There is Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook, and Instagram. Then there is iMessenger, WhatsApp, and messaging services through PlayStation and the like. It’s enough to make your head spin. Kids and their parents have plenty of choices when it comes to messaging and social media. Co-parenting efforts, many believe, can only benefit from this ultra-connectivity.
But before you dive in, know that social media has a lot of effects on post-divorce life – some good, some bad. Social media may even make it more difficult to move on after divorce. And researchers from the University of Missouri found that technology can either harm or hurt co-parenting efforts.
Below, we discuss the advantages and disadvantages of parents’ social media use during and after a divorce, as well as guidelines for parents to consider when setting parameters for their children’s use of social media. And trust us: social media parameters are essential for navigating this difficult period in a child’s life.
Social Media Post-divorce: The Positives
Social media apps are constantly updating, allowing users to instantly view new posts. For parents just starting out post-divorce, this can be especially heartwarming, allowing both parents and children to feel constantly connected with one another. Further, social media can have the following positive effects on your co-parenting efforts and your relationship with your children:
- Enhanced communication: Through the use of social media, both co-parents – as well as well-meaning extended family members – can stay up-to-date on the lives of the children. More specifically, co-parents can share and view photos of the child’s school day or most recent friend’s birthday party without having to nag one another for access to the pictures.
- Gaming: After a long day at school or work, parents can enjoy positive and educational electronic games with their children via social media or smartphone apps. This helps children feel connected to the non-custodial parent during the week. It could even help nurture a shared common interest.
- Accountability: Certain social media applications like Facebook and Four Square allow users to “check in” to their most recent location, which can put parents at ease while the child is visiting with the other parent or relatives. In the first couple months after a divorce, it can be difficult for parents to trust one another, and allowing children to check in on social media can help put everyone at ease.
- Photo sharing: Probably one of the hallmark features of social media is the option to share photos, from candid shots to professional portraits taken by a photographer. In the aftermath of a divorce, seeing daily pictures can be especially reassuring for mom, dad, and the children alike.
Social Media Post-divorce: The Negatives
Of course, the negative impact of social media cannot be ignored. Parents and other family members should consider the following negative effects, as social media can be exceptionally psychologically harmful if not used properly:
Exposure: Everyone knows someone who overshares on social media. The subject matter might be an innocent brush with “TMI” or highly-emotional, private information about the child’s other parent. In any case, it will likely be humiliating and extremely embarrassing for the child – and it could infuriate the other parent. Always think before posting, and never post negative or derogatory comments about the child’s other parent – a concept known as “parental alienation.”
Unnecessary blocking: If there is a legitimate reason to block the other parent from access to pictures and posts on social media, by all means have at it. However, in many scenarios, parents use social media as a bargaining chip or as collateral to initiate unnecessary conflict. If there is no good reason to prevent a co-parent from viewing their child’s pictures on social media, help ensure that co-parent has equal access to images of their child.
New relationships: In the aftermath of a bitter divorce, posting about a blossoming new romance can be tempting. But be sensitive to your ex’s feelings by not over-sharing. And talk to your ex about anyone new who will be caring for the kids before it happens.
Embrace Technology for Effective Co-parenting
So should you just give up on social media? Not quite. Know how to use technology to be a better co-parent.
According to the results of a recent Pew Research Center study, a 75 percent of American parents use social media. Moreover, an estimated 82 percent of parents under age 40 log on to Facebook daily, and another 56 percent of mothers admit to accessing Facebook several times per day. So by the looks of it, a lot of parents are already using social media. Whether they use it to effectively co-parent is another story.
Social media can be a great way to navigate the murky waters of co-parenting post-divorce, as well as remaining connected with children as they adjust to the changes in family dynamic. In addition to many of the benefits and detriments listed above, embracing technology like social media can have the following positive impacts:
- Minimize conflict: Communicating via technology (e.g., messenger or email) can help eliminate uncomfortable and unwanted exchanges between parents who cannot seem to get along. For children, seeing their parents argue can be psychologically detrimental. Instead, use messaging and email for communication to help avoid the parking lot screaming match.
- Staying organized: Online calendaring can be a wonderful tool for recently-divorced parents. There are currently a number of well-developed applications that can help parents remember important dates, appointments, and sporting events – as well as create reminders on their phone so they don’t miss their obligations.
- Emotional well-being: Assuming both parents are using technology responsibly, it can help children keep regular contact with both parents. Unless there is a legitimate reason not to, co-parents should encourage communication with the other parent. Skype and other video messaging applications can be a great way to stay in face-to-face contact with the parent the child doesn’t primarily live with.
For the millions of parents relying on social media to stay in communication with their children, proper parameters and boundaries are a must. Moreover, parents should eliminate any urge to negatively disparage the other parent, as well as encourage liberal communication between parents and children who simply miss one another. In the end, social media and technology in general can have a surprisingly positive impact on a both parents’ relationships with their children, and can help them become effective co-parents.
Setting Boundaries on Children’s Social Media Use
Let’s also talk about working together to monitor the children’s social media use. All parents know that social media use among children has its pitfalls. And a lot of parents make efforts to responsibly monitor their children’s social media use.
But like a lot of parenting efforts, some lose sight of this collaborative effort after divorce. Part of effective co-parenting is working together to keep the children safe and healthy – and that includes digitally.
Establishing rules (including social media rules) that the kids follow regardless of whether they are at Mom’s or Dad’s is part of a good co-parenting plan. Punishments for violating the rules should likewise be doled out evenly.
Above all, parents should instruct children on the proper use of privacy settings, and help children arrange their profiles so that only friends and family can view the child’s information. Proper privacy controls are a vital component to the safe use of social media, and younger children may not understand the possible consequences of over-sharing.
Secondly, parents may also consider limiting the number of accounts a child has, as there is generally no need for young children to maintain half a dozen social medial profiles. Parents may wish to limit use to Instagram and Facebook only, for example – and password information must be readily available to both parents at any time.
Third, and probably least popular with the teens in the house, are the time limitations on social media use. Parents may wish to set daily or weekly time limits, as well as limit the amount of data usage a child may access during a specified period of time.
Need Help with Child Custody or Divorce?
If you are getting divorced and would like to discuss your case with a child custody attorney in Bellevue, please do not hesitate to contact the Law Offices of Molly B. Kenny in Seattle today: 425-460-0550. We look forward to working with you and encourage you to call today!