Ex-Etiquette: Teenagers and Discipline
Dear Dr. Jann– In an effort to effectively co-parent with my ex I am looking to alternatives to taking my 15-year-old daughter’s phone away. Her report card was atrocious and it’s because she never gets off the phone. But, her father bought her the phone so he can keep in touch, and I don’t want to prevent them from communicating nor disrespect the fact that he is paying for it. What’s good ex-etiquette?
Sincerely– Communicating coparent
Dear Communicating coparent,
It is great to hear you’re wanting to be respectful of your coparent and seeking advice! You can see that a unilateral decision will affect your coparenting relationship and are looking for alternative solutions.
Years ago I constructed a list I call, “The 10 rules of Good Ex-etiquette for Parents” as a guide for parents who wish to coparent more effectively. Your issue is the exact reason I included, “Ask for help if you need it,” as Ex-etiquette for Parents rule #2. You aren’t in this alone. You have a community of coparents who have, at some point, faced a similar issue. You did the right thing by asking for help. My advice to you would be to talk with the father and tell him exactly what you said to me. He will appreciate that you’re wanting to be respectful of him and seeking his advice. Ask how would he like to see this situation handled. Working together here will be quite powerful for you, especially since you’re coming from a place of wanting to cooperate and be respectful of him, it will more than likely be reciprocated and you will come to a decision together as opposed to one parent telling the other parent what to do. To get you started, I would say something like this:
“I respect the fact that you’re paying for the phone, that is very kind of you. I would like to discuss boundaries around it because she is abusing the privilege and it is affecting her grades.”
We had a very similar problem at my house with phones while the kids were in high school. We had to brainstorm for a tactic that worked best for us both. Grounding was always a possibility, but most parents will tell you, you ground your kid, you’re grounded, too. Therefore, grounding at our house became, you can’t go to your friend’s homes. You can’t go out on the weekends. And…drum roll…the phone goes to the phone basket. That meant when they came home from school the phone was sitting in a basket on the counter. Their other parent was the only one they could talk to. I never stopped the kids’ friends from coming over when they were grounded—but their friend’s phone went into the phone basket, too. It made the point very quickly.
This approach was what we came up with as co-parents. And, it was based on the fact that our kids were not belligerent unruly kids, they were just trying to get away with anything they could. Like you, I didn’t want to interfere with their communication with their dad—I just wanted them to do what they were supposed to do. So, if you’re truly the co-parent it sounds like you are, sit down with dad and develop a plan together that’s approved by both. Then present it to your child as a united front. If you have re-coupled, or he has, it helps to have the new partner on board as well. Sound too good to be true? You can do it—if you put your child’s needs first. That’s good ex-etiquette.