Summer, Screen time, Kids and Divorce

Summer is here, and while we would like for our kids to be reading, outside exercising and developing healthy friendships, we know that without school and related activities to keep them busy all day, many will turn to their screens for entertainment.

In my family and matrimonial law practice, I have seen how arguments around the use of electronic devices can inflame custody disputes.

Divorcing parents often disagree about the most routine issues—bedtime, meals, and homework. But some of the most significant disagreements revolve around screen time usage, cell phone access and selection of video games. 

I asked Dr. Juliet Cooper, a Psychologist, PsyD, MA, for tips for handling this important issue.

1-Set clear boundaries and expectations around screen time.

Having a system and clear rules means the child knows what to expect and can mentally prepare. It is hard for the child to shift from the screen to another activity, so you as the parent need to make it easier.

2-Understand that video games are different.

Video games, Dr. Cooper reminds, include a social aspect for your child. When you demand your child cease playing Fortnight, for example, you are asking that your child leave the “party” as they are playing that game with other children.

3-Model the behavior you want to see in your child.

Another issue to consider is that parents are also frequently on their devices. As a parent, you should do your best to model behavior. You cannot expect your child to give up time on their phone when they are consistently seeing you on your phone.

4-Remember, your child is going through a significant transition.

Even if you are having what you consider to be a model divorce, and you are doing everything “right,” it is important to remember that your children are experiencing this in their own way.

Children want to be respected, which is particularly needed when they are feeling that most of their life is out of their control.

5-Do everything you can to align with your co-parent on this issue and others.

This is difficult for many divorcing parents, but it is critical, in this case, to do everything you can to set the same boundaries for the use of electronic devices in both households.

Remember, taking care of yours and your children’s mental and physical health should be a top priority during this incredibly stressful time.

Here is my recent article in Psychology Today that discusses the issue in more detail: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/legal-matters/202104/5-tips-navigate-kids-device-use-after-divorce

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