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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!

How ‘Bubble-Wrapped’ Kids Benefit From Camp

May 1st, 2013

By: Christl Dabu

At first, the “bubble-wrapped” campers were only familiar with the digital realm of text messages, Facebook and video games. But by the end of camp, a new study found they experienced significant growth, connecting with the world beyond electronic screens and smartphones.

“The major changes on their growth speaks tremendously of the summer camp experience,” says Troy Glover, the director of the University of Waterloo’s Healthy Communities Research Network, who spearheaded the Canadian Summer Camp Research Project.

Camp counsellors had observed the positive change in children by the end of their sessions, according to researchers from the project.

 “Sending kids to camp allows children to grow and learn good citizenship, social integration, personal development and social development, exploring his or her capabilities and being in a safe environment where they can grow, gain independence and take risks,” Glover says.

The Canadian Summer Camp Research Project was launched to help new immigrants, ethnic communities and parents who had never attended camp as children, understand the value of the camp experience. Funded by the Canadian Camping Association, it is the first-ever nationwide and international research and evaluation project of its kind.

 The study was done in the summer of 2010 and involved 1,295 campers, about half girls and half boys aged four to 18. Of the campers in the project, 61 per cent were returning campers and the rest were new campers. The research involved camps of all types, from day to overnight camps in the Atlantic Provinces, Quebec, Ontario and Western Canada.

 Sheltered Kids Learn to Go Outside Their Comfort Zones

 In the age of 24-hour news highlighting crimes in our communities, overprotective parents want to “bubble-wrap” or shelter their children from all risks, Glover says.

“My parents were much more open to allowing me to play wherever I want and there was less surveillance, whereas today, despite our communities being statistically safer, somehow we have developed a culture of protection,” says the father of two children aged three and seven. “Because we want to protect kids from harm, they are less likely to be outside, they are less likely to ride their bikes around the block, and we are less likely to give kids their freedom.”

 By allowing children to take risks, face challenges and learn from failures and mistakes, the study found that camp helps children develop important skills and build their independence, resiliency and self-esteem in a safe, supervised and supportive environment.

 

“Camp does a really good job of teaching kids it’s okay to fail and helps them recognize their limitations and see these are things that are not fixed and can be improved upon,” Glover says.

At camp, children are encouraged to go outside their comfort zone through activities such as high ropes courses, performing in front of big groups, or camping in the wilderness.

 Developing EQ and Self-Esteem

Shifting the focus away from the individual, camp teaches children to be more selfless and be better team players. An essential skill campers develop is emotional intelligence, commonly referred to as EQ (emotional quotient), Glover says.

With EQ, which involves recognizing, understanding and managing emotions and feelings, children learn how to work, play, relate, get along, empathize and connect with others.

“It’s not just about IQ in children,” he says. “Research supports how EQ is more important in terms of future success. Camp is a good environment to develop that.”

Children boost their self-esteem and develop risk-taking and conflict-resolution skills at camp, as they learn to make their own decisions without their parents’ help.

“One of the major benefits of camp is the social skills that develop, especially around interacting with other people in a positive way,” Glover says.

Lisa Loeb’s favourite memory from camp included skit nights, singing songs, playing the guitar and trying new activities. “I also loved the feeling of just having done something challenging, like trying water skiing for the first time,” she says in an interview with Our Kids Go To Camp magazine. “I was so scared — it didn’t feel great to fall down, but I loved having accomplished something I wasn’t sure I could do.
”

The Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter — who founded the Camp Lisa Foundation, a non-profit organization that helps send underprivileged kids to summer camp — discovered how fun it is to meet new people and relate to them at camp.

“Camp made me feel more confident in just being myself—even if I wasn’t like everyone else all the time,” she says.

Encouraging the Value of Play

Canadian children are reportedly spending an average of four to six hours a day with TVs, computers and cell phones. With the popularity of organized activities and electronic media, experts say children are lacking time to play in natural settings. This problem has been linked to obesity, anxiety and a decreased sense of stewardship.

 

Through spending time in natural settings and teaching environmental awareness, the study found camp can help children develop a personal connection and feel a greater sense of responsibility for the environment.

