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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!

Parenting Anger

February 25th, 2013

By: Jude Bijou


You're all alone dealing with a houseful of kids who, when they're not playing nicely together, may be crying, whining, fighting, or running around creating havoc and chaos. You can feel the anger, frustration, and resentment rising in you--you're ready to blow a gasket! It's normal to feel resentment and feel as if you're going crazy. You just want to sit down and cry, or run outside and scream.


Guess what? That's not a bad option, but there's a way to do it that won't freak out your kids. The truth is, holding down your anger only intensifies it, and it will end up coming out in a way you'll regret. There's a healthy way to release anger that won't damage your kids OR leave you feeling like a terrible person.


Here are some strategies that help parents deal with frustration and anger around kids.


Let go of self-judgment. It's natural to feel intense anger, frustration, and helplessness as a parent. Accept that you're going to be exhausted and sometimes lose it. Remind yourself you're doing your best.


Look for anger's body cues. Step out of your head and into your body. Become aware of how the emotion is making itself known: for example, ears getting hot, surging in chest, rage moving up spine, sweating, and feeling like you're about explode.


Take a page from your kids' book. Kids are good role models for expressing emotions. They scream, cry, stomp around, and otherwise go ballistic, then after a few minutes are smiling and happy again. You can do this too, but in a safe place where you won't frighten the kids.


Find two minutes to let it all out. Excuse yourself to the bedroom, if your kids are old enough, and pound the mattress with your fist, or scream and growl into a pillow. Do it hard, with abandon. If you need to cry, allow the tears to flow. If the kids are too little to be left alone, push against a wall as hard as you can, letting your arms and legs tremble with the effort. Make angry, scowling noises at the wall. While pushing or stomping, make sounds or stick to, "I just feel so angry. I need to get this energy out."


Interrupt destructive thinking patterns. When you find yourself thinking about how your kids or the situation "should" be, learn to reroute those thoughts. Accept reality and focus on an indisputable truth. For example, "Suzie is the way she is, not the way I want her to be," or "This feeling is temporary." Repeat your statement in your mind over and over, and throughout the day.


Communicate with "I" statements and specifics. Instead of, "You kids are driving me crazy," say, "I would like you to pick up your toys before we have a snack. It makes me happy when our playroom is neat and we can find all the pieces to our games."


Deal with the present. Don't make global generalizations such as, "You're a bad boy." Don't drag in words like "always" and "never". Stay specific and talk about the issue at hand. "I didn't like it when you hit your sister. Look at how hard she's crying. Use your words if something bothers you."


Focus on the positive. When your kids infuriate you, don't focus on the small stuff that bothers you. Remember to tell your children what you love, admire, value, and notice about them when you're NOT feeling angry.


Be a good example for your family. Model healthy coping strategies for your family by creating a safe place for releasing anger. At an emotionally neutral time, explain to kids that expressing emotions is healthy, and you've created a safe place where anyone can go and get their anger out. Set aside a corner of the basement with a punching bag and a mattress, and show them how to pound pillows and invite them to do the same.


Take care of yourself. Good emotional health in a family starts with you. Find what nourishes you and do it, even it if it's just for a few seconds here and there. Sip a mug of hot tea or walk outside to feel the sunshine. Or even let the kids spend the afternoon on a play date so you can have quiet time. Be good to yourself.


Find someone for support. Perhaps it's a best girlfriend who also has kids, or it's your spouse. Ask for help and call in the support team when you feel like you're going to lose it with the kids.


The results? You set up a healthy emotional space for the entire family. You'll take care of your own need to feel centred and to have a sense of well-being. Releasing the emotional energy and focusing on acceptance dissipates anger and restores balance. You'll feel more calm, clear, and loving--and you'll teach your kids to do the same for themselves. You'll calmly accept what is or say/do what you need to in order to keep love, joy, and peace flowing in your household.


Jude Bijou, MA, MFT, is a respected psychotherapist, professional educator, and workshop leader. Her theory of Attitude Reconstruction® evolved over the course of more than 30 years working with clients as a licensed marriage and family therapist, and is the subject of her award-winning book, Attitude Reconstruction: A Blueprint for Building a Better Life. Learn more at

Tags: Dads, Moms, Parenting

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