Life Advice

Emotional Hardbody answers: Daughter's secret cell phone highlights parental disconnect

Emotional Hardbody answers: Daughter's secret cell phone highlights parental disconnect

Austin Photo Set: pesoli_daughter secret cellphone_dec 2012_young girl on phone
Courtesy of theecologist.com

This week, we're pleased to introduce our new advice columnist, Emotional Hardbody. For the first installment, she takes on complicated family issues, broken promises and stealthy behavior.

Dear Emotional Hardbody,

I have an eight-year-old daughter, Becca. Becca’s father and I have been divorced for two years and we have joint custody. Our divorce was pretty contentious (code: blood bath), but things have calmed down, especially over the last year.  

I have always strongly believed that unless there is a compelling need, kids should not have cell phones until they are at least in middle school. My opinion (backed by research) is that when little kids get cell phones strictly for social reasons, that can usher in adolescence prematurely. 

When we were married, my ex and I were in complete agreement on this. And post-divorce he never indicated to me that he changed his mind on the issue.

The other day Becca’s cousin (14-years-old) texted me to ask what Becca’s cell phone number was. Long story short, I found out that Becca has had a cell phone at her dad’s house for over six months. Not only did everyone know this but me, Becca went to considerable effort to see to it that I remained in the dark. 

I cannot tell you how furious this makes me. I confronted my ex about this, but he refused to take the phone away from Becca. How can I convince him the importance of keeping his word?

- Hung up on cell phones for kids

Dear Hung up,

In a perfect world, you and your ex would coordinate on parenting Becca and present a united front. But if the world were perfect, every marriage would be so terrific that no one would get a divorce.

The fact that the world’s not perfect doesn’t mean that divorced parents can’t employ a consistent approach to parenting, of course. But the fact that your ex 1. knew how you felt about the cell phone issue, 2. proceeded to get Becca a phone without giving you a head’s up, and 3. was complicit in Becca’s efforts to keep this a secret from you? Well, all of that indicates that your estimated wait time for a coordinated approach to co-parenting is approximately as long as Becca’s remaining years under your roof.

 First, accept the charges on this incoming call: Your right to tell your ex how to parent Becca terminated when you two got a divorce. The sooner you get this message, the better. 

What your ex doesn’t seem to realize is that while this may earn him some popularity points right now, it could cost him dearly in the long run. This experience has provided Becca with training on how to deceive a parent — a lesson that will most likely come back to bite him at a time when far more is on the line than a cell phone.

So, what can you do? First, accept the charges on this incoming call: Your right to tell your ex how to parent Becca terminated when you two got a divorce. The sooner you get this message, the better.

Next, email your ex what you feel is the most persuasive article on the risks involved with giving young kids cell phones. But don’t blow up his inbox with every article on the topic. And don’t editorialize.   Just send one article and leave it at that.

Finally, turn your attention to keeping the lines of communication open with Becca. Explain to her why you feel it’s important for her not to have a cell phone until she’s older. Don’t squander any of your valuable minutes going on about how you think it’s wrong for her to have a phone at her dad’s house. And don’t talk about how her dad always agreed with you until you guys got a divorce and he wanted to curry favor with her. Keep the focus on why you feel the way you do.   

Then let her know that while having different rules at each house is acceptable, secrets between the two houses are not. If her dad has a rule that is different than yours on a topic that she knows is important to you — or vice versa — she should tell each of you about the inconsistency. That way each parent can have the chance to explain the reasoning behind the rule.   

This probably won’t be the last time that you and your ex disagree on how to parent Becca. But the approach I’ve outlined can provide a plan for working through future differences, too. 

The most important thing to remember is this: When future instances arise that expose that you and your ex are operating on different parenting frequencies, rather than regarding it as interference with each other, see it as an opening to communicate further with Becca. 

And when an opportunity like that calls, you don’t want to miss it.

Stay strong and healthy,

Emotional Hardbody

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Got a hard question? Get an Emotional Hardbody answer. Email your questions to Christina, and you could be featured in an upcoming article.