As parents, managing the ever-changing world of technology and the impact on children is extremely difficult. How much screen time is too much? What are they sharing in new apps? How much should parents be reviewing kids’ communications?

When parents are also dealing with a divorce, the issue becomes even more complicated. How do these concerns weigh against the benefits of reaching your child directly, tracking their location for safety, and other conveniences? How do you deal with different rules for kids between homes?

Managing children’s access to smartphones is critical in light of the findings contained in the Sapien Labs report entitled Age of First Smartphone/Tablet and Mental Wellbeing Outcomes released on May 15, 2023[1]. The report finds a decrease in overall mental well-being and an increase in psychological distress in younger age groups, corresponding with the advent of the smartphone.

A 2021 report found that 31% of 8-year-olds in the United States own a smartphone, increasing to 71% of 12-year-olds and 91% of 14-year-olds. Estimates suggested that teens ages 13-18 spend an average of 8.4 hours a day on entertainment screen use, while kids ages 8-12 spent an average of 5.3 hours a day (Common Sense Media, 2021).

The Sapien Labs report found mental well-being improved with smartphone ownership starting at an older age, and that females were more negatively affected by having access to a smartphone from a young age. On average, females who acquired their first smartphone below age 10 MHQ (Mental Health Quotient) score in a clinically distressed range.

With awareness of these trends, it is increasingly important for divorcing parents to address ground rules for access to smartphones and other technology and to make sure each spouse is aware of the warning signs of depression in their kids. It is essential that clients find the right attorney who can deliver up-to-date insight into technology that aids parents in managing their children’s smartphone use, has substantial resources in the mental health field, and can provide creative ideas for the drafting of their parenting agreements to give them a roadmap for years ahead.

Kaitlin M. Post, Partner
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