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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!

The Art of Play and Making Fitness Fun

March 1st, 2015

By Luke Lavorato

Why are fewer kids playing sports and more and more kids gaming online and updating their Facebook statuses instead? Why is it that 20 years ago parents used to scold their kids for playing outside for too long and now we have to beg them to go outside and play? There are many distractions that could be blamed for this transition. One major deterrent is that kids aren’t having as much fun with physical activity anymore. We are going to explore the reasons that kids aren’t having as much fun anymore and figure out ways to get them back outside and loving it.

Fear of failure is the biggest thing holding kids back. They are scared to try something that they have never done before. It is especially scary when they have to compete against other kids who are more experienced than they are. It is extremely important that kids get active as early as possible; however, that doesn’t mean that we should throw them onto a sports team before they are ready. Some kids are inherently very competitive and love being on teams. A lot of kids aren’t ready for this. The best way to combat this fear is to introduce your kids to physical activity in a safe atmosphere. Some great examples of this would be introductory movement classes, beginner’s gymnastics courses, a basic sport class that focuses on development, as opposed to competition, or introductory dance classes. While all of these are dependent on who is running the class, they are great ways to dissolve the separation anxiety kids naturally have. However, the best introductory coach for your child is you!

One-on-one time with your child is the best way to get them active. You are their hero and they love playing with you. But what if you’re not an athlete or if you have very little background with physical activity? Who cares! Your child will appreciate that you are trying. You don’t have to be perfect with your teaching or with your technique. The most important part is that you make it fun. Here are some tips to adding fun into your active play. Encourage everything. If your child is practicing catching a football and they got it one time, treat that like they have just won the Super Bowl. Any success at a young age is worth celebrating. Break down the drill to its simplest form so that your child experiences feelings of success. If you are teaching dribbling a basketball, the first step should be getting them to push the ball down out of your hands. From there you can progress it as far as they are ready for. Use your imagination. If you are teaching your child to dance, use a jungle song and imitate different animals with your movement. They will have fun and you can laugh at yourself at the same time. If you are playing football, pretend you are ninjas practicing your ninja moves. Use what they love to engage their imaginations. Lastly, use games you already know and adapt them to what you are trying to accomplish. Tag is a great and classic game that you can use in a variety of ways. You could play tag with basketballs or hockey sticks. Whoever doesn’t have a ball is it and the other person has to try to steal it back. You could play Follow-the-Leader, but with dance moves. One bonus tip is to make physical activity a reward, not a punishment. If your child does something wrong, don’t punish them with pushups. Make sure you are sending the right message. At the end of the day the goal is to see smiling faces and rosy cheeks. With all of this fun talk, how can they be the best they can be?

When my father was a child, he would leave his house at 8 a.m. with five sandwiches, warm clothes, and his hockey gear, and wouldn’t come back from the outdoor rink until 8p.m. He didn’t play organized sports until he reached high-school. Now you might think his parents crippled him by not getting him training at an early age and that he had no chance of playing at a high level because of this. My Dad played in the CFL for 10 years and was recruited by four NHL teams. The main reason he excelled at sports was because he loved playing them. More importantly, at the age of 63 he is still very healthy and in great shape.

As parents we worry all the time that our children are falling behind because we didn’t get them onto a team early enough or we don’t have them in the right training. This is an unnecessary worry: 0.0001% of athletes play professional sports, and that 0.0001% is usually very different from the rest. So stop worrying! Physical activity becomes more fun the better you get at it, and as children get older they should have coaches teaching them that know how to progress their skills. Even at a young age it is important to do our best to give them the proper advice so they can see at least a little bit of success with everything that they are trying. However, do not feel the pressure of getting into the top level of activity right away, especially if it is forced. Forcing your child into high-level competition at young ages is a quick way to burn them out and steal their love of that activity. If they are that 0.0001% that is made for professional sports they will want to play that sport all of the time and will seek out competition because it is fun for them. For the rest of us 99.999%, it is important that we continue to enjoy physical activity so we can continue to stay in shape as we age.

Television, video games and social media in small amounts are not evil. In large quantities, however, they are a poison to kids’ chances of being and remaining active. Limit the amount they take part in. Thirty to 60 minutes of video games, television, or social media in a day is more than enough. You will be surprised what children find to do when they are bored.

Getting kids active and healthy isn’t rocket science. Don’t pressure them into situations they aren’t ready for. Play with them at home and develop their confidence so that joining a group or team doesn’t create anxiety. Stop worrying about if they are on the best team or have the best training; instead, make sure that they are enjoying themselves, getting better, and most importantly, encourage every success you see. Keep in mind that a high five and a big smile go a long way!

Luke Lavorato is Owner and Director of Sportball Edmonton. He has an incredible wife named Stacey and three amazing children: Mason, Tony and Oliver. He played football on a scholarship at the University of Alberta and was also recruited to play basketball. Luke graduated with a degree in business and has dedicated every day since graduation to finding the best ways to make kids smile and get them active.

Tags: advice, kids

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