Co-parenting is trying enough -- but throw in technology management and it seems almost impossible. In fact, co-parenting with an ex and managing technology use in children -- independent of each other -- are two of the greatest challenges in today's modern parenting world. The reality is that intact, two-parent families struggle with how to limit technology use, but between households -- is that even possible?
Joint physical custody for children of divorced parents is becoming more of a reality than ever in today's society. This means that there is no one parent as the primary custodial parent. And as is often the case, if parents don't agree on parenting issues, the child spends half the week living one lifestyle and half the week living another lifestyle.
Let's put technology use in the mix. Research on technology use indicates that for children, technology can be addictive. Without one primary parent in charge, and different technology plans that are at odds, a child can be living in an ongoing cycle of addiction and withdrawal as they move between two households.
What can parents do when they want to enforce a "no tech during the school week" policy and their kids spend 2-3 nights or alternating weeks with your ex?
Perhaps future divorce decrees will include a technology management plan that both parents agree to as part of the divorce settlement. That way parents can hold each other accountable to an agreed upon standard in a joint custody situation or during ongoing visitation.
But prior to all of that, how can parents manage technology when divorced parents have different rules? Parents who have sole physical custody with children -- that is children who live primarily with the custodial parent -- will have considerably more control that parents who share physical custody. But what happens to technology use in children when parents share physical custody?
Here are six ways parents can handle different tech management approaches:
1. Parents need to recognize that whether its technology or other activities at their ex's house that they find objectionable, they can't control what happens when children are at an ex's house. As difficult as this is, parents must accept this reality and learn to live with it. Parents need to hold to their own standards and avoid judging an ex in front of children.
2. Parents need to focus on what happens under their own roof and avoid wavering. By keeping standards consistent, parents help their children to internalize them. For example, "When I go to mom's house, technology doesn't happen during certain times".
3. Parents should be aware that children complain about having more tech time at the other house. Regardless parents should be prepared to stand by their rules. Expect children to sneak around and even lie as part of getting used to different rules. Don't react, set firm limits and move through it until the children adjust to the different set of rules.
4. Parents should avoid conversations about why things can happen with technology at one house and not the other. That's a no-win topic. If asked, parents can respond by saying, "We don't have the same rules on many issues." It's okay.
5. Parents can expect children to be amped up when they use tech for hours at an ex's house and should allow time for children to calm down after returning back home to their house. Parents should avoid criticizing revved up children and instead plan calming activities like a hot bath, a physical activity like a walk, a card game, reading together or doing a puzzle together.
6. Parents need to believe that with support and patience their children will adjust to different rules between houses even when inconsistencies exist between households, even for tech use.
Technology use and overuse in children is here to stay. Likewise co-parenting between exes will exist as long as divorce happens. The more willing and able divorced parents are to address difficult parenting concerns together such as technology management, the better adjusted children will be. And when this is not the case, parents need to stick to their own standards, despite natural push back as children get accustomed to differences.