"Is it that bad to let our kids watch Aliens?" My ex-husband posed this question to me -- and he was dead serious. Did I mention that our kids are 6 and 8?
For the most part, my ex and I agree on media choices for the kids, and we try to be respectful of each other's wishes. He'll ask what I think about an app before installing it for the kids. I'll ask him about a video game he's familiar with before I buy it. And we often tap each other's memories (as well as the Common Sense Media site!) when we're picking out classic DVDs from our childhood to share with the kids.
Figuring out media rules for your own home is a challenge in itself, but trying to find middle ground across two households and between two people who -- shockingly -- might not agree on everything can be twice as challenging. Especially during the summer, when kids aren't in school and might be spending more time in each parent's household.
While camp and outdoor adventures are ideal ways to enjoy summer days, summer is also a time for blockbuster movies, catching up on favorite shows and not having to wait until homework is done to play video games. How can divorced parents come to an agreement on media rules for their separate households while keeping summer vacation fun?
Plan ahead for the summer media frenzy. Even if you've already set basic ground rules, go into the summer with a plan specifically for those couple of months the kids are off. Is one of you eager to take the kids to see Madagascar 3? Does one of you plan to buy the kids LEGO Batman 2? How much daily screen time can kids get while they're on break? It's not a bad idea to put the plan in writing rather just talking it out -- an email documenting your decisions should suffice.
Planning ahead will give you time to put some thought into what's really important to you, research specific titles, reduce the likelihood of unwelcome media-related surprises and hopefully avoid unnecessary conflict.
Divvy up media between households. Consider eliminating some of the overlap in media -- have each parent manage a specific type of media in his or her home. My kids, for example, don't watch much TV at my house, but they do use mobile apps. They watch more TV at their dad's house but don't spend as much time with handhelds and tablets. Dad is more likely to take them to a movie; Mom is more likely to grab a DVD for them to watch.
With each parent having some ownership over specific forms of media, it'll be easier to track kids' overall media intake, feel less like a media free-for-all and help both parents with media accountability.
Pick your battles, and don't sweat the small stuff. It's normal to want some non-negotiables, but -- trust me -- not everything should fall into that category. Determine what's really important to you. Maybe hearing your 6-year-old son sing about a woman with "boobies like wow, oh, wow" merits some discussion -- or maybe you'll let it go. Perhaps consoling your 8-year-old peace-loving daughter after she watches a PG-13 war movie is just too much. If you and the ex can come to some agreement on the big stuff, it'll be easier to let some of the smaller stuff go.
Work together and communicate. Yes, it's often easier said than done. If you and your ex aren't in a place where it's easy to talk about potential areas of conflict, consider figuring it all out over email, collaborating via instant message or a shared web-based document or even using old-fashioned written notes.
And if for some reason you want to adjust the plan you've agreed to (though try to keep that to a minimum), communicate the situation beforehand -- no one likes being blindsided.
Syncing up media rules with your ex is key to managing your kids' overall screen time and maintaining a measure of quality control. You may not be able to control everything, but you can agree on some basic ground rules so that media doesn't come between you and your kids -- or cause conflict between you and your ex.