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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!

Life After Suicide Loss

November 1st, 2016

By Bailey Dunbar

Being an advocate is not a choice that just popped into my head one day. It is something that came with a loss and a lot of wrong choices.

I guess for you to understand I have to explain. On June 27, 2014, my family and I started our day like every other first day of summer vacation, full of appointments and running around. We had annual blood work done, went to breakfast and then went to get our vaccinations. Once we were done there we stopped home to let our dog out before heading downtown to dad’s appointment. This is when Morgan decided she would stay home and rest, not unusual but I also decided to stay with mom and dad for the rest of the day knowing we were stopping at the music store. We finished at dad’s appointment and heading to the music store where we picked up a few things and started to head home. It was around supper time and as soon as we pulled out of the parking lot I got a pain in my stomach and mom said I turned white. I couldn’t explain the feeling I just knew something was wrong. As we got closer to home I had become even quieter and the pain became worse. When we got home I ran into the house and checked my parents' room, Morgan wasn’t there. I tried our bedroom door and it was locked. There is no explaining the feelings I was having. I knocked and knocked. I told dad when he came in that she wasn’t answering the door. I could hear music and our dog but nothing else.  Dad banged and banged and tried to get her to open the door. When mom came in she got the screwdriver so dad could take the door knob off so we could get in the room……. What happened next is nothing a family should ever have to face.

Dad opened the door and froze. The look on his face was shock and nothing I had ever seen from dad before. I went into the room wanting to get my dog and seen my twin sister. I don’t know what I was feeling or thinking. I was in shock. I knew she was gone but it didn’t seem real. My mom then yelled to call 911 and went in the room. I know now that she was able to get Morgan down and start CPR but I wasn’t there. I had gone upstairs to tell my family and to try to make sense of what was happening. I was only 13; this isn’t something that should be happening. We should be planning our summer fun and talking about boys, makeup, and music not worrying about a loss that would change my life and family’s life forever.

I witnessed my mom and dad both go through shock and my mom have to be attended to by paramedics because they took her away from Morgan and she couldn’t handle that. I watched as everything around me fell apart and I still couldn’t explain the feelings in my stomach.

I know a lot of people were in and out of the house for awhile. I know it seemed to take forever before we left for the hospital. I know when I got to the hospital and my mom held me and told me she was sorry that my twin sister was gone….. Forever. That half of me would forever be missing. Morgan’s suicide would put me on a path that has affected me in ways I often can’t explain.

Morgan’s Story

Morgan was the quiet twin, the artsy twin and the one who always had to help others. I was always the aggressive protective twin that made sure she wasn’t picked on. Morgan had been bullied for years and after moving to Fort McMurray in October 2013 she had hoped things would change and she could finally be free from the bullying. By Christmas that year she had two boys bullying and harassing her on and offline. They would take photos of her off Facebook and show others calling her fat and ugly. She would get messages telling her to hurt herself and she should just kill herself because nobody liked her.

After months of this, she began starving herself and cutting. When mom found out she notified the school and got her into the school counsellor and then the doctor when things continued to get worse. She spent days in bed and hated going to school. She would go through times where she was happy but most the time she was sad but hid it so well from all of us. Morgan had always loved writing and painting but during those last months, she would have times she loved it and other times she had no interest in doing anything. I know now she was depressed, and depression is a horrible illness that tells you things that are not true. The doctor tried so hard to get someone to see her but they kept telling us they were having a hard time finding someone to see her because she was only 13.

Imagine being so down on yourself then being told they can't find a doctor to see you, I know all she was hearing was she wasn’t worth it. The pain my twin sister had to have felt to make the choice to end her life at 13 is one I can say I know myself and it is not easy to live with.

How Healing Can Sometimes Suck!

For 18 months after Morgan’s suicide, my life was a mess. And that is being mild. I spent every two weeks seeing a therapist, monthly doctor’s appointments, saw four different doctors to make sure my diagnosis was right, spent over a year trying to get my medication right and on top of that made a few wrong choices in self-medicating with drugs and alcohol, self-harm and even had a suicide attempt in October 2015.  I was dealing with all of this and then even had one of her bullies move on to me and threaten to kill me. Having to deal with the RCMP and the school so soon after losing Morgan was not easy on any of us. What is even worse is this guy pushed my sister to her breaking point and had now tried to push me that far and all the RCMP did was make him apologize for saying it.

At the end of the school year in July 2015 we had made the decision to move closer to Edmonton where my doctor is which also put us closer to family. We were spending a lot of time traveling to and from the city that it was getting really hard to do.

