Your Child's "Firsts"

 

Attending a boy-girl party
Although your daughter has probably attended many parties in her grade and early middle school years where boys were in attendance, it's a whole different animal when it comes to adolescent bashes. Often the party-giver's parents are either not at home or they've taken up residence in their bedroom to avoid the crowd. It's possible that someone will appear with beer or a bottle of liquor, or perhaps even marijuana. Kids who are driving cars come and go, and even with parents trying to supervise, things can quickly get out of hand when a bunch of kids get together on a Friday night. Now, this doesn't mean that your child will engage in any of this behavior, but it's a scary thought just knowing that she could be around other kids' misbehavior without your guidance.

First, let her know that her first co-ed party is a big responsibility for her, and possibly an anxiety-producing event for you. You don't want to make her feel guilty for attending, but some rules do have to be set in stone. Again, trust is critical. Mandate that she is not to engage in any substance use and must stay at the party and not leave the premises without your knowledge and permission. Make it clear that this is not open to debate. No chance, no way, nada. If she's not willing to agree to these bottom-line terms, or you can't trust her word, then she doesn't go. Also, it's imperative that you contact the parents to make sure that they will be on site and to find out how they plan to keep the kids inside and safe. If you don't feel comfortable with their answers, your child doesn't attend.

 

Getting a cell phone
The age that a child receives his or her first cell phone depends upon the parents' needs, the individual child's wishes as well as their maturity and responsibility. The 10-year-old with good judgment might very well enjoy having a cell phone to use to call home while at their buddy's house and to occasionally chat with friends, but in an appropriate manner. An immature, irresponsible 12-year-old might not be ready for their own phone — either misplacing it frequently, lending it to friends, going above the allotted number of minutes or making inappropriate calls (in school, gossiping about others). Kids who are not mature enough to have their own phones should not have them — they can borrow Mom or Dad's phone for select usage when it's helpful for the parent to keep in touch. And, please let your pre-teen and teens know that you'll only be paying "so much" for the phone, if they just have to have the latest and greatest, then the bucks come from their piggy bank, not yours. And, although cell phones tend to be fashion statements, try to keep it in perspective. Does your 13-year-old daughter really need one adorned with rhinestones? Probably not, and it might not sit well with her friends' parents who might consider it excessive and indicative of entitlement.

I like to view the cell phone as an electronic leash of sorts. It's a great way to keep communication easy and open between kids on the go and their folks, and leaves no excuse for not getting parental permission if the evening's plans need to change. If your child does not have their own phone, you might wish to consider lending them yours for evenings out. But, there needs to be clear rules about the care and usage of the cell phone. The issues to be considered are whether the phone is to be used solely to call home or whether your son or daughter can use it to communicate with friends, who will pay for excess usage (a good way to spend babysitting money!), and whether or not it can be turned off, lent to friends or taken to school. If your teen has their own phone but tends to rack up the minutes, consider purchasing a pre-paid plan with a reasonable monthly fee for a set amount of minutes. Kids get real good, real quick when it comes to rationing out chat time when they know that the meter is running! Cell phones are privileges, making everyone's life a bit easier. But, they can be suspended or removed if behavior is inappropriate.

 

There are two things to note when considering giving your child permission to have a cell phone. First, the main reasons for letting your child use a cell phone are safety (ability to call home when frightened, missed the bus to school, feeling uncomfortable with what friends are doing) and ease of communication between child and parent. Notice that I didn't mention fun and communication between your child and her buddies. Sure, that's paramount on her mind, and it's cool to have your own latest and great technology to be able to text message and take photos. But, primarily the child's cell phone usage should help you, as the parent, keep better tabs on the kid as well as to keep you in the driver's seat when it comes to knowing where she is. Secondly, all kids who use cell phones need to be aware of the potential dangers involved. As technology expands, so do the possibilities for misuse. This might take the form of someone else hacking into your child's system (she is on a "wireless" technology), a friend "borrowing" and misusing the phone to make indiscreet calls, or downloading expensive or inappropriate material (ring tones or pornographic materials). So, to be a better-prepared parent, all kids (just getting their first cell phone as well as those who are pros at using them) should read about the dangers and rules of usage on an appropriate website such as AT&T's Smart Limits, Verizon Wireless Chaperone Service and T-Mobile Content Control.

In addition, folks can learn from these sites what parental controls are free, available, and easy to install. I suggest using a cell carrier that offers "tamper block" features. This allows the parent to block select incoming or outgoing calls to that phone, install "quiet time" so that calls after a certain time of night do not ring but messages go directly through to voicemail, and that the phone can be turned off during school hours if the parent deems that to be appropriate. And, with the tamper block feature, the parent holds the pin code so the child cannot change the settings. Pretty neat, huh?

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