Jennifer Lavallee

As the gift-giving season looms nearer, we are all starting to feel that pressure—you know the kind, it’s that little voice in the back of your mind getting louder and louder, telling you (in a slightly panicked voice), “okay, you really need to get on this, you better start shopping soon!”  It’s usually followed up with a, “OMG, I have no idea what to get them this year!”

There are so many options out there when it comes to buying a gift for your kids. It can be overwhelming to find something they actually want, that’s not too expensive, and that’s still in stock.

Beyond the pink

So, you want to find that perfect gift (and quickly) but just stop for a moment and consider this: if you chose mindfully, the gift you buy for your child, especially your girls, can reflect a really important message, one that will help empower her to think beyond the pink.

Girls today—modern girls—don’t have to be limited to traditional “girl toys”. Of course, if the girl in your life loves these types of toys there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, but at the same time, there’s nothing wrong with a modern girl who can rock a Barbie and Star Wars’ Hans Solo. Even though she might love princesses, she is just as excited about ninjas as well. Girls should feel empowered to do and be anything they want and, as supporters of our modern girls, we can make an impact by our choices as gift-givers during the holiday season.

Gift ideas for the modern girl

Engineering Toy

Goldie Blox

Goldie Blox is awesome because she is a doll that puts a twist on the most famous “girl toy” out there, the Barbie doll. Goldie actually looks like a kid. She is dressed in clothing that you would see a kid wear and, most importantly, she is valued for her brains more so than what she looks like.

Depending on which kit you buy, Goldie comes with materials that will help your girl to start thinking like an engineer: wheels, axels, hinges, levers, pulleys, and gears. The modern girl will love this because she is encouraged to use logic to build some really cool contraptions. Goldie is great because she is a positive role model that girls can identify with and she gives them the opportunity to play engineer, which will boost confidence as they practice their problem solving skills.

In the Edmonton region, you can buy Goldie Blox at stores such as: Mastermind Toys, Chapters, Toys R Us, or on-line.

Imagination Play

Mapelea Girls or American Girl Dolls

Both the Mapelea Girls and American Girl dolls play off the same idea: they are 18-inch dolls that help educate girls on different periods of history and/or regions of Canada and the US (respectively). Both brands of doll have realistic, girl-like features and are available in a wide selection that reflect diverse cultures.

Helping to encourage healthy lifestyles, being active, creativity, and leadership, Mapelea Girls and American Girl dolls offer a lot of fun accessories that are great for imagination play; additionally they also have chapter books and movies starring the characters of their featured dolls.  Like Goldie Blox, most Mapelea Girls and American Girl dolls have elaborate back stories that portray girls as  the role models (versus adults); this is meant to teach kids about real life situations they may face and how someone their own age has overcome challenges.

You can buy Mapelea Girls and American Girl dolls online only.

Logic Toy


LEGO has been around for over 80 years and for good reason. It’s awe-inspiring to watch how kids can come up with complex things out of these simple little blocks. It’s not surprising studies have shown that playing with LEGO is one way to help girls foster a love for math and science.

Although there is a specific brand of LEGO that is marketed towards girls, called LEGO Friends, there are so many Lego sets out there for a modern girl—you don’t have to be limited to picking the pink LEGO. Don’t be scared to opt for a themed set such as: Minecraft (kids are crazy for anything Minecraft), star wars, super hero, or any other kind the girl in your life doesn’t already have (let her build ships, houses, rockets, you name it)—you honestly can’t go wrong with some cool LEGO.

In the Edmonton region, you can buy LEGO at stores such as: the Lego Store, Walmart, Superstore, Toys R Us, Education Station, Mastermind Toys, and Laugh n’ Learn.

Being Active

Skateboards or Scooters

In the era of iPads and 24HR-a-day cartoon channels, getting kids a gift that will encourage them to go outside and be active is really important and an all-around good idea. Girls who skateboard and ride scooters are one of the fastest growing demographics in action sports today. With groups like skateboarding leagues popping up all over, this sport can teach girls a lesson in confidence and be a fun way to get them out and moving while learning agility.

I know what you’re thinking…in Edmonton, with our cold winters and mountains of snow, a gift that is meant to be used outside is not always top of mind during the holidays. But remember, even though kids may not be able to use their new skateboard or scooter right now, come first melt, this gift will no doubt be a huge hit.  Also keep in mind, there are indoor skate parks available for those who don’t want to wait for warmer days.

In the Edmonton region, you can buy skateboards and scooters at stores such as: Toys R Us, Wheelz, Easy Rider, Canadian Tire, and United Cycle.

Science Toys

Science Experiment Kits

There are tons of cool science kits out there. What better way to help your modern girl explore her love of science (or discover it!) than with a kit that is knock-her-socks-off cool.  These experiments are also a great way to keep her occupied for an afternoon or two…perfect for those cold winter days over the holiday break.

Traditionally, science toys have not been marketed towards girls, which is why experts believe there is a much smaller proportion of women in industries based on science, math, and technology.  Help your modern girl become science-minded, with experiment kits that will teach her how to grow a crystal, wire a light show, build a robot, cast a dinosaur skeleton, or build an earth lab.  These kits will be sure to get her mind racing with possibilities, while having fun at the same time.

In the Edmonton region, you can buy science experiment kits at stores such as: Scholar’s Choice, Laugh n’ Learn, Education Station, Toys R’ Us, Walmart, and Mastermind Toys.

Jennifer is a freelance writer living in a small town just outside of Edmonton with her three kids, husband, and a wiener dog named Bruce. She is a regular contributor to the Morinville FreePress newspaper and writes different types of articles (such as general features, historical pieces, business spotlights, etc.) for magazines throughout the Edmonton region. You can find Jennifer on twitter at @unlockingideas.

Tags: advice, gift, girls, Toys, yeg

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