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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!

Three Pop Culture Trends That Make Me Want to Leave the Internet

November 5th, 2013

Written by Nicola Doherty

I loooove the internet and technology and the vast amount of information we can procure in seconds. Last night my son asked me how to say, “I need to fart” in several languages, and I was able to provide this invaluable information to him instantaneously. I could hear his neurons and synapses firing away and creating new paths in his 8 year old brain as he bounced around the house letting everyone know he needed to pass gas in French and Spanish.  It’s all about teaching moments right?

Despite my love of all things world wide web, there’s a handful of things that I hate, no, despise about the internet. Here are my top three brain exploding annoyances that my kids love and make me want to move to an Amish community with no wifi.

  1. Annoying Orange: With his annoying voice, horrible laugh and infantile jokes, Annoying Orange tops my list of things that I can’t stand about the Internet. It was bad enough when I had to listen to the “heh heh heh heh” of his awful grating voice on YouTube but now he has a cartoon on Teletoon. To make matters worse when we installed Apple TV in the family room we now get Annoying Orange non stop on YouTube there too. I know, first world problems.  At least when he was on the computer it was confined to one room. Now he’s EVERYWHERE! Annoying Orange also parodies equally annoying songs (see annoyance no. 2). It’s bad enough when I have “What Does The Fox Say” in my head all day, but when I start mixing the lyrics to that and “What does the Sock Say” subconsciously, I’m ripping out the modem and banning the internet for life (ok – just for the day).
  2. Horrendous YouTube Songs. Yes, they’re catchy little numbers and they’re harmless and fun, but seriously, I’m waking up singing “A ringa dingingingingngg.” Listen Ylvis, foxes DON’T make those annoying noises! Got it!?!? Remember, it’s all about teaching moments right? I found this little number on Popular Science and it has a round up of all the noises foxes actually make (no ringadinding there). **Mom rule of thumb, don’t play the first video of the fox screaming unless you want your little biologists screaming like a fox too.** It doesn’t end with the fox, there’s I love Chinese Food (which is wrong in all sorts of ways) Gangham Style and of course, Friday.
  3. iPad Games…. Specifically Minecraft. My kids are crazy about Minecraft, those little creepers and building houses with tunnels and bridges in the sky. My sons hockey team name this year? Creepers. Minecraft, ironically for me, has many teaching/learning moments and as video games for kids go, isn’t all that bad. Kids have to be creative in building structures, gathering resources to survive (when you first play you have to build a house, gather food all before night falls). It’s non violent (in the creative mode) and collaborative. So why do I dislike it?

We’ve had to BAN talking about Minecraft because my kids are obsessed about building their houses. There’s also a lot of screaming and whining when they get their turn to log in and find out the house they spent 30 minutes creating was knocked down by little sister. Not cool kids, not cool.

Lastly, if I had to hear, “Mom, come look at this tunnel I built” one more time and go look at another 8 bit square and have no clue what I was looking at. Honestly, I could sit there all day and try and figure it out and still not understand.

Maybe the problem isn’t the kids and their love of annoying repetitive talking oranges. Maybe it’s me. I’m old. I remember my parents telling me they thought my Cabbage Patch doll was weird looking and my music was the worst. It’s my turn to be on the generational divide where I am old and I won’t embrace the new trends and hilarious videos and cool games.

Just kidding. I’m not old, I’m fantastic and the things they’re watching are putrid and absolutely the worst.

Nicola Doherty is a mom to three Minecraft obsessed and Annoying Orange watching children. Aside from trying to get the kids to spend their time outside and leaving her alone for some unobtrusive time with her thoughts, she works at Urban Infant, Sprogs.ca, Entrepreneur Mom Now, Edmonton and Urban Mommy Expo.

Tags: Dads, Moms, toddler, Tweens

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