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Managing Media with Your Ex Over the Summer

by Ingrid Simone
June 2013 Ingrid Simone
Two homes doesn't have to mean twice the media. Keep the peace with these smart strategies.

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 into 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 enough of a challenge, but trying to find middle ground across two households and between two people who -- shockingly -- might not agree on everything can be twice as difficult. Especially during the holidays, when kids aren't in school and might be spending more time in each parent's household, perhaps catching up on favorite TV shows, checking out the latest blockbuster movies, and enjoying brand-new video games without having to finish their homework first. How can divorced parents come to an agreement on media rules for their separate households and keep the peace over the holidays?

Plan ahead for the summer media frenzy.

Even if you've already set basic ground rules, go into the summer break with a plan specifically for those weeks the kids are off. Is one of you eager to take the kids to see The Hobbit? Does one of you plan to buy the kids Nintendo Land? How much daily screen time can kids get while they're on break? If something is really important to you, mention it. 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. Maybe the 3DS stays at Dad's house and the iPad at Mom's. 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. If you care deeply about not exposing your kids to violence, propose that you and your ex agree to use Common Sense Media’s age-appropriates ratings as the guide -- maybe titles with more than three icons for violence are off limits for your tween. Agreeing to use the ratings of a neutral party can make the discussion less contentious. 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.


Ingrid joined Common Sense Media in 2010, bringing more than 15 years as an editor and writer, a passion for providing quality content focused on kids, and a love of most things digital. She earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Florida A&M University and a master’s degree in education from the University of Michigan. She has worked as an editor or writer with the National Association for the Education of Young Children, Houghton Mifflin, Voyager Expanded Learning, the National Geographic Society, Rally Education,, the San Jose Mercury News, and more; has taught in early childhood settings; and has worked with teachers and students on projects for Leapfrog, PBS Kids/SRI, and WestEd. She's mom to two grade-schoolers who have been using the iPhone since the day it launched.

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