This Christmas, we finally gave in and got my 11-year-old stepdaughter a Gabb cell phone. She’s been begging us for months, and we finally decided this was a safe first step to introduce her to technology. The Gabb phone doesn’t have a web browser or social media, two of our biggest issues with a smart phone, but it still has calling, texting, GPS tracking, and a camera for her to use.
Whether your stepchild has a smart phone, tablet, or other device, technology is a divisive parenting topic. Some parents want to set controls and limits, and some parents want to encourage their kids with freedom to reinforce that they trust them.
When you and your co–parent disagree on how to approach technology, it can feel unsettling at best and alarming at worst.
Many of my coaching client conversations in the last couple of weeks have revolved around technology devices and disagreements over how they’re handled at the other home. So, let’s dive into how to tackle the hot topic of stepkids and cell phones!
What’s the problem?
If you’re reading this article, then you’re experiencing conflict about your stepchildren’s technology usage. What is it that is bothering you?
Is it the amount of time they’re on their devices?
Are you worried they’ll melt their brains?
Is there a lack of parental controls?
Do you worry they’re too young?
Have you heard that technology is bad for kids and it scares you?
Are you concerned you don’t know how to protect them?
Before we can go any farther, you’ll need to first identify what it is specifically that upsets or triggers you about your stepchildren’s technology usage.
My Guiding Stepparenting Principle
Whenever I get into that uncomfortable space as a stepmom wanting to control or change something that my husband’s ex does, I remember this quote by Maya Angelou, “If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.”
We can’t change other people, and when you’re doing more parallel parenting than co-parenting like we do, it’s best not to tell others how to parent in their home.
So, I first recommend that you stop and think about if you can change what is upsetting you about the situation.
I bet there’s a way to gain some control or peace over the situation.
One of the very best tools we can give our kids and ourselves is education. The thought of my stepdaughter having unrestricted access to the internet is terrifying, but if she’s been properly taught about how to protect herself online, then I’ll have more comfort around it.
A few years ago, I learned about Google’s Be Internet Awesome program, and even though Krista took a digital citizenship course at school, we’ll still be implementing this one at home.
Be Internet Awesome teaches kids these fundamentals:
- Share with Care
- Don’t Fall for Fake
- Secure your Secrets
- It’s Cool to be Kind
- When in Doubt, Talk it Out
The better prepared and educated our kids are, the smarter decisions they can make, and the more we can trust them with the responsibility of technology.
Further, I’ve found that keeping myself educated has helped immensely. Kids find ways around safeguards, new apps are released, different things start trending… The more I know, the more in control I feel (and thus, more peaceful I feel) and the better I can protect my stepdaughter.
I’ve found this Facebook group, Parenting in a Tech World, incredibly helpful. As with most Facebook groups, there’s some stuff I choose to scroll by without reading because it isn’t applicable for me, but overall, it’s been an incredible resource.
Set-up Parental Controls and/or Monitoring
Another way to tangibly control your stepchildren’s technology usage is to set parental controls on the device.
Limit screen time, set content restrictions, prevent explicit content, etc. Do as much or as little as you’d like to feel confident in how your child is using their devices.
Here are some resources for how to set controls by device:
If you’re worried about the content they may be consuming or sharing, I recommend investing in monitoring software (as opposed to reading through everything they do or say). When you’re not reading everything they’re texting or personally monitoring every activity, you allow them to have more privacy and freedom while still knowing they’re protected.
My favorite app for monitoring stepkids’ cell phones is Bark, and with the Bark Premium subscription, you get alerts for signs of cyberbullying, online predators, suicidal ideation, and more. I love that the software will not only monitor texts but also social media apps and YouTube for potential concerns.
If you want both households to have access to the monitoring, sign-up using a shared login so everyone can get the alerts.
Set Boundaries for your Home
I totally get that technology can be disruptive. If you’re uncomfortable with the current set-up, set boundaries to protect your home from the disruption.
Here are some common boundaries for technology I see in blended family homes:
- No technology after bedtime. Devices get plugged in at a charging station for the evening.
- Video or phone calls with the other parent happen at an agreed-upon time
- No devices upstairs/in the bedroom/etc.
In some more extreme examples, I even see device collection at transition and then returned to them before going back to their other home. If you and your partner disagree with technology usage for your stepkids at their current ages, there’s nothing wrong with you setting the boundary that makes the most sense for your home.
Ultimately, it’s up to you and your partner to identify which boundaries make the most sense for your home to protect your stepchildren and prevent technology from being disruptive.
A Final Reminder
I want to leave you with this reminder: if you go too hard, your stepchildren will rebel. If your stepdaughter wants to watch Tik Tok videos, she will find a way. If your stepson wants to get on Snapchat, he will find a way.
There needs to be balance between trust and freedom with their devices and ensuring they’re safe and responsible with them. Work to find that balance in your family and technology will feel less intrusive and scary.
If you’re struggling with stepkids and technology usage–or any other stepfamily stressor–consider signing up for stepmom support coaching. I’d love to help you find more peace and happiness in your blended family.
P.S. Need more advice on how to navigate dual house rules?