Let me start by sending my respect to all those single parents out there. There are millions of you, and I know you have unique challenges. I grew up with just my mom, so I have always been particularly attuned to the realities of single parents and their children.
Co-parenting, married or divorced, can be extremely challenging in these tech-heavy times.
I’ve come across several divorce lawyers who have included screen time in their parenting plan contracts. It’s no surprise. Being the more lenient parent as a way to curry the favor of the child has been used for eons in divorced couples. Now, more often than not, the goodies are screen-related.
Most psychology frameworks emphasize the importance of parenting from a “united front”. This is when parents come to a consensus behind closed doors and then present the consensus to the child. I wanted to provide a couple of communication tools that can help parents find a compromise when they do not see eye-to-eye.
But first let me say that my husband and I have had, and continue to have, different views about screen time rules. In fact, it was one of these differences that was a major impetus for my starting to research screen time many years ago—and then to start shooting what would become Screenagers. My husband, like many other parents, had the mindset that our kids “need to learn to manage screen time for themselves.” While this premise makes sense, the intense draw that screens have can often be too hard for youth to resist.
How to improve co-parenting around screens
First and foremost, try to ground your conversations about screen time in data. Many of the past three years of TTTs include scientific studies. For example, if you search “sleep” on the TTT page, you will see my writings on what science tell us about the sleep needs of kids and teens.
Researchers continue to learn more about the adolescent brain and how it undergoes massive restructuring during those formative years. They have been learning more about why getting at least 8 to 9 hours of sleep is essential to physical, mental and academic well being. Having a shared understanding of the science may mean that a compromise around what time electronics are shut off, and kept out of the bedroom, is achieved more easily. We have lots of conversations about sleep in my family so ensuring screens go off at a certain time has worked well. Most nights.
How to ask for what you want from the other parent
So often we use “You” phrases such as “You let them use too many screens,” “You don’t understand how it’s impacting them,” “You are too lenient,” or “You are too strict.” A more effective approach to finding a compromise is by using the “DEAR MAN” method.
D—Describe the situation, just the facts. For instance, “Timmy is having a hard time waking up in the morning because he is playing video games late into the night.”
E—Express how you are feeling and your understanding of it. Use I statements. For example. “I am worried and concerned about him being able to pay attention in class.”
A—Assert yourself by asking what you do or do not want. Be direct. You might say, “I want video games to be off by 9 pm each night.”
R—Reinforce how the change you are proposing can have benefits for everyone involved. “I think Timmy will do better in school, and we will have fewer fights in the house if the games are off at 9 pm. I think this can also help our relationship because get so angry at each other about this issue most nights.”
M—Stay mindful by staying on course and not bringing in other issues.
A—Appear confident. Doing so makes it harder for the other person to dismiss your request.
N—Negotiate with the goal of making both parties as satisfied as possible. For instance, if you want Timmy to turn the game off at 9 pm and your husband thinks it should be 10 pm, why not 9:30 pm?
When parents have disagreed for a long time about screen use, the conversation around the rules and consequences can escalate quickly into the red zone. I’ve found what I call the “I Heard You Say” method to be extremely effective in helping get a positive result for all parties involved.
Ask the other parent to explain something that has been a sticking point around parenting. Such as: “Can you help me understand why you believe Timmy does not need a set time for games off during the week?”
Before they start, let them know that you want to repeat back to them what they are saying, so as to ensure you understand it correctly.
Then, a few sentences in, try to repeat back as accurately as you can what they have just said. It is actually much harder than it sounds.
When they seem to be done, ask is there anything else? The goal is for them to feel really heard. So, calmly invite any more points they want to add.
See from their perspective: Say something such as “ I can see by what you are saying why you feel the way you do.” Hopefully, this is true, that you can get a tiny bit into their shoes.
You are not necessarily agreeing with them (although you might). Saying that you understand their perspective does not mean you are agreeing with it. You just now better understand it. As humans, we truly crave being understood.
The final part takes a lot of willpower, but it’s worth it. You would say something like, “Let me sit with this awhile and let's talk in a couple of hours. Then, I would love to say what I want for Timmy.”
This break can be so powerful because you are really reinforcing to the other parent that you understand them better. If instead you go right into opposing views, you will undo some of the work you just did.
Parents, at times, will be in such conflict over tech time, that trying to present a united front will be impossible. Kids are perspective. It can be really crazy making for children and teens if parents try to pretend they are united and yet all sorts of clues point otherwise. When this is happening, time for more open conversations. Often professional counselors can be essential when things have become especially toxic.
** We would love to hear what goes on in your household around how you work through differences. Please please join the conversation below as I often get ideas from my readers’ input.
For this Tech Talk Tuesday here are few conversation starters:
You can ask–What do you appreciate in the different things we bring to parenting around screen time?
Explain the “I Heard You Say” method and then practice it with them.
Explain what DEAR MAN is and have them fill in a scenario about something they want to change