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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!

Managing the Message: Helping Girls with the Negative Effects of Advertising Overload

September 1st, 2015

image: ShutterStock

By Jennifer Lavallee

Research shows that we see up to 5,000 advertisements every single day. What…what? It’s true, a market research firm out of the U.S., led by Dale Yankelovich, whose findings were published in the New York Times, revealed the jaw-dropping statistic a few years back. Just take a moment to let that sink in—5,000 ads are potentially passing by our eyes or ears every single day. But, how is this even possible? Well, if you combine all those little blurbs and sneaky commercials that pop up on our social media feeds, YouTube videos, on t.v. and radio, blogs, websites, apps, billboards, junk mail—heck, even on the side of the bus driving by your house and on the box of cereal you reach for every morning, the numbers start to add up rather quickly.

It makes you wonder though, does the constant bombardment of these ads on our everyday lives actually do any harm? Especially on our youngest, do kids even really notice ads now that they’re so common place? If we were to focus on young girls, particularly those aged 8-14 (meaning girls who are experiencing puberty or who will be in a few years), overwhelmingly, the experts are saying, yes. Not surprisingly, this is true because it’s the time in their lives when young girls are just starting to figure out who they are and what it means to them to be a girl.  Exposed to constant advertising where women are often portrayed in unrealistic ways and where there is conflictive messaging, about things like appearances and gender roles, given from one ad to another, it’s no surprise to learn that, for example, girls’ self-esteem takes a major nosedive during puberty, 3.5 times higher, compared to boys of the same age. Of course, advertising is not the only thing contributing to the problem, but considering the sheer number of ads that kids today are exposed to, it is no doubt one important piece to the larger puzzle.

The Good News

The good news is, at the moment, there is a popular ad campaign trend that focuses on positive messaging for empowering young girls and highlights the importance of valuing leadership and confidence (think of campaigns such as Cheerios’ anti-diet mission or Always’ #likeagirl); however, juxtaposed against this is the subtle, and sometimes not-so-subtle, messaging that offers up just the opposite view and is, unfortunately, entrenched in a lot of our daily lives as acceptable. With this in mind—how do we help our girls embrace the messaging behind those positive ad campaigns, and leave the negative ones behind?

Challenging Stereotypes

“Yes, we talk about these things, even at their age,” says Krista Frattin, a local mother from Edmonton whose two daughters, aged nine and seven, and son, aged five, are growing up in a household that actively seeks out opportunities to challenge stereotypes. “In our house, if I hear the kids describe a person in a way that reflects a negative body-image term, I always try to open up a conversation. I really want to break down stereotypes with them and help them to understand that what they see on t.v. isn’t always reality,” asserts Frattin. And, according to the experts, she’s hitting the nail right on the head.

Christina Rinaldi, a professor in the Department of Educational Psychology at the University of Alberta and a school and clinical child psychologist, says, “Kids are really impressionable at this age, there’s nothing wrong with talking about these types of ads and how they make your child feel.” Rinaldi explains that young girls (and boys) don’t necessarily understand that advertisements are really just something made up as a marketing ploy, and says parents and guardians should be talking, in a meaningful way, about some of those underlying negative messages and imagery contained in some ads. This, she says, will help to challenge the stereotypes they are maybe buying into.

Rinaldi says that children start to become aware of themselves and form self-image as young as the ages of three and four and explains that all the interactions and experiences of children will help them to form their identity. “Kids have amazing powers of observation,” continues Rinaldi, “and they learn by imitation, whether they realize it or not.” Challenging hypocrisies that often appear in advertisements and popular culture, especially with young children, will help kids to develop a healthier self image, says the child psychologist, who also highlights the importance of having these types of conversations with both your girls and boys.

Give Them the Tools

How then, do we get our girls (and boys) to focus on the messages provided in the positive ads and empower them to reject the negative messages of the other ones. According to experts here are a few steps you can take:

Talk the talk, but also, walk the walk. It’s important to have open, frank conversations with your kids from an early age. Challenge stereotypes and explore ideas and key values you want your child to consider when it comes to how they see themselves. At the same time, it is important to follow through with what you’re telling them, to show that you actually believe it. For example, the message gets lost if you tell your daughter she can grow up to be anything she wants to be and then, when she says she wants to be a plumber, tell her “well, that’s usually a boy’s job.”

Be conscious of even the simple things, like making sure your household works on an equal playing field; switching up household chores so the girls aren’t always doing the “girl chores” and boys doing the “boy chores” can be impactful. Dads, brothers, and grandfathers can play a particularly important role in this area.

Lead by example. Whether we like it or not, body image can be very important to girls as they grow up. Being mindful of how you speak about your own body can help encourage healthy discussions with your daughter on her sense of body-confidence. For example, if you refuse to wear a bathing suit during your family outing to the local swimming pool, and always hold yourself to an unrealistic body-standard, how will your daughter feel about her own body as it changes and grows?

Encourage. Let your girls know, just as much as your boys, that they should step up, lead, and have ambitions. Acknowledge their dreams and ask questions. Stir up passions and encourage goal setting.

In the Community

Of course, a big part of giving girls the tools to deal with the negative impacts of advertising overload starts at home, but there are also many community groups, throughout the Edmonton region, that focus on helping girls learn about themselves, build confidence and lead.


  • Girl Guides: Edna Dach, the Public Relations Chair with the Edmonton-area Girl Guides, says “Guides offers a wide range of activities and enriching experiences that will last for a lifetime.” She describes their group’s core programming, which is available for girls starting at age five through 18, as focused on instilling leadership. Guides covers topics such as discovering community, healthy friendships, celebrating cultures, online safety, self-esteem, and body image issues (depending on the age group).

  • Girl-focused science clubs. There has been a big push lately to have girls embrace their love of science and math. Programs, such as ‘Girls Learning Code’ and the University of Alberta’s GEM (Girls Engineering and Mentorship) and Girls Coding Club have been growing in popularity. Girls as young as age six can participate, however younger girls can still get in on the action by visiting interesting places, like Edmonton’s Telus World of Science.

  • Edmonton’s YWCA programming for girls. The non-profit group runs their “GirlSpace” program from October to March where topics such as realistic body images, independence, assertiveness, and responsible decision making are a main focus to the group.

  • Build strength. There are, of course, all the traditional sports available out there, but today there are also many outside-the-box type fitness classes and workshops specifically meant for girls, where building confidence and self-esteem are just as important as the fitness aspect of the group. Classes such as rock-climbing, dirt biking, and weightlifting, for example, are all available for girls in the region.


Jennifer is a freelance writer living in a small town just outside of Edmonton with her three kids, husband, and a wiener dog named Bruce. She is a regular contributor to the Morinville FreePress newspaper and writes different types of articles (such as general features, historical pieces, business spotlights, etc.) for magazines throughout the Edmonton region. You can find Jennifer on twitter at @unlockingideas.

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