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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!

Ho Ho Ho...How Much? Holiday Tipping Tips from Etiquette Experts

November 15th, 2012

By: Erin Mantz at

When we have great people in our lives taking good care of our kids, aging parents, pets and/or homes, we couldn't be more thankful. Holiday time makes many of us stop and realize just how lucky we are. So, how do we show it? In this economy, amid expenses of raising a family, and a fast-growing holiday gift list, not everyone has unlimited financial means. Luckily, according to etiquette experts, there are still lots of great ways to convey our thanks.

No Cash? No Problem

While it's important to budget cash-gifts to your most valued caregivers, personal gestures and gift cards can work for others. Consider reframing how you think about rewarding good service, says Rebecca Black, Etiquette Specialist, Teacher, and Founder and Principal of Etiquette Now! in Davis, Calif. "Think of it as 'gifting' rather than 'tipping'." It could be just about anything - as long as it's thoughtful," she says. Recall conversations you've had with your intended recipient. Does he/she often talk about movies? Get a gift card for the local movie theatre. Does he/she always seem to have a cup of coffee or tea? A gift card to a local coffeehouse and/or a special mug may be just right.

Use what you know about the person. Etiquette expert Charlotte Reed, author of "Miss Fido Manners Complete Book of Dog Etiquette" approaches etiquette from a unique perspective; she left the Wall Street corporate law world to open Two Dogs & A Goat, a full-service pet care firm in New York City and the Hamptons. Reed echoes the impact of thoughtful gifts. "Gesture gifts are important
because people like to be remembered - and you'll get better service," she says. In fact, cash alternatives may be more special for your recipients. "A gift card to a local department store, spa or Starbucks gives them a way to treat themselves. Otherwise they may end up using the cash you gave them to buy others' gifts."

Guidelines on What to Give

Ms. Black offers some helpful holiday tipping guidelines.

Employees in the Home: This includes nannies, house cleaners, senior care aides. Give 1 to 2 weeks' pay, depending on years of service. There is no "year minimum" that tells you to make it 1 vs. 2, though. Also consider a personal gift for your nanny or aide, such as something from the kids (think: scarf and glove set) or spa gift certificate and paid time off around the holidays. ( Read our holiday bonus guide for caregivers » )

Regular Babysitter: If you've found an amazing sitter who has enabled you and your spouse a regular date night or helps give you breaks during the day, give an average night's pay as your tip. If she has a special relationship with the kids, include something special they pick out for her.

Newspaper Delivery Person: In this case, cash is often the best gift. Give $10 - $20, depending on the service you receive.

Occasional Caregivers: This may include your gardener, hair stylist, manicurist, pool cleaner, house cleaner. Give the equivalent of one session's fee. Or, consider alternatives like boxes of candy or products they may have mentioned.

Tutor, Coach or Counselor: People who have a special bond with your child or have helped him reach certain goals might get an end of the year treat. Consider their interests with a $10-$20 gift card to a local restaurant or store. Or, arrange all families to chip in for a group gift.

Doormen, Building Supervisor and Attendants: Knowing what the condo or apartment norm is can be challenging. Each building is different and each job varies in complexity and face-time. But even the behind the scenes support needs a token of thanks. Typically, an individual tip could be between $10 to $200 to each building staff member. Asking other residents what they give or coordinating a group gift to the Super might ease the stress.

Mail Carrier: So, baked goods might be the ticket here. Of course, using what you know about him or her is best. If they always seem to have a cup of coffee in their truck, perhaps a nice thermal coffee mug would be the perfect gift.

Dog Groomer: The equivalent of one grooming session.

Dog Walkers and Pet Caregivers: An individual dog walker may appreciate cash more than anything, says Reed, who recommends giving 1 to 2 weeks' pay. But if you can't afford it, give them a gift "from" your dog, like a hat, gloves or picture frame. In some cases, though, it's a dog walking service that you've hired, so you have more people to thank. A small but thoughtful gift for the group, like a basket of fruit or homemade treats, is greatly appreciated. This is true for the staff at your pet's veterinarian too.

Final Tips for the Tippers

  • Before tipping people who work for the government, an agency, or an organization, check their gift giving policy. For example, as you think about how to thank your mail carrier, remember the U.S. Postal Service regulations dictate they can't receive anything more than $20 in value per occasion - no cash is allowed; gift cards are fine as long as they can't be exchanged for cash.
  • If you choose to give cash, present crisp bills in a card. It's so easy to simply throw money in whatever envelope you happen to find first, but a card will present the tip as the thank you gift that it is. It's best to include a note with the money expressing how much you appreciate their hard work. You want this gift to be perceived as heartfelt, not an obligation.
  • Never re-gift. It's just too obvious. Re-gifting is not only tacky, it's conveying a message to your kids that it's okay to be sneaky and ungrateful!


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