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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!

Helping Your Child Adjust to the New Baby

December 31st, 2013

By Judy Arnall

You’ve brought your lovely new baby daughter home from the hospital, and you eagerly show her to your three-year-old son, who pats the baby lovingly. Five minutes pass, and your son says, "Mommy, give the baby back to the hospital and come play with me!"

Whether the new baby is your second or fifth child, the whole family will have to go through an adjustment phase.

"Sibling rivalry is the natural, normal competition between brothers and sisters vying for their parents love and affection. It exists in every family to some degree," said Dr. Spock, the eldest of six children. The following information may help your family experience a smoother transition.

Before the new baby arrives

Encourage your child to share your pregnancy with you by talking to the baby, visiting the doctor, and feeling the baby move. Take your child to the ultrasound visit.

Read books or watch videos with your child, about pregnancy, giving birth, and having a new baby in the family.

Arrange a caregiver and explain to your child who will care for them while you are giving birth.

Make or buy a "welcome" present for your child to give to the new baby.

Visit a friend with a new baby. If possible, watch breastfeeding.

Avoid fostering unrealistic expectations about a new playmate.

Put a picture of yourself in the child’s room.

Speak of the baby as "ours."

Involve your child in choices, such as baby clothes, decorating.

Show pictures and video of the child as a baby.

The change in routine should be done well before the baby arrives: bedtime, clothes, toys, and Dad takes over some duties.


During the hospital stay or birth center

Have a gift from the new baby to your child.

Let the first visit at the hospital be "family" only.

Have a camera ready for the child to take pictures.

Have a framed picture of your child on the bedside table.

Greet your child without the baby in your arms. Remember your child is anxious to see you, not the baby.

Bonding tip: put your child’s finger in the baby’s palm. The new baby’s reflex grasp will hold on.

Let your child hold the baby. Supervise!

Let your child announce the news to family and visitors.


At home after the birth

Discourage visitors for the first few days, if possible.

Let your child come with Daddy to pick up Mom and baby at the hospital.

Allow your child to take part in the baby’s care, according to their capabilities, and desire.

Have a supply of wrapped gifts to give to your child when friends bring baby gifts.

Talk about your child’s accomplishments to visiting relatives.

Don’t force positive interaction. Your child may feel indifferent or negative towards baby.

Older children can assist in making birth announcements or fill them out.

Encourage your children to phone relatives and share the news first.

Mom and Dad should spend time alone with each sibling, especially Mom.

It’s tempting to spend all the time holding the baby, but make the effort to put the baby down or hand off to the other parent and spend time with the older child.

Learn ways to include the older child when caring and attending to the baby.

Put a stool next to change table so the older sibling can see.

Avoid sending the older child away to relatives and friends. They need to feel included and valued, not shoved off.

Don’t leave baby alone with the older child. Avoid leaving baby carriers on couches, tables.

The more positive interaction the two siblings have, the sooner a bond will develop and grow. Ask yourself how you can foster attachment and bonding between the siblings when they are fighting and you need to step in and discipline.

Give extra hugs, cuddles, smiles, patience, and understanding.

Give your older child new privileges: later bed, pouring juice, things they like to do, help Mom with cooking.

If you are stressed, get support rather than take it out on the children.

Don’t expect "older child" behavior from your child, such as waiting, crossing roads, etc., if they aren’t ready.

Avoid getting a new pet.

"Tell" the baby the rules about hitting. It takes the attention off the child.

Say, "We don’t hit. Right, baby?"

Keep on going to the older child’s activities as much as possible.

Have a special basket of books, games, or toys to play with your child while nursing the baby.

Don’t blame lack of time on the baby. Use any other reason.

Emphasize positives such as "Baby can’t have juice; only big children get juice!" Point out that the older child can go to park and stay up later.

Do your fussing, cooing, and awing over the new baby in private. Even if it’s your fourth or fifth child, you will still do it!

Interpret the baby’s signals for your older child. "Look Johnny, baby is smiling at you! I bet he can’t wait until you can play blocks with him."

If the baby stops crying when the older child walks in the room, point out that the baby must have been very happy to see him.

Emphasize the positives of the new family size: "Look, we fill the van now!" "Look, we have more people at our table." "Look, everyone gets more Christmas and birthday presents!"

Encourage communication

Ask your child what they like/don’t like about the new baby. Accept all responses. Don’t answer with, "Yes, but..."

Acknowledge the challenges, "Mommy sure spends a lot of time feeding the baby, right?"

Be patient and reassure your child you will always love her, if she shows signs of jealousy, regression, or aggression.

Acknowledge your child’s feelings. You don’t have to agree with him in order to accept and validate them. To help him express them, ask "How do you feel about the baby?" Have him draw a picture or give him a doll or puppet and ask him to show you how he feels. Your child will have mixed feelings, such as excitement, envy, anger, hope, indifference, or loss, especially of the "old" family and routines. Show him that all feelings are acceptable, although there are limits on behaviors. The more your child can express his feelings directly to you, the less chance he will act out in negative behavior to you or the baby.

Pretty soon your child and new addition will be playing together as friends and you will be glad that you gave your child the best gift ever – a sibling!

Judy Arnall is a Professional international award-winning Parenting Speaker, and Trainer, Mom of five children, and author of the best-selling, "Discipline Without Distress: 135 tools for raising caring, responsible children without time-out, spanking, punishment or bribery" She specializes in "Parenting the Digital Generation"  For more information, visit

Tags: Babies, Dads, Moms, toddler

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