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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!

Make This The Year To “Fire Your Clothes Dryer"

March 1st, 2013

By: Carla Knipe

 Walk down any suburban street, even on the warmest summer days, and you’re likely to hear the hum of a tumble dryer and smell the sickly-sweetness of laundry products wafting from at least one house.  Despite the fact that many families want to live a greener lifestyle, laundry remains a bastion of convenience versus environmental sustainability.  After all, who wants to lug around heavy baskets of wet washing to a clothesline when it’s so much easier just to press a button to deal with the chore?

 It’s easy to forget that laundry habits were, even in the not-so-distant past, completely different. Clothes were hung outside on clotheslines on nice days, or inside on drying racks in poor weather. Tumble dryers were not common until after World War Two, and even then, many families just couldn’t afford one. This all changed during the 1960s and 70s, where advertising campaigns by appliance manufacturers promoted dryers as modern, timesaving devices and also perpetuated the myth that hanging up clothes was passé and associated with impoverished tenements, not modern progress. Since then, dryers are now the norm. Clotheslines have disappeared from most backyards.  However, if you ask people about a vivid childhood memory, the smell of fresh, sun-dried laundry is often at the top of their list.

 In the last few decades, the cost of electricity has substantially increased and power consumption by households is at an all-time high.  Other than the fridge, the washing machine and tumble dryer are the most energy-guzzling appliances in the house. The simple fact is, changing your laundry habits can reduce your power bills by an average of $25/month, eliminate a substantial amount of C02 emissions from entering Earth’s atmosphere, and reduce wear and tear on your clothing (which also saves you money by helping them to last longer). Even if you don’t hang out every single wash load, you will still make noticeable changes to your household budget as well as protect our planet’s natural resources. So why is there still such resistance to air dying clothes?

The first reason is that people think they aren’t allowed to. Thanks to media stories highlighting municipal clothesline bans which have often led to citizens going to court to defend their “right to dry”, many people believe that it is illegal to hang clothes outside. Clothesline bans still exist in many American communities, especially in condominium and apartment complexes. However, there is no government law here either in Canada or Alberta banning outside clotheslines. In 2008, Ontario passed the Energy Conservation Leadership Act, which was overruled any municipal clothesline bylaws or restrictions, including ones imposed by condo associations or apartment landlords.

Some power companies in Canada have ongoing programs to distribute free clotheslines to encourage air-drying laundry. Though it may seem ironic that utility companies are promoting power conservation, there is a reason behind it. Several provinces, including BC and Ontario, have implemented government-legislated energy efficiency targets that must be met. They also realize that it is more cost effective to encourage people to use less electricity rather than build new electrical infrastructure. Alberta is, unfortunately, lagging behind in this regard.

 However, the ‘’hearts and minds’’ side of the clothesline issue remains tougher to solve. There are people who do dry their clothes outside, but they feel they must do it sneakily because they feel they’ll be looked down on by their neighbours or even reported to the police and charged with an offense. It’s hard to get people to admit that they hang up their laundry when no one else seems to do it.

There is a growing movement of support—from bloggers to frugal families to national environmental groups—that want to make line drying acceptable again. Project Laundry List (, founded in 1996, has partnered with North American governments, environmental organizations and local community associations to promote the “Slow Laundry” movement. Since 1998, they have named April 19th as National Hanging Out Day, to encourage people to take the first steps in breaking the tumble-drying habit.

 So, will you challenge yourself to give your dryer the pink slip? April, which is Earth Month, is a good time to make the break. You can be an environmental leader right in your own backyard, just by changing the way you do laundry…one load at a time.



Other easy ways to “green” your laundry

Do Less Laundry. Not everything needs to be washed after just one wearing. Evaluate whether clothes and towels can be used a couple of times before they are thrown into the laundry pile. This greatly cuts down on the number of wash loads per week—not to mention the amount of time spent doing laundry.

Use Less Products. Often, using half of the recommended dose of laundry soap still results in clean clothes, even in hard water areas.  Using fabric softener every time isn’t necessary and can leave an oily residue that weakens clothing fibres.  Also, chlorine bleach might seem like a great idea but it contaminates waterways, and traditional chemical dry-cleaning is definitely not a “green” way to care for your clothes.

Use Eco-Friendly Products. Most name-brand laundry products are petroleum-based and aren’t good for sensitive skin--or the environment. You may pay a little more initially for natural laundry products but they are a much better choice for skin, clothes and municipal water supplies. However, just because a product says it’s “environmentally friendly” on the label, it may not be. Do your research and find out whether the product is truly made from natural ingredients. If you really want to cut the cost per load of laundry products, in addition to making sure they are environmentally friendly, try making your own soap. If you search the Internet for “homemade laundry soap”, there are lots of recipes to choose from that use ingredients such as borax and castille soap. Find one that catches your eye, and have fun concocting your own mix.

Make the Switch to Front-Loaders. In many parts of the world, front-loading washers and dryers are the norm. Here in North America, they are relatively new.  Front loaders are called “High Efficiency” appliances for a reason, as they tend to be more space-saving and use less water and electricity because gravity helps to move the clothes around instead of a central agitator (in the case of top-loading washers). The cost for these appliances is steadily decreasing which makes them a more attractive option.

Don’t Iron Everything Irons use a lot of energy. Often, hanging clothes immediately after washing will avoid wrinkles. You can fluff clothes briefly in a dryer just before folding.

Carla Knipe is a Calgary freelance writer who freely admits to hanging up her laundry. She hopes more people will take advantage of the free sunshine and wind to do the same.

Tags: Dads, Moms

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