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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!

Local Mom Reaches Out to Changing The Face of Beauty

April 28th, 2017

When I was young people always told me I should be a model. I was born in Mexico and moved to the US with my family for more opportunities when I was eleven. Being a model, however, requires one to be at least 5'10 and skinny Minnie, which I was not, nor did I look like the typical models plastered all over the magazines and on tv.  

Therefore, I knew I wouldn't model on the runways of New York or Milan. A director for Tucson Model Group, where I lived when I was 17 believed in me, she gathered a group to take to a modeling convention in New York, a place where people like Katie Holmes and Ashton Kutcher were discovered.  

This opportunity is where dreams come true, though I never believed I would walk the runways of New York professionally, I certainly walked the runways at IMTA in NYC! My parents always encouraged me to follow my dreams. A great support team always followed wherever I went.  

I enjoyed what I did accomplish during my modeling and acting days. I, however, enjoyed teaching more than doing. Janet the director, hired me to teach the groups she would take to the convention. I really enjoyed the industry and meeting new talent.  

Years went by and my life brought me to Edmonton, my encouraging husband has continued to tell me I should model. We have two gorgeous little ladies, our oldest Ana Maria is nine years old and loves school, her friends, and many activities including piano, Folklorico dance, and guides. Our youngest Jordan Grace is three, and living the beauty of Down syndrome, she also loves school, her friends, singing and dancing among other things. 

Our world came crashing down when at twenty weeks pregnant we found out that Jordan Grace had a heart defect and correlated with Down syndrome. A professor at the university was the doctor who gave us the news and told us our lives were pretty much over if we decided to have this baby. He said with certainty we were better off terminating this pregnancy because this baby would not contribute to society, she would end up in an institution and wouldn't be able to feed or clothe herself.  

Feelings of fear, doubt, and pain were so strong because we had never known anyone with Down syndrome, and the fact that she would have to have open heart surgery was another blow to knock us to our knees.  

Never interacting with people with Down syndrome was what made the thought of having a child with this condition more uncomfortable and even scary.  When Jordan Grace was born on a sunny February day, she instantly brought so much joy to us. All the mourning we had done for a baby we were lucky to hold in our arms was simply erased. After all, she was our baby we had created out of love.  

Getting to know our sweet girl for who she was, was a priority for us. We didn't want to compare her or place her in a group of what she wouldn't be able to accomplish. We focused on what she could do, and what she was showing us she was capable of doing.  

Of course, after that fateful day we learned about the baby I began to notice people with Down syndrome among us. It made me aware that I hadn't noticed differences as much before our world changed.  

I began to notice the lack of representation of individuals with different abilities in advertising and media. This lead me to begin looking for local agencies, which basically lead me to nothing. The thought of having a "different" child made me uneasy and I wanted to make sure she would be noticed by others in a good way.  

Then I came across Changing the Face of Beauty (CTFOB), a nonprofit organization in the US, which works hard to get the media and companies to commit to including people with disabilities in their advertisement.  

When Jordan Grace turned two years old, we published a children's book inspired by our girls. This book marked the beginning of my advocacy. The silence was sort of my best friend the prior couple of years. Not because I was ashamed of my daughter, but because I was getting to know her. I wanted to make sure I would be the best mom and protector she needed.  

As I got to know our baby girl, it got me thinking a lot about inclusion. My goal as a mother is for my children to be loved, to have friends, to be treated with respect and to be included in society. This isn't possible, however if society doesn't know about our loved one's differences. We are all influenced by what we see. Television, magazines and social media are some of our biggest influences. So if we can "normalize" our differences we can begin to accept and include without thinking twice about it. 

Facebook led me to reach out to CTFOB to see how I could get involved here in Canada since all their advocacy was in the US. The process of bringing a headshot clinic to Edmonton for me began last year. It finally became a reality when I found two amazing ladies to join in this movement.  

Melissa DePape and Krista Lee Ewert are also moms to two beautiful little ladies living the beauty of Down syndrome, and extremely talented photographers. We became an instant team looking for location, dates, reaching out to the media and local businesses.  

Our goal as mothers was not only to bring awareness but to get people involved. To our surprise, this event was received so positively by all involved. The media including Global News, Edmonton Journal and the St. Albert Gazette were incredibly supportive in sharing our event and story. The more people heard and spread the word the more we felt we had accomplished what we set out to do.  

On March 25th we held the very first headshot clinic in Canada at St. Albert's The Wheelbarrow Gardener. Twenty models from Edmonton, Calgary, and surrounding areas, and even from BC came to be part of this wonderful event.  

The day was filled with so much joy, the models varying in ages from a year to twenty-five years old came and brought their spunk, laughter, and their very own beauty.  

Melissa did an amazing job capturing each model, she would let them do their thing and be able to bring out their personalities in each shot. Krista spectacularly captured all the behind the scenes, her pictures show the interactions of all who believe in this kind of beauty. The kind of beauty that can't be kept from the world, the kind of beauty that needs to be showcased.  

As a result of this clinic, Jordan Grace scored her first campaign with Toddler Monitor, a new company out of Calgary. Ultimately all our hard work paid off. We opened the door for a conversation about inclusion in advertising and so far we were able to get at least one model represented. Canada seems to be a very openly accepting county overall, I have felt encouragement from strangers. But I've also encountered ignorance, we have to change that, and I believe by including others who are different in all media, we are opening the doors to conversations amongst people for more understanding and acceptance. We all have to do our part whether we know someone with disabilities or not. We are in this together, this thing called life.  

By Maria Jordan MacKeigan

IG mommytor_az

Twitter : Tucsondreaming

Author of "A Princess Wish" 

Now available on AMAZON 

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