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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!

Massimo's: A Great Way to Feed the Kids

November 1st, 20161 Comment



  1.       Tell me a little about yourself and your family.

I'm a second-generation Italian, food fanatic, sort of a homebody but more career mom who was raised by first-generation Italian, food obsessed, homebody workaholics.  Music lover, writer want-to-be, and passionate about my heritage.


I am the mother to a kind-hearted and beautiful 10-year-old girl named Sofia who plays drums in a rock band, takes Taekwondo, and is addicted to watching YouTube makeup vloggers and Food Network.  And my husband, and best friend Sal,  is a good, second-generation Italian boy.

In the early years of my daughter’s life, I was working myself up the corporate ladder of a finance company. I was blindly miserable. What made it worse is that I felt like Sofia was missing out on so many of the cultural experiences my parents shared with me... and it was my fault. It became mission critical that I got back in touch with it all. So, I did what was most natural to me, I joined the Italian Centre Shop where I found a much healthier work-life balance than I was used to. I am so blessed to be part of the Italian Centre Shop be surrounded by people with the same passions I have and to report to a career mom, (Teresa) who gets it.

As the Food Services Manager, I oversee our catering department, our store kitchens and our private label of heat and eat meals: Massimo’s Cucina Italiana (Massimo’s). Named after Teresa Spinelli’s son, Massimo’s is a growing product line developed for every Teresa out there. A career mom who is strapped for time but wants nothing more than to feed her growing child a good Italian meal for dinner each night.

  1.       What kind of challenges do you encounter when it comes to feeding your family?

Lack of time with a pinch of guilt sautéed with a few limitations.

For every career-parent I know, time is a luxury and the struggle is real. I decided it was time to get creative. I trained myself to wake up early each morning so that I could make time to do mom things like organize my household (I’m a professional bill payer) and prep meals. This completely changed my perception of time and helped immensely with getting wholesome dinners on the table on most evenings. However, some mornings, I’m in front of a computer screen and I don’t have time to prep a meal. (Up until recently and for the last two years, I was also a part-time business consultant and did a lot of my work in the early mornings before heading to the Italian Centre).

I accepted that despite how much I love to cook, I couldn’t cook dinner all the time. It just couldn’t happen. Then, it became difficult finding suitable options for take-out and ready-meals.  I found the options limited; usually fried items with lower quality ingredients that are not fresh. Anything that I could find that was wholesome was often too expensive to rely on regularly (did I mention I’m a professional bill payer?).

  1.       Tell me about some of your favourite go-to’s when it comes to weeknight meals.

On some early mornings during the week, I do up a Messinger Meats Porchetta in the slow-cooker or I chop up a bunch of fresh vegetables and grate some Grana Padano cheese for a pasta primavera that I can do up quickly when I get home from work.

Band rehearsal night is a favorite because on that night, cooking is not an option and I bring home dinner from the Italian Centre Shop. It doesn’t matter which store I’m working at that day, I can grab a pizza, Massimo’s Meatballs or a Lasagna with a fresh Bella Salad and a Pagnotta and we’re rocking! It’s food I trust - good ingredients, prepared properly and made simply with love.

One weekend per month, my kitchen becomes a “mama only zone”. The La Pavoncella cans are piled up high, my phone case smells like garlic (Instagramin’), I’m singing Adele tunes like I taught her the songs, and I’m rocking a Led Zepplin t-shirt with wing tip eyeliner. Me time. I batch cook freezer meals of traditional recipes my mother taught me like arancini (rice balls), brodo di pollo (chicken soup) or fagioli Aranise (From my parent’s city, slow cooked white cannellini beans that later get tossed in with pasta.) These are dishes that freeze very well but they do take quite a bit of time to make. You would think that this was “mom work”, but no. This kind of cooking is therapeutic – it’s my yoga.

  1.       What kinds of things are you looking for when choosing what your family will eat?

We have a little saying in our family, “Don’t be a food snob.” Not every dinner can be a Food Network special or perfectly calculated for the maximum health benefits. I’m not the mom who scrutinizes every package’s label and I don’t confirm the grower of every vegetable in my refrigerator. No. I’m not that mom. I’m the mom that raises my child just as my immigrant parents raised me. We make the healthiest choices we can with the resources we have and always, always, we enjoy what we consume. If you must force it down, then why are you eating it?

Good food is simple and made with love. I naturally gravitate to the Italian simplicity of fewer, great ingredients that are properly prepared. That’s not to say that a more complex, smoky Cajun brisket doesn’t come out of my slow cooker every now and again, but more often than not, if a meal is simple in its composition, I trust that meal for my family. It’s honest, pure food and 99 per cent of the time, it’s this kind of food that’s the most delicious. That 1 per cent is liver and onions. Nothing makes liver taste good.

Fast. Fast. Fast. I’m always thinking, “How quickly I can get it to the table, and how quickly I can clean it up?” On Taekwondo night, I have 45 minutes to cook, eat and clean up. I use as few dishes and pots as possible so that it can cram it all into the dishwasher before we head out. An inspiration for Massimo’s meals and something I appreciate about our Massimo’s nights. Our package goes from the shopping bag to the oven for heating, to the table for serving and then into the recycle bin. Italian ingenuity.  


Tags: advice, food, health, kids, Moms, yeg

Reader Comments (1)

Teresa Spinelli said on November 8, 2016

Best Staff EVER!!!! Thank you Edmonton's Child for such a beautiful article! THANK YOU Renata AMAZING working mom, who speaks honestly about the struggles of working moms!

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