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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!

#VisitRedDeer for Family Fun

July 1st, 2016

By Wendy Mueller

Living in Edmonton, I've been to Red Deer several times for work and sports tournaments and had lots of stops at gasoline alley on the way south. Little did I know, though, our neighbour city has so much to offer for summer family fun!

We spent a weekend in Red Deer last summer and was one to remember for sure. With four kids in tow, my husband and I packed up the vehicle for our adventure, hoping and praying the kids would enjoy the getaway we had planned... And we were all so pleasantly surprised!

Our friends at Tourism Red Deer arranged our stay at the TownePlace Suite by Marriott. If you've ever traveled with kids, having a suite is the cat's pajamas! A newer hotel and all the rooms have two queen beds, huge bathrooms and a full kitchen, including a large fridge. The pool was beautiful and clean and the continental breakfast was far beyond my expectations. It was more like a buffet! Our experience with the amenities and the wonderful staff was fantastic and I highly recommend it.

DISCOVERY WILDLIFE PARK - Innisfail, Alberta

Adventure #1 was a short jaunt south down Hwy 2 at the Discovery Wildlife Park. I knew the 9 and 10-year-olds would like it but imagined a couple hours with the teenagers grumbling. I was so wrong. We spent over five hours walking, talking, looking at and learning about all these amazing animals and everyone had a blast. I am not a fan of circuses or zoos normally, but this place is a safe haven and conservation park that is taking care of animals that have been hurt or abandoned and otherwise would have nowhere else to go. We got to hold snakes and critters, sat beside a beaver and had a picture with a Kodiak bear who's also a movie star. Our kids came away exhausted and with a new appreciation of protecting wildlife and conservation of their habitats. This was a truly enlightening experience.

WASKASOO PARK TRAILS

We like to explore the places we visit and had a wonderful walk through a small part of Red Deer’s trail system. Here we found beautiful parks and natural green spaces with over 100 km of easily accessible, paved, hiking and equestrian trails. Biking, hiking, jogging, bird watching, picnics and peaceful walks can all be enjoyed in various parks and facilities within the Waskasoo Park trail system. A water playground, western ranch, and wildlife sanctuary are some of the many highlights within the City’s park system. I had no idea Red Deer held so much to be discovered!

WILD RAPIDS WATERSLIDE PARK - Sylvan Lake, Alberta

Another quick road trip brought us to nearby Sylvan Lake. The town itself is such an Alberta gem in the summer and we took a stroll along the gorgeous beach, but our destination was for adventure, so we headed to Wild Rapids. This was one of the places we came as kids from Edmonton and there really is nothing like an outdoor waterpark experience. The weather was perfect and we were able to enjoy the sun and lots of places to find shade... But the water slides were the highlight of our little dudes' trip. They started out small and built their way up to the big ones with screams of joy, laughter, and delight. Hubby and I more than enjoyed it too.

MUD HERO ALBERTA

The timing of our trip was built around the incredible Mud Race at Canyon Ski Resort. Dad and daughter participated in the adult race with 6 kilometers and 16 obstacles... through the mud. It was an insanely fun and dirty experience but one that will last a lifetime. Our youngest son and his best friend did the kids' race and although shorter and less grueling, it was a sight to behold and incredibly exciting as well. They both loved the fun competition and actually had permission to jump in the mud! I wasn't able to do the race with an injury, but I was the helper of collecting clothes, fetching water, cheering them on and being delighted with how much joy I saw on their faces. This was an amazing fun-for-the-whole-family kind of event and we will definitely be back to do it again. Well done Mud Race organizers!

* Mud Hero 2016 event is in Red Deer at Canyon Ski Resort August 5-7

ALBERTA SPORTS HALL OF FAME AND MUSEUM

Our final stop before heading home was the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame and Museum. For a family of sports nuts, this was pretty cool. So much to be proud of in our Alberta athletes and so much to do and experience for kids and adults alike. From wall climbing to skiing simulations, videos to interactive displays, we enjoyed over three hours of fun, topped off with some treats at the concession before we headed for home... Which was only 90 minutes away. After an action packed weekend, the trip home is usually my least favourite, but we were so close it seemed like we blinked and we were there.

With this incredible gem of a city so nearby, it is well worth the trip to spend our travel dollars in Alberta and be delighted by so much to see and do. I love our province and am grateful to have been able to share another wonderful piece of it with my family. Thank you, Tourism Red Deer!

 

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