While kids and technology come with modern-day concerns like cyber bullying, sexting, social isolation and beyond, a new study says there's a bright side to social media and texting when it comes to children of divorce.
The study, published in the Journal of Family Issues, reports the technology advantage centers on keeping kids in contact with both parents after divorce.
In the past, mental health experts believed that how well or not so well parents get along post-divorce had a significant impact on how the children handle and process the situation. This new research shows that when children and the parent no longer living at home keep in contact, it doesn't seem to matter as much how well the divorcing parents get along. What IS of paramount importance is communication between parent and child.
"Make sure you're having consistent and frequent contact with your child. If it's in person, that's fantastic. But in between, reach out to your child, by text or Facebook or other social media. Letting your child know that you're there and you care is really important," says study co-author Mindy Markham, associate professor with the College of Human Ecology at Kansas State University.
In their research, Markham and her colleagues looked at data from 400 divorced moms and dads across the United States with children between the ages of 10 and 18.
The researchers looked at three types of post-divorce co-parenting styles: cooperative, moderately engaged and conflicted. In addition, researchers examined different aspects of the parent-child relationship — parental warmth and closeness; parental knowledge of the child; and inconsistent discipline.
COMMUNICATION MAKES A DIFFERENCE
The study signals that the difference in parenting styles after a divorce don't appear to matter as much as mental health experts once theorized. The big difference for the betterment of kids boils down to frequent communication with both parents.
"The greater the contact between parents and kids, the better the relationship is," says Markham.
Researchers say if a child is old enough to have a smartphone or other device, the parent living outside the home should be able to contact the child directly.
Nicole Gill is a Nashville mom of two who is divorced and grew up as a child of divorce. She acknowledges the technology of today makes it easier on kids whose parents have split.
"I was 8 when my mom and dad divorced. My mom was the custodial parent, and I only got to see my dad every other weekend," says Gill. "This was in the days before cell phones. It was difficult to maintain a normal relationship with my dad, because when we did have weekends together, he was always overcompensating for lost time," she says.
While Gill and her ex share joint custody with the kids every other week, Gill's children, Cary (10) and Missy (8), stay in contact with both parents on a daily basis thanks to FaceTime, Skype and texting.
"When it's my week with the kids, they FaceTime with their dad every night to talk about their day. They do the same with me when they're staying with their dad," Gill says. "Even though the living situation has changed, being able to see their faces and talk every day makes a huge difference in maintaining a solid communication line with them," she adds.
Psychologist Judy Malinowski with Ascension Behavioral Health says one of the great things about modern-day communication is kids don't get stuck in the middle when their parents are at loggerheads. Plus, as kids communicate more and more through devices, it's important for parents to keep up.
"For young people, texting, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram — those are their preferred forms of communication. What matters is the connection. Adults might not see something like texting as connecting, but kids view it as high-value connection," Malinowski says, urging parents to stay in contact with their kids any way they can.