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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 Journey of Love and Money

July 9th, 2013

Financial worries impact three-of-ten Canadian couples (32 per cent) who admit to sometimes, often or always having disagreements about money, the latest Investors Group poll reveals.  Additionally, half (50 per cent) admit to knowing other couples who argue about personal finances.

“Apprehensions about essential personal finance matters can be difficult for couples to address openly, sometimes leading to friction,” said Christine Van Cauwenberghe, Assistant Vice President, Tax & Estate Planning, Investors Group. “The key to success is to talk frankly and regularly about personal finance issues to find common ground and make solid financial decisions together to plan for the future.”

The Investors Group survey included 1,192 Canadians who are married or living common-law who were asked about the spending behaviours of their partners and their approach to personal finance matters.

Spending and saving

Investors Group’s survey found that one-in-seven (14 per cent) Canadians try to convince their partners to spend less. However, 26 per cent say they are encouraged to save because their partner is a saver.

Eighteen per cent of Canadians have kept a secret from their partner about how much money they have spent, saved or have hidden. Thirteen per cent of females admit to secret spending, compared to only six per cent of males.

When faced with the uncomfortable news of finding out your partner has spent too much on an item, nearly one-in-five couples (18 per cent) choose to ignore it. Another six per cent confront their partner and suggest they return the item. Six-in-ten couples (59 per cent) bring it to their spouse’s attention and express their genuine concern.

“No matter your financial situation, keeping track of spending habits is easiest when you develop a budget together and both agree to abide by it,” said Van Cauwenberghe. “That way there are no surprises down the road and this sort of exercise helps develop a comfortable space in which you both can discuss money more often.”

Tough love

So what happens if you need to regulate your partner’s spending? One-in-five (21 per cent) Canadians say they have used an ‘allowance’ system to control the spending habits of their partner. Ninety-per cent of Canadians who use this approach are satisfied with the outcome.

Top of mind worries

While every worry does not turn into a disagreement, a majority (60 per cent) of Canadian couples identified saving for retirement as their number one concern. This tops paying off debt (52 per cent) and having enough for day-to-day living expenses (49 per cent).

Despite these top-of-mind concerns, the survey shows a majority of Canadian couples seem to agree on most issues including financial matters such as budgets, major purchases, spending and saving (67 per cent), as well as non-financial issues like extended family (66 per cent), relationship (65 per cent), household tasks (61 per cent) and raising and caring for the children (59 per cent).

Talk it out

When it comes to having important discussions, Canadians vary depending on the subject. Almost half of Canadians couples (48 per cent) feel it is important to have regular discussions about managing their children’s activities. Seventy per cent of couples say it’s vital to have conversations about general household operations such as daycare, cleaning, maintenance and repairs and 75 per cent say they regularly touch base on their personal saving and spending. Lastly, when discussing family outings and entertainment costs, half of Canadians agree it is important to speak about it while another 49 per cent say it isn’t.

Additional highlights

  • 68 per cent of couples share financial duties and make decisions jointly, whereas 19 per cent like their independence and hold separate bank accounts with defined responsibility for specific expenses.
  • Of all age groups, boomer couples (45-64 years of age) are the most compatible with each other’s spending behaviour (81 per cent).
  • Concerns about paying off debt among Canadians peaks at 67 per cent for young couples (age 25-34 years) and at 64 per cent for couples age 35-44 years.
  • Paying down the mortgage is a concern for 36 per cent of Canadian couples. Of all age groups, younger Canadians between the ages of 18-24 years are most concerned (64 per cent).
  • Gen Y Canadians (age 35-44 years) and younger Boomers (age 45-54 years) are equally worried about saving for retirement (75 per cent) and the most likely to be concerned about this issue.
  • Concern about saving for retirement is less worrisome for older Boomers (age 54-64 years) but more than half (54 per cent) are still concerned. 


About the Survey Methodology

This data was gathered through teleVox, Harris/Decima's national telephone omnibus survey. The data was collected from May 30 to June 9, 2013 among Canadians who are married or are in a common law relationship. In total, 1,192 interviews were completed. A sample of the same size has a margin of error of +/-2.8% 19 times out of 20.

About Investors Group

Investors Group, founded in 1926, is a national leader in delivering personalized financial solutions to Canadians through a network of approximately 4,500 Consultants located throughout Canada. In addition to an exclusive family of mutual funds and other investment vehicles, Investors Group offers a wide range of insurance, securities, mortgage and other financial services. Investors Group is a member of the IGM Financial Inc. (TSX: IGM) group of companies. IGM Financial is one of Canada’s premier financial services companies with approximately $125 billion in total assets under management as of June 30, 2013.

Tags: Dads, education, Moms

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