Co-parenting Digital Children
It is doubtful parents raising children, in the digital age; believe that “technology is neither good nor bad”. With today’s generation Z children unable to comprehend a life before the ability to “surf the internet”, send a text, Snapchat, or “like” something on Facebook, it is evident that digital devices are an integral part of children’s lives and, by extension, their parents.
As with many matters in any family home, parents deciding and agreeing on the role of technology in their children’s lives provides fertile ground for differences of opinions and parenting styles.
Those differences of opinion can then, potentially, be heightened in separated families where parents are required to co-parent.
As with so many important aspects of raising children, consistency is key. Parents will need to show a united front (albeit in separate households) in order for their children to be responsible and learn healthy habits when it comes to the use of technology.
For parents who have separated but not yet reached any formal agreement around parenting matters, (ie. a parenting plan or court orders), the starting point is to discuss this topic with the other parent and (if appropriate) the children in order to reach agreement regarding boundaries, timeframes / limits for use of technology and content that may be appropriate.
For parents who have agreed a parenting plan and/or court orders, possibly at a time before technology was a significant consideration in parenting matters and therefore not included in any agreement, there are ways to vary court orders or reach a further agreement which can be documented and binding on both parents.
Some examples of wording to be used in parenting matters where there are relevant issues surrounding technology include:
- Neither parent shall permit the child to use electronic devices[as a form of entertainment] for more than two hours a day whilst they are in that parent’s care;
- Each parent is restrained from allowing the child to download any app, game or program which has a rating of MA15+.
Technology is also used as a common way for the children to communicate with their parents and in those circumstances an agreement can include terms such as:
- The parent with whom the child is living shall provide the child access to a smartphone to enable the child to communicate via electronic communication eg. Skype, Facetime with the other parent and shall provide a setting in which such communications can be private;
- When the child is spending time with the other parent, the child shall be able to communicate with that parent via electronic communication eg. Facetime, Skype each Sunday evening between 7.00pm and 8.00pm.
The terms of any agreement should reflect the age / maturity of the children and the circumstances of each family’s dynamic; with the overarching consideration being what is best for that child.
On a more practical level, for older children, families may want to consider a screen time agreement which can be “negotiated” between the parents and the children and this can be used to ensure there is consistency in both households. An example of such agreement can be found here:
Technology, its benefits and dangers are here to stay; parents will need to ensure they are considering this issue, the impact of it on their children and how to manage it, when negotiating and finalising parenting matters after separation. This will hopefully ensure that the children will be ‘healthy and wise users’ of technology, with consistency across both households.
Joelene Nel is a Senior Associate Family Lawyer at McLaughlins Lawyers. She is also a Nationally Accredited Mediator and Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner and her most challenging and rewarding work is that of being a mother to two children. If you have family law issues that you would like advice on, we invite you to contact McLaughlins Lawyers on (07) 5591 5099.
Author: Joelene Nel
Director: Sophie Pearson