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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 to Be a Successful Volunteer

August 28th, 2013

By: Carla Knipe


This time of year is when summer’s lazy days are just a memory, the kids are well into their school routines and parents are bombarded by an influx of volunteer requests. If you want to help out in your local school or community but feel daunted and stressed by the prospect you’re not alone. However, by planning how you’ll manage the time you commit to good causes you can make the most of your experience even before you receive those requests.

It’s always been a fact that in any organization, a small percentage of volunteers do most of the work. There is a chronic shortage of volunteers simply because people feel that their career and family time is so stretched they can’t give any more, so volunteering is not worth considering. The good news is that organizations realize this is the case and they are more willing than ever to help their volunteers balance volunteering with their other priorities. There is a great incentive for organizations to retain their volunteers but the volunteer must also take some responsibility for their experience.

Family First. When you consider volunteering, take a look at your family’s schedule and decide how much time you can spare. Make sure your family is okay with the amount of time you are planning to devote to your chosen cause. It’s a good idea to set some boundaries and make a rule that your volunteer time will not overlap mealtime, bedtime and other important family time.

You’re Allowed To Say No. Just because you are asked to do something, you don’t have to agree to it. As the requests come in, take your time to evaluate and decide what opportunities you really want to get involved with. Say yes to something only if you want to do it, not because you feel obligated to. If you have a passion for a particular cause or role, you’ll feel more engaged and passionate with it. If your volunteer role gets tough, as they sometimes do, that passion will see you through the difficult time and help you carry on.

What Is Volunteering Supposed To Look Like, Anyway? People often have an idea in their heads about what volunteers are supposed to do or what their mission is supposed to look like. It doesn’t have to be the most glamorous role in a high profile organization. Karen Franco, a representative of Volunteer Canada, says that episodic volunteering (helping out for a single event) or short-term volunteering is an excellent, no-pressure way to ease into volunteering if you haven’t done it before or can’t commit a lot of time. Remember that any time you do give will be appreciated. Even “behind the scenes volunteering”—helping out with quiet, non-glamorous roles--allows you to see the results of your efforts and also gives you the chance to step back, re-evaluate the experience and then re-engage when you’re ready.

Make It A Family Affair. You don’t have to separate your volunteer time from your family time! The biggest trend that Volunteer Canada is noticing is family volunteering, where the entire family volunteers together at a cause they enjoy as part of their leisure time. Families get a chance to spend quality time with one another, children learn about the wider world and everyone gains valuable life skills while having fun.

Just Don’t Go There. If you find yourself losing enthusiasm for your volunteering, getting cranky with others and even making excuses for not going, those are warning signs that you should not ignore. Before you get to a place of severe stress, over-commitment and burnout, listen to that voice in your head when it’s telling you that volunteering not working anymore. The worst thing that overstretched volunteers can do is to ignore these feelings and just carry on regardless--or even overcompensate by adding more activities to an already packed schedule.  Be honest with those who you’re volunteering for and don’t beat yourself up if you have to drop or change a commitment. If you’re continually exhausted and overstretched you will have nothing left to give to those closest to you and what should be energizing activities will only leave you drained and resentful.

Start Local. Looking closest to your neighbourhood for volunteer opportunities is the best way to begin.  Churches, schools, hospitals or Community Associations all gladly welcome volunteers. If you want to help out a particular charity, then search for contact details of their local branches. Or, you can contact Volunteer Canada who will put you in touch with organizations in your area who need volunteers. You can find them at and they are also at and

I hope you consider contributing even a small amount of time to a cause or organization you believe in. You will make a tangible difference to your community and you will learn so much about yourself in the process.

Carla Knipe is a Calgary freelance writer who volunteers at her son’s school and her local Community Association. It has become part of her social life and she has met so many wonderful people as a result.



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