Why I Got My Eleven Year Old A Smartphone


Up until last week if there would have been a parade for people against middle schoolers having cell phones I would have been the grand marshall. I would have ridden in front (in a convertible or course) waving the banner HIGH. I was passionate about the subject and I let people know it!

But as Lily entered middle school Ryan and I really started to feel as though she needed a phone. We wanted to be able to leave her with friends for short periods of time and we don’t have a home phone. We had a pre-paid phone for home but it was constantly getting lost and didn’t hold much of a charge. And she was beginning to have more after-school activities where I wanted to be able to get a hold of her and couldn’t.

So off to Best Buy we went to get her the most basic of “feature phones.” We wanted something more than a flip phone since texting was an important feature. But beyond that, we wanted simple. And no “smart” with our phone.

But guess what? Those phones hardly exist anymore. When we got there and saw our choices they consisted of a huge variety of smart phones, one flip one and one other phone with a slideout keyboard and the old school resistive touch screen that basically never responds to touch. It got a 3 star review online.

Ryan and I literally sat in Best Buy for nearly an hour (while our two youngest kids went crazy with tablets) and debated what to do. This was going to be her eleventh birthday present so a flip phone seemed like the lamest gift ever. So if we wanted to avoid smartphones we were left with this really crappy other phone that, when we added her on our plan with a contract, ended up costing $50 more than a really good smartphone. But we were completely prepared to do it because we wanted to stand by our beliefs that middle schoolers should not have smartphones.

Well. Lily is now that proud owner of a Samsung Galaxy 4. We did not come to this decision lightly and it came with quite a few adaptations. Here is what we did:

  1. Turned Off Mobile Data: My biggest concern with a smartphone is that she would have access to the internet 24/7. Not only was I concerned about what she might see, but I didn’t want the phone becoming an extension of her arm. We tried to take her off our data plan but apparently phone companies like you paying for their data plans and Verizon wouldn’t shut it off. So instead we manually turned it off. She can browse under wireless in our home but we have filters and this was not different from before when she had access to tablets and her iTouch.
  2. Installed Family Base: When I called Verizon to ask them to shut off mobile they instead recommended this feature. It does cost like $5 a month but it is worth it because I can see all of what Lily does on her phone. I get weekly emails detailing who she is calling and texting (and who is calling and texting her). I can also see if she uses any mobile data which she knows she is not allowed to do. I can also see all this activity through an app on my phone. Family Base can also be used to block numbers from texting or calling if that every becomes necessary and limit the amount of money your kids can spend on apps (which would be zero in our case).
  3. Limited her hours of use: Again, we use Family Base for this. Her phone basically shuts down from 9pm-7am and doesn’t allow her to make or receive texts and calls. Originally we were just going to make her “turn in her phone” every night but we learned from trying this with other technology that we stink and consistency with this so the app makes it idiot proof for us.
  4. Disabled You Tube: We simply shut off the app under the settings
  5. Downloaded a safe browser: I liked the functionality of Mobicip. It restricts websites based on age. It also allows you to restrict your kids from downloading apps without a password. There is a paid version that does a bunch of other stuff but for right now we are just using the free features.
  6. Cell Phone Contract: When we gave her the phone we had a long talk about how this was a big responsibility and how we didn’t take it lightly. I had written up a cell phone contract and we went over it and she signed it. Honestly I think she was so excited about having a phone she would have signed anything. But so far she has shown a lot of maturity regarding her phone and I am proud of how well she is sticking to our rules. You are free to download our Cell Phone Contract and use it if you like.

Ryan and I really wanted to be upfront about our rules and what we expected from the beginning. I didn’t want to set her up for failure or try to “catch her” breaking rules. As she gets older we will loosen things up and she will be able to use the phone much more like a smart phone is intended. It is also excellent leverage when we need to punish her for attitude issues or behaviors completely unrelated to the phone. As the cell phone contract states right at the top, we consider this our phone that she is allowed to use. When she can pay for her own phone we can talk about different rules.

If there are any other ways / apps to protects kids online I would love for you to share them in the comments. I know this is a touchy subject, and one about which I still have strong opinions. But we made a decision that we are pretty happy with and hope is a good one for our family.

Protecting Yourself From a Security Breach With LifeLock


Last week I told you about a way I was making shopping with credit cards easier and safer. But how about even safer? It seems like every day we read about a new security breach from Target to Home Depot to Jimmy Johns. Not to mention they all seem to happen at the stores I shop at the most!

