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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 Cleaning

March 10th, 2014

By Judy Arnall

Spring is almost here!  And you know what that means! Yes, it’s time for spring-cleaning!  Time to clean out the winter dirt from our houses, and let in the sunshine and fresh air!   We are making room for good things to come:  the warm weather, long lazy days and relaxing times with our friends and family. 

But why wait for spring?   And why should we limit spring-cleaning to our houses?  We can do LIFE CLEANING and we can start anytime.   Life cleaning is about making room in our lives so we can concentrate our time and energy for those things that are important to us.   There are three areas we need to look at when we are life cleaning.    They are the people in our live, the obligations in our lives, and the material matter, or what I call, stuff, we have in our lives.

Let’s look at people first.  We need to examine all the relationships in our lives and prioritize and redirect our energies to those relationships that give us joy.  Now, I’m not saying that you have to dump your spouse because he annoys you from time to time.  I’m saying that we need to look at the equity in your relationships.  All give and all take is not healthy for you or the other person.  It’s not fair to you when you give 95 per cent and receive 5 per cent back.   We have to reevaluate those ties we are maintaining only out of a sense of obligation and duty.

For example, when Aunt Martha calls (and we all have someone like Aunt Martha in our lives) and complains for two hours daily, about her aches and pains and all the bad things that have happened to her and everything that’s gone wrong in her life, and she spends five minutes listening to how you are.    You can feel the life energy being sucked right out of you, and you hang up feeling drained.  Put a boundary there.  Give Aunt Martha five minutes of your most focused, empathetic listening and then say, “Sorry, I have to go now.”

Remember, moods are contagious.  Try to associate with positive people and you will have a more positive outlook on life.  When we surround ourselves with people who nurture us, they feed our ability to nurture others.   Remember, drop the “I should” and “I ought to”.  Focus on the people in your life that really matter to you.  Who do you want to make more room in your life for?

Next, let’s look at obligations.  Again, prioritizing and redirecting where your energy will go.  You should love your work 80% of the time, and if not, redirect your energies to what you really want to be doing.  If you had 5 years left to live, would you be doing what you are doing today?  A friend once told me that you should find out what you love to do and then find someone to pay you to do it.  If you can, turn a hobby into a business. 

As for leisure time, again, drop the “shoulds” and “ought to” and cut down on your commitments.   When we are rushing from activity to activity, we become stressed and lose our patience.  Who do we take it out on?  We take it out on the people closest to us, usually our children and partner.  It occurred to me one day while serving a fast food lunch to four kids in the back of the van.  I was in the car swerving on the down a fast boulevard with the fries flying in the back seat.  You could have heard me yelling in the other corner of the city when the ketchup dripped all over the upholstery.  

Learn to say “No”.   When you do add a new activity, drop one you are no longer as much interested in, so you keep a flow through calendar rather than just adding and adding.  We need reflection time and downtime as much as we need activity to keep balance in our lives. What do you want to make more room for?

The final area to look at is material matter.   No, you don’t have to get rid of everything, as my husband often fears!  Just prioritize and redirect your stuff. If you move to a bigger house, you will just collect more stuff.  If you buy more storage bins, you will just collect more stuff.

Have you ever come home from an exhausting day at work and seen dirty dishes, socks, papers, mail, newspapers, keys, cards, toys, sports equipment strewn all over the horizon of your house.  Does this sight fuel your energy level or drain it?  Don’t you just feel like walking right back out the door?

We have too much stuff. The solution?  Stop at the source – stop buying it!  Imagine it as old and dusty while still in the store, because that’s the way it’s going to look in a few months in your house.  Do you really want to buy it?  Will your life be that much better if you own it?  Can you borrow it when you need it or rent it?

Remember, The more gadgets you have, the more time, money and energy it takes to have to shop, clean, insure, maintain, store, move, and dispose of them.

I use the two-year rule: if you didn’t use it in the last two years, chances are you are never going to use it.   Consider disposal:  garage sale, trash bin, or pass along to someone who will love and enjoy it as much as you did.

Stop buying those storage containers that just move everything around and get to a library where there are many wonderful books on the psychological reasons why we hold on to our junk and clutter.  Don’t do your whole house in one day.  Start with a drawer and keep going, by doing a little drawer, closet or room every week.  Then start a plan to keep it up on a regular basis.  Some people have a little box by their door, so whenever visitors leave they have an option to pick anything out of the box they might need in their house.  Saves transporting to the dump, recycle bins and then you know that the person truly wants the item rather than having you foist bags on them.

I’m a sentimental person and I like to keep everything.  But I’ve learned that memories are held in the head and the heart, not in material things.  We can learn to keep the love, and let go of the stuff.    Where do you want more space for your life?

Do some serious life cleaning and you will reap the benefits: more time and energy for the people you love, things you love to do and more space to do it in.  Feel the exhilaration, the sense of freedom, the enjoyment of a lighter load!


Judy Arnall is a professional international award-winning Parenting Speaker, and Trainer, Mom of five children, and author of the best-selling, “Discipline Without Distress: 135 tools for raising caring, responsible children without time-out, spanking, punishment or bribery” She specializes in “Parenting the Digital Generation”   (403) 714-6766

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