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Pokémon Go...ne! Can Divorced Co-Parents Protect Kids from Excessive Screen Time?

When it's their turn for parenting time, your former spouse has no problem letting your child spend hours playing Pokémon Go. It's a great incentive to get outside, he or she claims. But you've been reading up about kids and technology addiction and this latest gaming craze seems to fit all the criteria. What happens when you're a divorced parent who just wants to see Pokémon Go, Pokémon gone?
08/24/2016 11:18am ET | Updated August 25, 2017
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When it's their turn for parenting time, your former spouse has no problem letting your child spend hours playing Pokémon Go. It's a great incentive to get outside, he or she claims. But you've been reading up about kids and technology addiction and this latest gaming craze seems to fit all the criteria. What happens when you're a divorced parent who just wants to see Pokémon Go, Pokémon gone?

In situations where divorced parents share physical and legal custody, it's generally recommended by family therapists that co-parents attempt to maintain similar bedtimes and other routines and rules across households as much as possible. This includes rules for things like screen time, phone use, video games, TV habits, and other media consumption. The consistency helps to empathize family unity and can make it that much easier for the child to move between their two homes.

Deciding which "house rules" will be best for your child, however, can be tricky. Should your former spouse's enthusiasm for an activity like Pokémon Go win out, or should the alarming articles you've read, about things like excessive screen time causing "digital dementia" in children, form the basis of the rule you both agree to follow and enforce? As with any disagreement with your ex, the best approach to resolving this issue may be the calmest approach, starting with sitting down and discussing what it is that concerns you about Pokémon Go. Is the child being allowed excessive screen time to play the game? Is the gaming affecting other areas of your child's life, such as keeping him up too late, making him miss usual activities, or getting in the way of homework? If other video games are also an issue, is it the types of games you have a problem with, such as very violent games?

If you ex refuses to discuss the issue with you, you ultimately have two choices.

1. Go to court: While it's a drastic move and may be inadvisable, you may decide to seek court intervention if you believe your child is being harmed by excessive technology use in some way. Family court judges will always look to the best interests of the child when making assessments regarding child custody arrangements and the child's well-being. If you can prove to the judge that your child is missing school or other usual activities, or is having difficulty paying attention in school, or has been physically injured, or endured other negative consequences as the result of playing Pokémon Go, then you may have a case for why your ex should be prohibited from allowing your child to play the game.

Be forewarned, however, that simply stating moral concerns regarding video games will not get you far with the court. If you go before the judge armed with a smartphone data plan bill that implies your ex and your child often play Pokémon Go for hours at a time, your ex may be able counter with evidence showing how the game functions as a parent-child bonding activity the two play to connect and get active. If the data usage is from your phone, you may have grounds to recoup the cost. But if you have no real proof of endangerment to the child, this can project to the judge an image of you as being uncooperative and unwilling to foster a good relationship between the children and your ex-spouse.

2. Let it Go: The good news is that when you are with your child, your ex cannot tell you what to do. And of course, barring any endangerment to your child, ultimately you can't tell your former spouse what to do, either -- or how to parent. If your reasons for why Pokémon Go should be deleted from your child's phone fall on deaf ears, take a deep breath and remember this: YOU are the only one in charge when your child is with you. The key is to make rules and enforce those that support your principles. Expect your child to follow your rules in your home and don't worry about what is going on in the other home.

In other words, pick your battles for the sake of your child, and also for the sake of your own peace of mind. It helps no one if you are in a constant argument with your ex. And remember, too, that after all, Pokémon Go may be the big fad of summer 2016, but by the time the autumn leaves start to fall and new trends take hold, Pikachu may be safely back in hiding...for good.