Identity theft scares the heck out of me ever since I saw “The Net” back in the early 90s. But I must admit I mostly feel completely helpless to do much about it. But here are five things you can do when you here of a security breach at a store you have recently frequented:

  1. Monitor your transactions: Check your bank records and look for any purchases you know you didn’t make. Make sure this is a joint effort between you and anyone else who is using the same accounts (spouses, children, etc.)
  2. Report suspicious transactions immediately: No matter the size, contact your bank or credit card immediately if you notice a supicious charge.
  3. Order a new debit card: If you believe your debit card number was compromised, don’t wait for fraudulent charges to appear on your statement. Because it is linked to your bank account, you run the risk of a criminal depleteing your whole bank account. Request a new card from your bank immediately. Also, keep in mind that credit cards offer more protection and less risk because funds are not directly withdrawn from your bank account.
  4. Follow the story: Watch for communication from the retailer involved in the security. Often times they provide additional information specific to their incident.
  5. Consider using an identity protection service: LifeLock provides identity protection products and services you can count on. In fact, with LifeLock Advantage™ and LifeLock Ultimate Plus™, they can help you detect fraudulent activity with alerts for cash withdrawals, balance transfers and large purchases within our extensive network.


LifeLock is the leading provider of proactive identity theft protection services. They have been around since 2005 and have over 3 million members. They offer 3 layers of protection: Detect, Alert, Restore. If a threat is detected you are notified by text, phone, or email and can quickly respond if the activity was yours or not.

LifeLock offers 3 levels of service: LifeLock Standard, Life Lock Advantage, and the new LifeLock Ultimate Plus. There is something for everyone’s individual needs. Just for my readers, if you enter the promo code BREACHWATCHyou will receive 10% off the protection plan of your choice.

Put your mind at ease and check out LifeLock today!

 This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of LifeLock. I have been compensated for this post but all words and opinions are 100% mine.


Family Movie Night With Netflix

Family Movie Night

One of my goals for this year is to have one night that is set aside for family time. Honestly, I think we have done a pretty good job of protecting our evenings together. We are definitely busy, but we still have a lot of family time together. But I know that will continue to become challenging as the kids get older and busier. So wouldn’t it be awesome to have one night that is sacred. One night that nothing is allowed to interfere with. One night that is just for our family.

I hereby declare Sunday night to be Family Night. And one of the best ways to celebrate Family Night (maybe with a board game night thrown in here and there). My kids are forever begging to have family movie nights, but they are always begging at 7 o’clock at night right when we are winding down for bed. So spontaneous movie nights are few and far between. But with planned movie nights we can do:

  • Snuggling up in sleeping bags on the floor
  • Getting to eat dinner on TV trays in front of the TV (a definite treat, eating in front of the TV is a giant no-no in our house)
  • Giant bowls of popcorn made on the stove and dripping with butter
  • A chance to watch movies old and new that the whole family will love

I am so thankful that we are Netflix members so there is no running the video store (is that still a thing?) or paying crazy high prices to see over-rated movies. With Netflix, we can watch so many of my childhood favorites as well as tons of movies with the current characters my kids enjoy.

Here are some ideas to get you started with Netflix movies your family will love:

Little Kids

For your little kids:

1. Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 (a serious family favorite)
2. The Pirate Fairy
3. Hoodwinked
4. Angelina Ballerina
5. Bob the Builder
6. The Muppet Movie (RAINBOW CONNECTION!!!)

Big Kids

For your bigger kids:

1. Strange Hill High
2. The Avengers (Silas is still too young, but he LOVES super heros)
3. The Smurfs 2
4. Star Wars: The Clone Wars
5. Free Birds (this looks soooo funny)
6. Mako Mermaids: An H2O Adventure (mermaids and dolphins? Hannah would FLIP)

Teens and Adults

For your teens (or date night for you and the hubby after the kids are in bed):

  1. Clueless (one of my all time faves)
  2. The Breakfast Club (legitimately my all time fave)
  3. Friday Night Lights (I cannot say enough about this show- OBSESSED)
  4. The Vampire Diaries
  5. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (seriously love)
  6. 13 Going on 30 (watch for the Thriller dance off if nothing else)

Do you have a family night that you keep sacred?

Disclosure: I am a Netflix Stream Team Ambassador. I received a free year subscription to Netflix and a Roku. No other compensation was received. All opinions are 100% my own.


First Day of School the Pinterest Way

Back to School Collage

We still have a week until we head back to school but I know many of you are back already. I have rounded up some of my favorite first day of school gems from Pinterest that are filled with great ideas to make that first day extra special. As for us, we will be taking adorable back to school pictures with these adorable grade signs and having an ice cream social at school.

1. Back to School Checklist: 


Start with this great back to school checklist from Yellow Bliss Road. It starts about 2 months out which won’t work for most of us, but it is never too late to start checking things off the list. We have haircuts and dentist appointments scheduled this week so I can check a few more things off the list.

2. Best Back to School Apps: 

best back to school apps

My friend Candi over at MommyPalooza has rounded up a great list of back to school apps. I am thrilled our middle school has an app that allows me to see Lily’s grades, schedule and assignments (she doesn’t have a smart phone so she can look at it on mine)  all in one place. But if your school doesn’t have such an app, you can find a lot of great ones here.

