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How to co-parent your child’s smartphone use

Smartphones let divorced parents communicate with their children more directly and frequently across the custodial and geographical divide. But the exploding technology might be widening the communication gap between ex-spouses. A big challenge for parents with shared-custody plans is collaborating and enforcing consistent rules under separate roofs, especially when it comes to managing screen time.

The devices and their social media apps can be invaluable when shuttling kids between dual households. Sporting events and activities shift, so sharing what you have learned about your child’s schedules, friendship circles and interests help keep everyone in the loop. But handing a smartphone to a child without a payment plan or agreed terms for its usage could undermine co-parenting arrangements and sabotage your relationship with your son or daughter.

Agreement and enforcement

Children need structure because they will challenge boundaries, especially after the family splits. So do their parents. Here are tips for negotiating a shared custody plan during a divorce:

  • Split the bill. Agree to share the cost of a cellphone, service plan and repairs so both parents equally invest in its supervision.
  • Co-authorize. Empower each other to decide when the child can use the phone in your company and discipline them for misuse.
  • Balance enforcement. Set rules for use during each other’s parenting time and mete out punishment. If mom has grounded junior from the phone, dad should honor the punishment, otherwise, he is courting conflict.
  • Know when to confiscate. Spell out to the child reasons why you would take away his or her phone (inappropriate texting, images or pictures) and immediately notify the other parent when the child violates the terms.
  • Agree on discipline. An arbitrator or child therapist can mediate disagreements on punishment.

Successful co-parenting rests on the bedrock of mutual respect and compromise. Cracks in that foundation can lead to conflict, even outright alienation. One messy dispute outside Dallas wound up in court. A mother filed theft charges against the father for seizing their 12-year-old daughter’s smartphone as punishment. A jury acquitted the man, but he vowed never to have anything to do again with the mother or his daughter.

Shared responsibility

Your marriage might be over, but you need to be on the same team when it comes to helping your child or children succeed. Agreeing on a smartphone plan is a constructive way to help achieve that shared goal. Allowing them unfettered access to win their affection could prove counterproductive.

This is about what is best for your child, not exacting revenge on your former spouse. The best call you can make is being their parents, not their friends.


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