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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!

Keep Your Child Safe from Sexual Abuse

January 1st, 2015

By Amanda Purdie

Child sexual abuse is a serious issue that affects the lives of far too many children across Canada. It’s estimated that a staggering 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 6 boys will experience some form of sexual abuse. Even more disturbing is the fact that these numbers don’t reflect the 95 per cent of people whose sexual abuse is thought to go unreported.

In Canada, child sexual abuse is found within most cultures and communities, and affects children of all ages—regardless of ethnicity, socioeconomic status, education, or gender. Sadly, no child is completely immune to the risk of sexual abuse.

Devastating consequences

A child who has been abused may experience a range of behavioural, physical, emotional, and psychological difficulties—and the devastating consequences of abuse can extend well into adulthood. Adult survivors may suffer from depression or drug and alcohol abuse, and are often plagued with overwhelming feelings of guilt, shame and self-blame, among many other long-term effects.

Child sexual abuse can also deeply affect those who are trying to help a loved one recover from an abusive experience. In some cases, it can completely shatter families.

Knowledge is power

The effects of child sexual abuse are significant and far-reaching—both for the victim and those closest to them. So how can we prevent it from happening?

The key to prevention is education. A high-level awareness of the risks simply isn’t enough to stop sexual abuse from happening. It’s important to fully understand the signs and symptoms, common misconceptions, and how to talk openly with your child about sexuality, in order to reduce the risk of sexual abuse for children in your life.

Fact vs. fiction

There are a number of commonly held myths about child sexual abuse, which can be very harmful to a sexually abused child. It’s important to dispel any misconceptions about child abuse so that children feel able to speak out, and so adults don’t overlook the signs and symptoms of abuse.

Here are a few common myths:

False allegations are common

False allegations of sexual abuse by children are actually quite uncommon. A recent, large-scale Canadian study did not find any examples of intentional false allegations. Children are more likely to take back what they said and insist that the abuse did not happen when it did.

Sexually abused children will grow up to be offenders

Many people believe that sexual abuse is cyclical. In fact, research indicates that few children who are sexually abused go on to sexually abuse other children when they are adults.

Let’s talk

It can be uncomfortable to talk to children about child sexual abuse, but talking openly with children about sexual development and sexual abuse is key to preventing abuse. Not only does it help to foster a supportive and healthy adult-child relationship, but it also creates a safe space where children can bring up problems or concerns, or talk about sexual abuse should it occur.

There are many ways to comfortably and appropriately talk with children about sexual development and child sexual abuse. Specific conversational techniques vary depending on the age of the child and your relationship to them, but a few common guiding principles include:

  • Using proper names for body parts and processes

  • Explaining the importance of personal boundaries

  • Reinforcing that it’s alright to say ‘no’

As children grow, they naturally become more curious about their bodies and the bodies of others. It’s important to take advantage of teachable moments in everyday life to engage in a dialogue about sexuality and sexual abuse.

Keep your eyes open

Many people believe that predatory strangers are most likely to engage in sexually abusive behaviour. But in 95 per cent of cases, a child who has been sexually abused will know their abuser.The chance of it being a stranger is much lower—although still possible.

Abusers can be any age, ethnicity or sexual orientation, and may even be described as friendly, or good with children. Ultimately, abusers often appear and act just like any other person.

It’s important to watch for signs of abusive behaviour in adults. In particular, be on the lookout for indications of grooming, such as excessive physical contact, making frequent sexual references with children present, or displaying favouritism.

You should be particularly cautious when an adult insists on spending one-on-one time with your child. In this instance, you should always question whether or not alone time is necessary. If it is, be proactive in monitoring the situation by ensuring they meet in a public place or in a room with a window, and making it clear that you will be stopping by during their time together.

At all times, it’s important to listen to your child and take notice of any physical, emotional, or behavioural changes. Although such changes do not necessarily mean that a child has been sexually abused, recognizing when a child appears stressed is a critical first step in getting them the support they need—whether or not the stress is due to sexual abuse.

Learn more

The most important thing you can do to keep your child safe from child sexual abuse is to get educated. To learn more about child sexual abuse and how to prevent it, contact preventit@littlewarriors.ca.

Little Warriors is a national, charitable organization committed to the awareness, prevention, and treatment of child sexual abuse. Little Warriors opened the Be Brave Ranch in September 2014. The Be Brave Ranch is a facility that offers a family-oriented treatment program that combines multiple proven therapies for children ages 8-12 who have been sexually abused. To donate or access more information about Little Warriors, please visitwww.littlewarriors.ca. For more information on how to apply for the Be Brave Ranch program, please call 780.922.9010 or emailinfo@littlewarriors.ca.

Amanda Purdie is a writer for g[squared].  She and her husband recently arrived in Edmonton after spending the better part of the last decade living in London, England. When not editing or proofreading, she enjoys traveling, photography, and drinking way too much coffee.

Tags: advice, Safety, yeg

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