3. Avoid Clothing Battles With This TipOne of my own tips that desperately needs a new picture since this one got lost in the re-brand. This method has saved me TONS of headaches over the years with my girls. Silas still doesn’t care (thank heavens), but  I am keeping this tip in my back pocket for when that time comes.

4. Back to School Fairy: 

back to school fairy

Tip Junkie has a great round-up of back to school ideas, but my favorite is this visit from the “Back to School Fairy”. You could give your kids any gift you want, but the idea of a diary is so fun. If you did this every year you could do quite the trip down memory lane when your child graduates (sniff, sniff).

5. Back to School Breakfast: 

funfetti panckes

These funfetti pancakes from The Kitchen Magpie are so fun. Breakfast on the first day should  be a party in itself right?

6. Pack a non-boring lunch: 

Lunchbox rut

Did you catch my post about how to make sure your child’s lunch isn’t boring? I have some great (and super yummy) ideas to help you get out of the same old, same old lunches every day.

7. Teacher’s First Aid Kit:

teacher first aid kit

This is an adorable gift to bless your child’s new teacher with some back to school supplies and a few treats. Bee In Our Bonnet has provided all the instructions and printables to put together this simple gift.
8. Invite Your Mommy Friends Over for Coffee: 

back to school coffeeAfter drop off, whether you feel like celebrating or need a shoulder to cry on, gather with your friends and have some coffee. How adorable are these “invitations” from Jacolyn Murphy . I bet you could find some affordable ones at the dollar store.

And then before you know it, the first day of school is over and you are on to the next. Happy first day of school!!

Kids, Eyes and Digital Strain

Eyes Digital Strain

Disclosure: I participated in an Influencer Activation on behalf of Mom Central for the American Optometric Association. I received a promotional item to thank me for my participation.

My poor children. When it comes to their gene pool they are destined to swim through it with four eyes. Both their mama and their dada have some bad eyes. Thankfully mine was corrected long ago with some Lasik, but without that I couldn’t see a thing. And even before I had poor distance vision I battled somewhat of a lazy eye. So.

It did not surprise us in the least when in 3rd grade Lily started to complain about not seeing the board, but honestly I kind of blew her off for awhile not realizing how bad it was. Now by the end of each school year she is starting to complain again despite new glasses the year before. As she grows her eyes are still changing a lot and her vision drastically changes year to year. Her eyes are now worse than Ryan’s.

Hannah recently started to say her eyes were straining to see and sure enough, at her back to school physical yesterday the doctor measured her vision at 20/40. Off to the eye doctor she goes (and while I was at it, I scheduled all the kids for cleanings at the dentist too).

Recently I read how much our children’s time on electronics is affecting their vision. The American Optometric Association did a survey on digital eye strain with kids and this is what they learned:

  • 83% of kids between 10 and 17 estimate that they are on electronic devices for three or more hours a day.
  • Only 40% of parents believe their children use electronic devices for three of more hours a day. Most parents drastically underestimate their kid’s digital usage.
  • 80% of kids report burning, itchy or tired eyes after their electronic device use (suddenly my eyes are burning, itchy and tired…..)

eye strain

These symptoms, along with headaches, fatigue, loss of focus, blurred vision, double vision and head/ neck pain, are classic symptoms of digital eye strain. It is also believed that our children’s constant exposure to computers, tablets and phones is contributing to increased myopia (I’m blaming genetics to ease my mommy guilt).

We need to teach our kids to give their eyes a break!

digital eye strain

A few other easy tips to remember:

  • Checking the height and position of the device. Computer screens should be four to five inches below eye level and 20 to 28 inches away from the eyes. Digital devices should be held a safe distance away from eyes and slightly below eye level.
  • Checking for glare on the screen. Windows or other light sources should not be directly visible when sitting in front of a computer monitor. If this happens, turn the desk or computer to prevent glare on the screen. Also consider adjusting the brightness of the screen on your digital device or changing its background color.
  • Reducing the amount of lighting in the room to match the computer screen. A lower-wattage light can be substituted for a bright overhead light or a dimmer switch may be installed to give flexible control of room lighting.
  • Adjusting font size. Increase the size of text on the screen of the device to make it easier on your eyes when reading.
  • Keep blinking. Frequent blinking reduces the chances for developing dry eye by keeping the front surface of the eye moist.

These are clearly good tips for kids or adults.

I also recently learned that the American Optometric Association recommends that kids start having yearly eye exams starting at age three. I have totally dropped the ball here. Don’t fret, children now have the benefit of yearly comprehensive eye exams thanks to the Pediatric Essential Health Benefit in the Affordable Care Act,through age 18.

Eye health is so important as it has been shown time and time again how vision impacts learning in the classroom. Glasses are now a part of our every day life and I have to admit, although they took some getting used to, now I can’t imagine Lily without glasses on her face. Just like all issues with my kid’s health, it is something I have to keep on top of and back to school seems like a perfect time to get everything in order for the upcoming year.

Have you scheduled your kid’s for an eye appointment lately?

For more info check out the American Optometric Association on Facebook and Twitter.