Co-parenting when parents aren’t in the same house

May 26, 2017

Divorced and separated parents have a host of issues that led to their breakup, and a lot of things they’ll never agree on. But when it comes to the importance of monitoring and protecting their children (and fast-growing teenagers) on the internet and social media, differences need to be put aside.

The confusion that divorce often brings a child can be manifested in the endless and sometimes dangerous online world. With both parents on the same page, a plan that is consistent at both households makes this all too often challenging part of co-parenting easier.

Consistency is Key

Jaime Humphries Davis, a family lawyer in Florida, suggests “Separated and divorced parents in particular, should be consistent in their rules for technology.” She adds, “The rules for technology usage should be the same at mom's house as they are at dad's.” Another expert at Peter Morris Law Firm suggests, “Having consistent rules between both households is one of the best ways to give your kids a sense of stability and continuity. It also helps you build trust with your co-parent.”

This is easier said than done in many two household families. One parent may not prioritize this relatively new dynamic of raising kids. At one house, the child has open-ended access; at the other, defined limits. Any discernible disparity would bother one parent and requires a co-parenting conversation.

Define Rules for Both Households

How can divorced or separated parents with different priorities or philosophies about their kids’ internet and social media use unify in this context, or at least reach a happy medium that is deemed healthy for the child? Here are some basic tenets to follow to help bridge the gulf:

  1. Respect
    Many teens, of course, covet complete freedom - a never-ending amusement park. The more restrictive parent, meanwhile, isn’t amused when they hear, “Gee Mom, Dad lets me stay online as long as I want after I do my homework.” The other parent may feel disrespected and undermined.

  2. Compromise
    As with all parenting, it’s important to come to an agreement which often requires some flexibility. What’s most important is that you’re on the same page and your rules are consistent. So, about that conversation… Don’t dread it. Embrace it. Both of you are doing it because you so love your children. That’s a good conversation starter right there.

  3. Engagement
    For the parent initiating the conversation, the approach should not be accusatory or argumentative – that could only push the parents farther apart on the issue and serve no purpose for their child. Engaging the other parent with questions that indicate their thoughts are important and valued can help broker an understanding.

    For example, one parent can ask the other: What are your thoughts on this? How do your co-workers handle this? How much time per day and what types of sites do you think are appropriate? What about other parents you talk to? What does our kid say about what he sees online? Common ground can be established just by conversing about how other parents struggle to help their kids navigate the internet, so they’re not alone.

  4. Including the kids
    Later, the teen joins the conversation with both parents. Likewise, his or her thoughts are important. They’re not in trouble. It’s not a negative discussion. It’s a plan the parents are putting together for his or her betterment - with some teen input, but make no mistake, the parents need to be the parents and be the lead navigators in this vast Internet and social media sea. Creating a unified approach can help the child understand the expectations. Including the kids in the conversation will make them feel more valued. It also helps them understand WHY these rules are so necessary, because you care. Ask the child (or teen), “What are the rules at some of your friends’ houses? What rules do YOU think are necessary?” Don’t be surprised if your child isn’t excited about this conversation because it may feel like your invading their personal space at first.

Building Trust Between Households

There may not be a perfect solution. The divorced parents may not completely agree. The teen may not be doing cartwheels that he or she now has set limits at both houses on time and site visits. But a broken family having come together over a very important topic, and for the good of their children, brings more trust and future productive conversations between the parents, and most of all, a stronger sense of stability, security, good judgment, clarity and love for the child.

Parental control software options help parents make their agreed upon rules easier to enforce with custom settings to choose the type of site to block and filter, as well as, what hours of the day the internet should be paused on your child’s device no matter which home they may be living on any particular day.