Technology use amongst children can be a controversial topic for many. With Internet Safety Month arriving in the month of June, it’s an important topic to discuss. While some may criticize technology for its negative effects on the physical and psychological development of children, others realize that there can potentially be real benefits to introducing technology to their children. For divorced parents, this is especially true, which is why creating a unified family tech plan might just be ideal for your family.
A Unified Family Tech Plan for Divorced Families
Leading a new movement on this front, Utah became the first state to grant virtual visitation rights in 2004 with many states following shortly behind. Because of this, technology has allowed divorced family households to stay in consistent communication with one another. For parents who do not have sole custody or shared custody, it can be difficult to always know what is happening in their child’s life.
Cell phones, video chats, and even social media have granted divorced parents the ability to stay connected and this has ultimately strengthened their relationships. It can even make the process of arranging visitations easier on more hostile couples. Though face-to-face communication will always be more valuable particularly when serious matters are involved.
Before you rush out to the store to buy your child an internet-connected device that will keep you in contact with them, make sure that you consider the differing opinions your co-parent may have. Purchasing electronic devices without permission can be the root cause of an upsetting argument.
Whether you get along with your ex or not, it’s important for your child’s sake that you consider all feelings involved. Sit down together and have a healthy discussion on whether or not your child is ready for the responsibility of an internet connected device.
Another important conversation that the two of you need to have is about setting consistent rules and limitations for the device. It’s important that you set ground rules that you both agree on. Oftentimes, one parent will be more lenient with the rules than the other. For example, one parent may let their child(ren) play video games as much as they’d like while the other prefers to limit it to 1-2 hours a week.
Eventually, this will cause issues to arise as phrases like “(mom/dad) lets me do whatever I want at their house” start to get thrown around. Children benefit more by having consistent rules that are enforced in both households.
Expectations, disciplinary actions and rewards for good behavior all factor into this.
Your Child’s Safety:
Expectations that you both agree upon should be made with your child’s safety in mind. The most important step to take is to have a conversation with your child about the dangers they could potentially face online.
Education will be your number one tool in defending against internet predators and cybercriminals.
Beyond education, it’s also important to keep the following tips in mind:
- Limit screen usage to an agreed upon number of hours that will be enforced in both homes or at least similar in length. Decide if there are times of the day such as family meals when devices must be completely away.
- Consider whether installing parental controls to monitor their internet behavior is right for you and your co-parent.
- Secure all of your child’s devices before handing them over to them by installing antivirus software that will protect them from viruses and other malware and making sure that strong passwords have been set up.
- Set guidelines for what is appropriate information to post and share online and what is not.
Disciplinary actions may vary by household and this can be okay to a certain point. However, it’s crucial that you are both still consistently punishing for the agreed-upon rules that were broken. While one parent’s punishment may be to take the device away for 2 days, the other may feel that grounding them is a more appropriate punishment. Don’t let issues like this bother you too much.
Punishments are still being enforced and that is an important factor in the consistency of co-parenting. One important thing to keep in mind, however, is that when a certain punishment is being enforced at one house, it should follow through for that certain time period at your house as well. Don’t go behind your ex’s back out of spite. Always stay focused on your child and choose to carry through with it for their benefit.
Though it is important to discipline when rules are broken, your child also deserves to be rewarded for showing safe internet behavior. This may include notifying you of a dangerous situation they’ve encountered, following through with screen time rules, or not oversharing on their social media accounts. Let them know that you are happy with their behavior and notify your ex that they are following the rules so they can reward them as well.
This conversation is often difficult to have, but it’s important to remember to stay focused on the important goal of keeping your child safe online. By creating constant communication and creating consistency between both houses you will help make this a more feasible goal. Most importantly, remember to set a good example with your own Internet behaviors.
Brent Scott is a cybersecurity advocate focusing on Internet safety for children and families. When he’s not working he enjoys spending time with his dog and being outdoors.