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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!

Implanting Healthy Self-Talk...Just in Time for Camp

April 25th, 2014

By Dr. Samantha Pekh

Preparing Kids for Camp Season

Preparing for the season of summer camps can be both exciting and nerve-racking. Parents may be thinking, “It will be such a good opportunity for my child; she’ll have so much fun.” Or “I hope he can handle it, he’s probably going to get homesick.” Kids may be thinking, “I get to do fun things for a whole week,” or “I don’t really want to go, I won’t know any of the other kids and I won’t make friends.”

Without the average person really being aware of it, the thoughts above are actually influenced by underlying beliefs held about others and themselves; beliefs that will impact perceptions or how various situations will be experienced. For example, the first child likely believes that she is a good kid and she has good skills at trying new things, whereas the second child likely believes that he is not very good at handling things and that he tends to fail. Very likely these beliefs developed from messages they heard about themselves or from faulty conclusions they made about themselves because of the way they interpreted various experiences. Often, as adults, we can relate as many of us are far too familiar with our own inner self-critics. For example, if we were told as children “You’re so stubborn,” we may have interpreted this as meaning “I’m not easy to get along with, people find me hard to be around.” Or perhaps you had some classmates say to you, “You smarty pants,” which you then turned into the self belief “People won’t like me if I’m smart.” These are just a few examples and a VERY brief look at where some of our own negative self beliefs may have arisen from. There are many reasons that we develop our own negative self-talk and exploring these reasons in full is beyond the scope of this article.

Beginning to implant healthy self-talk into your child’s mind, however, is a VERY easy strategy to do. Although you can do it at anytime, it is best to do it when both you and your child are calm (such as during bedtime or a quiet snuggle) as this is when your child will likely absorb this strategy’s messages the most.

So what is this simple strategy?

Simply have your child repeat positive self-statements after you.

For example, the following is a dialogue between a parent and a younger child (say approximately 3 to 8 years old):

“You are a good child”…”I am a good child.”

“You are smart”…”I am smart.”

“Everyone loves you”…”Everyone loves me.”

For slightly older children (usually any age above 10 years old), who can understand more complex ideas, you might expand the implanting self-talk exercise to include “unfortunate circumstances” (which still do not provide factual evidence that they are anything but a worthwhile human being). For example,

“Even though everyone might not like me at school, I am still a good kid.”

“Even if I didn’t do as well as I wanted on that test, I am still smart.”

What is really neat is that the children I use this strategy with enjoy it; often giggling and laughing while doing it. As camp season approaches, you can begin to practice positive self-statements that relate to the upcoming camp experience or implant positive self-statements after the camp experience. This can be done with statements such as:

Even if I get scared at camp, I can handle it or talk to a counsellor/teacher” and

“Even though I found it hard to make friends at camp, I am still a likeable kid.”

An Alternative – “Possibility Statements”

It’s unfortunate, however, that when working with adults and doing a similar strategy to help improve self-esteem and reduce anxiety, that many of my adult clients find even a basic self-positive statement such as “I’m okay,” very difficult to say. At times, they may be able to begin with a ‘possibility statement’ such as, “It’s possible that I might be okay.” If an older child or teen of yours finds it uncomfortable to use positive self-talk, then it may be easier to start with such ‘possibility statements’ and eventually move towards more self-affirming statements. 

A Gentle Challenge

Now for a gentle challenge from me to you that could reap benefits for you both. The process of moving towards more self-affirming statements will be much easier if your child or teen also sees you applying positive self-statements to yourself. Let them hear you talk aloud and say self-statements like:

“Even though I am having a hard time staying calm right now and I’m worried I messed up, I am still good at my work, and I’m still a good person.”

Is this going to make my child narcissistic or ego-centric?

When explaining this strategy to people, some have commented that this sounds like encouraging narcissistic self-loving attitudes. I would argue, however, that this is simply teaching our children to feel good about themselves, to respect themselves, and to allow themselves to enjoy life. If your children absorb these positive statements and they become your children’s inner self-talk, I would argue that your children will become considerably more resilient and able to handle the difficulties that they will face as they grow up.

When we beat ourselves up for our own mistakes or failures, this only deteriorates our ability to feel well and to do well. When we hate ourselves or judge against ourselves harshly, then frequently, these types of beliefs and behaviours are what we give out to others around us as well. When we are able to be kind with ourselves, we can acknowledge our own mistakes while beginning to figure out how we can fix the situation and plan better for next time. Using this strategy with your children will teach them about self-compassion; and with self-compassion comes the ability to be compassionate towards others. It will teach your children to hold love for themselves and to accept who they are, thereby increasing their resiliency and ability to be kind to others. Therefore, the teaching of positive inner self-talk is far from encouraging narcissistic self-loving attitudes.

Samantha Pekh, M.A., Registered Psychologist, owns and operates Pekh Psychological & Assessment Services in Edmonton. She works in the areas of anxiety, trauma, depression, and parenting challenges. Her articles can be found, a blog that provides no-cost resources and ‘helps parents help their children.’ For information on her professional services, please or contact her directly at

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