How to Co-Parent Around Screen Time
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How to Co-Parent Around Screen Time

Learn strategies for keeping the peace in any co-parent conversation.

Learn strategies for keeping the peace in any co-parent conversation.

Learn strategies for keeping the peace in any co-parent conversation.

Jeff’s teen son had gone off the screen time deep end, so far that he was missing assignments at school, trading sleep for all-night gaming sessions, and lying to his parents—a lot. When the Portland-based dad of two discovered how bad things got, he immediately shut it down. “I didn’t get mad. I was super disappointed. Then I was super disappointed in us too, because I was like, how did we miss this?,” he says, referring to his co-parent Sarah.

While Jeff and Sarah were mostly on the same page about everything related to the kids, the issue of screen time became a divisive topic. Jeff made a plan to get his son back on track, like setting time limits on certain apps and ruling others completely off limits, but his way of resolving the issue didn’t work for Sarah. She worked nights as a nurse and wouldn’t be able to enforce the new rules in her home. ”Sarah and I are on completely different paths, and keeping the same rules now is a lot harder than it used to be when they were younger.”

Many co-parents run into conflict at one point or another but there are ways to make any co-parenting decision easier with mindful communication tools. We spoke with Judge Sherrill Ellsworth, cofounder of, a mediation app that helps co-parents communicate more effectively, for tips on negotiating screen time and more.

Put kids first and differences aside.

While each parent may have a different lifestyle and way of doing things, Ellsworth recommends coming together on important issues like screen time and certain milestones. “Each household should have the freedom to create their own traditions and their own memories, but on those important things, whether it's about when they date, when they're able to have a sleepover, their screen time, and when they can get cell phones, those are all really important joint decisions to be made.”

That doesn’t necessarily mean having to compromise. Instead, Ellsworth says think of it as a transition phase. “Compromise means somebody is giving up something and somebody is getting something. Instead, you are trying to transform the conflict by seeing it through the lens of what is the best for the child.”

Start with micro agreements.

Trying to reach an agreement on all the things, all at once, can create even more division; emotions escalate and nothing ultimately gets resolved. Ellsworth suggests taking baby steps when discussing co-parenting issues like screen time limits and introducing new technology. “We teach parents to strip it down to a singular issue so that you have many micro agreements,” she says. When things do get heated, agree to take a pause. “If you do hit a hot button, stop the conversation and bring it up at a later time,” she says. And avoid using triggering language or bringing up resentments from your previous relationship along the way.

Shift to a business mindset.

Shifting to a business mindset helps you stay professional in these conversations. Would you talk to a co-worker the way you would a co-parent? “One of the first mistakes people make is trying to dictate to one another or micromanage or misinterpret the conversations as you're telling me what to do,” says Ellsworth. “The sweet spot is transitioning out of the fight stage, out of the acrimony stage, out of the trying-to-hurt-one-another stage and moving that into the business-like stage, where you communicate in a business-like manner.” Communicate on issues only having to do with your kids too.

Back up your argument.

A co-parent might resist listening to you but they will listen to research, a pediatrician, a therapist, or other reputable source. “I will tell people that if you think screen time is not a great idea, find a magazine article from a parenting magazine that gives you some guidelines and share that with the other person,” says Ellsworth. “Give them good information and don't bring emotionality into it.”

Make a contract.

Once you do come to an agreement, write it down, whether that’s informally on paper or via text or email. “When kids are old enough, have them enter into that agreement with you,” says Ellsworth. It’s a good way for kids to see their parents working together on issues too. “Because when one parent wants to be the Disneyland parent and not have any rules, that's not really a healthy way to raise a child,” adds Ellsworth.

Consider the alternative.

Most issues argued in the court system have nothing to do with the law and everything to do with co-parenting, says Ellsworth. Avoid the expense and time and stress of court by working together on issues related to parenting. “The bottom line is you have no control once it becomes an order, so the carrot is that you get to select what's best for your children in the long run.”

How Circle can help.

Circle’s award-winning parental controls and app can help you and your co-parent manage screen time from anywhere, whether kids are at home, school, or a friend’s house. Work together to set Time Limits, Filter good from bad content, set consistent Bedtimes, Pause the Internet for family time, Focus on school work, as well as Reward kids with extra screen time for a job well done. You can also monitor their Usage and History and track their Location. Gift the device to a co-parent, grandparent or anyone else who shares your caregiving responsibilities, making it easier to work together on your kids’ screen time.