What are some of the latest tools parents are negotiating into their mediated agreements? Just like revolutionaries who are finding innovative ways to use technology in their quest for true freedom, so too can embattled parents find Twitter, Facebook, Skype, et. al. remarkably effective tools for connecting with children and for communicating with each other. Often we have listened to parents complain that telephone contact on days when they don't see their children, feels like little consolation. Particularly for young children who experience a few days away from each parent as a long stretch of time, the ability to video chat can be invaluable. Particularly for teens, more accustomed to texting than speaking face to face, even with their friends, technology bridges not just the time away from each other, but the generational divide as well.
In a recent New York Times piece, Dvora Meyers discusses the role of Facebook in parenting arrangements. She wisely notes that it can be a relief to a kid to have their mom or dad be able to share in relevant details of day to day life. Parents can use this information to talk to their kids about what is really going on in their lives. We all remember endless, "How was your day?" "What did you do today in school?" boring questions from our own mothers and fathers. Facebook provides a constantly updated window into the every movement of a teen's social interactions, thoughts, annoyances and joys, from snow days and parties to exams. This can feel like dipping into the locked diary for some. Meyers cautions to beware, however, of being de-friended by your own child.
In our own mediation practice, families are increasingly turning to technology to supplement day-to-day rituals that are disrupted when children shift between homes. Goodnight via Skype, bedtime stories over Google chat are remarkable opportunities to keep everyone connected. Of course, nothing replaces an actual hug, but a virtual one can still warm the heart and feel particularly reassuring to children transitioning to two homes in the early phase of post-divorce life.
For high conflict couples, texting, email and the like can eliminate the explosive (mis)communication. It's a terrific way to let the other know if the children are sick, have social obligations, teachers' conferences, etc....and never have to hear the other's potentially nagging voice. It also has the benefit of a "paper" trail. We've heard couples report back about using shared electronic calendars, such as "Our Family Wizard" to keep track of schedules and activities, which can be a daunting task given the complexity of modern family life. These electronic calendars facilitate effortless cooperation, a bonus for all. Up next, kids tweeting in haiku about piano lessons?