I started seeing the doctor I currently have a month after we moved and I was determined I didn’t need to take pills all the time. I was self-medicating still every once in awhile and I honestly felt I didn’t need to be on the anti-depressants. He listened to me and lowered my dose to start taking me off them. Not only was I wrong, it almost cost me my life. In October 2015 I had started having really bad nightmares and I wasn’t sleeping. I was missing Morgan and didn’t know how to cope with the pain and empty feelings. I would have bad anxiety and panic attacks and often say things that made no sense to my parents. On the morning of October 23rd, I went to school with three bottles of pills. I snapped that morning and all I could think about was Morgan and the need to be with her. I was tired. I was physically, mentally and emotionally tired and I wanted it to stop. I took the pills that morning. I shouldn’t be here, I was lucky. The school realized something was wrong and finally got me to tell them what I had taken. They got me to the hospital and my mom met me there and called dad to leave work. All I remember is telling mom I was sorry. When I woke up through the night I had to ask my mom and dad what happened. I know I caused my parents a lot of grief that day and I know I am lucky to still be here. My levels of acetaminophen were fatal and above treatment level but they treated me anyways. I had an allergic reaction to the treatment and spent the next 24 hours in and out. When I finally was able to stay awake they transferred me to Stollery where the doctor there was able to determine my PTSD had caused the nightmares to be so bad I wasn’t sleeping and it caused a mental breakdown. Sleep deprivation is common with those of us who have PTSD due to night terrors and nightmares. The doctor I seen added a medication to my list and my dose of antidepressants was put back up to what it was before my suicide attempt. Now I know I need my medications to stay stable and I am realizing my own symptoms when I have a day I forget to take them.

Going Forward

Suicide affects every person in a family. The pain it passes on is often too much for many and they spend their life always wondering why or in some cases the pain is too much and they too end their lives. Suicide is preventable with the right care and treatment. This is something my generation needs to fight for. Mental health care should be as common as a trip to the doctor for your annual check-up, mental health annual check-ups should be something every single person should be doing. As a youth, we should be starting these annual checkups starting at age 5! When you add things like bullying, harassment and abuse to the mix our mental health becomes even more important. Self-care, mental health care, and suicide prevention should be something we are taught in schools. We can’t learn what they want us too if we are not mentally healthy! The same as we can't learn when we are tired or hungry! We encourage breakfast clubs in schools but we don’t encourage mental health assessments. Something so simple and it could help so many and save lives. I hate when I hear we shouldn’t be talking about suicide because it will cause more suicides or make people more vulnerable.  Like really?! Who has ever been asked “Are you thinking about suicide?” and replied, “No, but damn that’s a great idea!”  (Safe Talk instructor thank you for that training) You will NOT put the idea of suicide into someone’s head that hasn’t already thought about it! Plain and simple! Opening the door to those conversations WILL save our lives! Parents need to ask those tough questions and trust me we hate seeing that look of fear on your face when we tell you the truth as much as you are scared to hear it. We all need to do our part in changing the conversations around mental health and suicide, and we need to start realizing the connection bullying and cyberbullying has on our mental health and do more to stop this from happening.

Over the last year, I have made it a point to make others aware of what my generation faces when dealing with bullying, mental illness, and suicide. My family and I founded Morgan’s Mission Memorial Society, an incorporated non-profit aimed at fighting for changes and raising awareness of bullying, mental health, and suicide prevention. I speak to community members, fellow students, and parents and tell them what Morgan and I have been through and why things need to change. I have talked to MLA’s and MP’s on what changes need to be made for my generation to safe and healthy as well as my own city council members. I have held dance workshops where I got to watch kids gain self-confidence and be accepted by a group of peers, this was the one thing my mom will tell you stood out about that day and not how much money was raised.  I have had World Mental Health Day, Youth & Child Mental Health Day and World Suicide Prevention Day proclaimed in Fort Saskatchewan. I have helped organize the Youth 4 Youth benefit concert, which was our first major fundraiser for Morgan’s Mission and Robb Nash Project profiting over $2,200. This was also my first public speech and I held a community walk and candlelight vigil on World Suicide Prevention Day. I have won the Diana Award –Anti-Bullying Champion, a Pink Shirt Day award, been nominated for a Me to We award and a few others that are pending nominations.

My mom tells me I should be proud of all I have been awarded for my efforts but it isn’t about awards, it’s about learning what needs to change and fighting for those changes. I have taken the SafeTALK course as well as a few others from Red Cross and will be taking the ASIST Training this fall with my mom. These courses I am proud of because they teach me more ways to help others. Helping others was something Morgan always wanted to do and now I am able to do this in her memory and honour. More importantly, I am being the change that needs to happen and encouraging others to do the same! I know I am not perfect and I still have bad days but that’s okay. I get up every day and do the best I can for myself and for others who need me to be a voice for them. I found my voice again and I hope more find theirs the more we speak up and encourage them.

Thank you for reading. I know my story and battles are far from over.

*Editor’s note: Bailey is happy to report that it has been nine months since she has self-harmed or self-medicated!

Bailey is an active 15-year-old who loves dance and soccer. She is the fourth child of five being seven minutes older than her twin sister Morgan and an aunt to a niece and nephew she adores. When not at school, dance or advocating she can be found spending time with her mom & dad or making videos on her YouTube channel. For more information, visit

Read her Mom's perspective -> ParentsPerspectiveNatasha

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