Navigating Technology with Your Children
If you’re a parent, use of technology is probably already on your mind when it comes to your children. If your child uses a computer, phone or tablet, the array of games, social media and entertainment available is dizzying. Parenting in this generation means that children may be utilizing communication technology in a completely different way then their parents and generations before. Being involved with and knowledgeable about how our children communicate can help us as parents connect with our children. If your child has a cellphone, tablet or home computer, chances are you’ve already considered how your child will utilize social media, entertainment and communication technologies, and are probably communicating to them in some way through these devices. In a co-parenting situation, information and communication technology (ICT) is out there to streamline communication with a co-parent. When it comes to children, staying close and connected can take some of the stress and worry out of being separated from them, while communicating on their terms. As with all co-parenting communications, it’s recommended to keep these communications neutral, and focus on the child. And most importantly, digital communications should be considered a supplement to parenting time, not a substitute.
Where Technology Works
When it comes to a parent-provided cell phone or tablet, the technology can be invasive. Most devices are GPS enabled, and sometimes can even be used remotely to listen in on activity. These services can be helpful in an emergency situation, and should be considered when purchasing a device. While it might seem tempting to always keep track of your child, especially when they are with the other parent, these tracking technologies are not a healthy substitute for open communication with your child and co-parenting partner. Quell your fear of the unknown by creating an environment where your child feels comfortable discussing social outings, vacations and family visits, so your child doesn’t feel they will be in trouble for sharing this information.
While it is not foolproof to avoid conflict with children, ICT has been found to help build trust and casual communication with parents. Studies show that lawyers and parents alike consider ICT most effective in building relationships when the communication is happening about mundane and everyday concerns*. In the case of relocation, or extended periods away from home, this technology can bridge the gap. As with all co-parenting solutions, mutual respect is important, and being reasonable with the amount of time you spend communicating with your child during the other parents parenting time is something to discuss with your co-parent.
If you child is away from home for extended periods of time, arranging Skype or Facetime chats can feel like they’re not so far away. Even through the screen, seeing them face to face, as well as the ability to help them with homework, or take a look at any craft or activity they’re working on can be a bonding moment away from home. Encourage them to text, send pictures of what they see, and share thoughts about what they’re reading or watching. Opening dialogue around what makes them happy can be rewarding for both parents and child. If the child is older, or already has a cell phone, it might be a good idea to ask them how they would like to communicate. Perhaps they already use an app to express themselves and would be open to share this with you.
Setting up Boundaries
If you have agreed on modes of communication with your child, it can be a good idea to be preventative and discuss issues like privacy with them. Most ICT accounts ask for you full name, age and email address. If they are using the app version of a piece of software, it will often ask to link your phone number or another piece of technology as a two-factor authentication. While these are required by corporations for security, discuss with your child that they shouldn’t give their contact information out unless a parent or trusted adult has approved. Most of the time, ICT apps are free to use while connected to WIFI, and communicating with another device connected to WIFI. In some cases, such as Skype, the account can be used to make long distance calls, and can be used as a low-cost alternative to calling cards. A majority of these apps do not require a linked credit card to create an account, but in some cases, there may be in-app purchases or clickable banner advertisements. Discuss with your children if any of these purchases are necessary, and research free alternatives to paid content.
ICT in Parenting Plans
Recently, more people have considered digital technology in making parenting plans with their parenting partner. Lawyers may suggest avoiding digital communication entirely in a high conflict situation, or in an active litigation. In other situations, where parents can’t decide on use of these technologies, restricted or scheduled use may be in order. As discussed, including the opinions of the child can be helpful in negotiating what modes of communication will be used. Technology in co-parenting is still a fairly new issue, and will likely develop in relation to family law in years to come.
If you are going through a separation or divorce and need help finding a parenting plan that works for you and your family, connect with us. Our team of family law lawyers are here to help you.
*Please note that this information The Benefits Drawbacks and Safety Considerations in Digital Parent-Child Relationships: An Exploratory Survey of the Views of Legal and Mental Health Professionals in Family Law by Michael Saini and Shely Polak. This survey was published by the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts in their Family Court Review.