 “What’s really unique about the camp environment—whether it’s a day camp or an overnight camp—is the opportunity for kids to explore being active in creative ways that aren’t as adult-driven,” says Michelle Brownrigg, former chief executive of Active Healthy Kids Canada.

Before making it big, Josh Bailey, the 21-year-old New York Islanders player from Bowmanville, Ontario, was just a kid playing the sport he loved. At hockey camp in Aurora, Ont., his parents and grandparents would cheer from the stands as Bailey, his cousin and brother teamed up and usually won the championship trophy at the end. While seven summers at hockey camp helped him develop the technical skills he needs today, for Bailey, camp was about the fun of the game.

“I was learning a lot, but I was a lot more focused on having fun,” he says in an interview with Our Kids Go To Camp magazine. “We just went to have a good time, and it makes you love the game even more.”

A Remedy for Nature-Deficit Disorder

In the age of childhood obesity, the study suggested children were motivated to be physically active as their perceptions of physical activity became more positive over the time they spent at camp.

A bond with nature is sorely missing in the lives of many children today unlike a generation ago, Richard Louv writes in his book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. “Children need nature for the healthy development of their senses, and therefore, for learning and creativity,” Louv says.

Steve Paikin, Canadian journalist, author and host of TVO’s The Agenda, fondly remembers jumping off a 12-foot mini-cliff, learning to build a fire, and falling in love with one of the kitchen girls.

“Getting outdoors, in the bush, particularly if you live in an inner city, is essential to becoming a better person,” he says in an interview with Our Kids Go To Camp magazine. “It’s an essential building block in allowing children to become more independent. And let’s not forget the obvious: it’s good for parents as well to have some time on their own, knowing their kids are thriving in a spectacular environment.”

Gaining a Summer Education

Camp is the kind of place where children can learn canoeing, archery and life skills, as well as apply the lessons they learned during the school year in a fun, challenging, supportive and safe environment.

“It’s not only cognitive learning, it’s emotional learning,” says Tom Potter, associate professor at Lakehead University, who has been involved in outdoor adventure education for more than 30 years. “(Kids) are connecting to (camp) at the emotional level, so it can go pretty deep and they can learn more.”

 When you get to the edge of what you know and have to cross a threshold, real learning happens, says James Raffan, executive director of the Canadian Canoe Museum in Peterborough, Ontario, in an interview with Our Kids Go To Camp magazine. “Camp is full of edges–whether it’s darkness, being away from home, strange food, living in a cabin with people you don’t know, climbing rocks, paddling down rivers, doing tough portages. . . . I think every camp can probably point to people who have become the best that they can be.”

Where Leaders Are Born

Camp is often where leaders are born and helps youth gradually build leadership skills.

“You’re often having to rely on your teammates or cabin mates to complete an activity,” says Moira MacDougall, who heads teen and young adult strategies for the YMCA of Greater Toronto, a charity providing community support programs.

Many camp alumni say camp was their greatest teacher.

“Camp does two things at once. It lets kids be kids, and it encourages them to solve interesting problems,” says Seth Godin, entrepreneur and best-selling author of 12 books. “The rest of life tends to be about becoming a compliant cog in the endless machine of industry. To do what you’re told. What a waste.”

 Unwrapping the ‘Bubble-Wrapped’ Reality

For Trefor Munn-Venn’s family, camp is the most important event after Christmas and Easter. Since his first child was born seven years ago, the consultant has been taking his entire family each year to a traditional overnight camp. The 42-year-old father says camp has helped his two boys, aged seven and five, become more confident and proud of themselves for doing things they didn’t think they could do such as wall-climbing, canoeing and living outdoors for a week.

As tough as it is for parents, unwrapping the “bubble-wrapped” reality brought about “extraordinary” change in Munn-Venn’s sons when they came home from camp.

“They’re encouraged to be themselves and the staff helps them discover who they are,” he says. “We see them come back always more relaxed, confident and independent.”

Christl Dabu is a contributor with MySummerCamps.com.  Reprinted with permission from mysummercamps.com, with files from Lisa Van de Ven and Caroline Maga.

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