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What to Do When Kids use Mobile Phones to Pit One Parent Against Another

Dr Danielle Einstein explains how we can manage situations where a child is using their mobile phone to play one parent against another.


Most of us have been in this situation: our child has a disagreement with one parent, then uses their mobile to contact the other parent in a bid to undermine them. Since the proliferation of mobile phones, ‘splitting’ — where a child pits one parent against the other — has become much trickier territory. Now our kids don’t have to wait for the other parent to arrive home in order to try and get them topple the other parent, they can act immediately by using their mobile phone.


Given the rate at which technology has crept into our daily lives, it’s not surprising that many parents are struggling to manage new situations like this when they arise. Having the right tools is crucial to setting yourself up for success.


If your child is using their device to undermine yourself, your partner, or even a grandparent, there are a couple of key things you can do. (These apply in most cases, the only exception being if you feel that there is an abusive ongoing situation, in which case, please seek a professional’s help.)


Step One: Tell your child that they are in the other adult’s care and therefore they need to resolve the problem with that adult. Agree to talk about it when you are home but not in the midst of it. Do not be drawn in to offer a quick solution that will undermine the other adult whom the child is with.


Step Two: Switch your phone to 'Do Not Disturb' mode so you won’t be tempted to answer if your child continues contacting you.


Step Three: Let the other adult know that you are available and can call them to assist if they would like. If that occurs, have a quick conversation with the other adult and support their point of view first. If you feel the other adult is wrong, address it in person later rather than on the phone and at that moment.


If this happens frequently, you may find it is because you have not been speaking often enough with the other parent or grandparent about agreements you make with your child. Notice if it's a pattern, and try and increase chatting time with those adults. It will avoid the chance of the other carer feeling undermined.


If you are feeling overwhelmed and confused by how to manage device addiction within your family, you are not alone. In response to demand from parents and schools, I have created The Dip - a practical guide to taking control of screen addiction and reconnect your family.


Dr Danielle Einstein is a clinical psychologist specialising in understanding the impact of devices on mental health in teenagers. She is an Adjunct Fellow at Macquarie University and an Honorary Associate with the University of Sydney.


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