Long-distance parenting: Technology can help

Posted by Lylah M. Alphonse  September 25, 2009 11:15 AM

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We talk a lot about how technology has made parenting trickier in a lot of ways. Little kids who want cell phones. Teens and huge text-messaging charges. Sexting. Facebook and online privacy issues. Cyberbullying. What you don't hear or read as much about is how technology has helped those of us who have to parent (or grandparent) from a distance.

For divorced parents, non-custodial parents, parents who have to travel often for business, and parents of college-age kids, the ability to video-chat via Skype, check a teen's status updates on Facebook, or fire off a midnight email has helped to ease some of the pain of separation. Text messaging, in particular, seems to be the easiest way to stay in touch.

Globe staff writer Bella English recently wrote about how texting keeps her connected to her kids. "Your kids may not call or send e-mails, but they will text," she points out, adding that her daughter often sends one-word replies to her queries, but at least her kids respond.

A quick survey of the college-age interns in my office -- not to mention the teenagers I've got at home -- confirmed that busy young adults find it easier to text than talk. It takes seconds and you can do it on the run, one told me. Another said that her mom is a talker, and she doesn't always have 30 minutes in between classes in which to chat.

If you're a divorced mom or dad, texting can help you feel connected to your child while he or she is with the other parent. (Too much texting can be disruptive, however, so be sure to set limits with your child, if you can't with your ex -- and yes, I'm speaking from experience on this one.)

In some states, technologically assisted visitation is becoming the norm rather than the exception. The Journal of Law and Family Studies reports that several states have adopted “virtual visitation” laws, authorizing judges to include "email, instant messaging, webcams, and other internet tools to provide regular contact between a noncustodial parent and his or her child.”

Of course, a video chat via webcam is no substite for face time, and even a marathon texting session can't take the place of a real conversation. But it's a way to keep the lines of communication open. And I'll take a virtual visit over waiting silently bewteen face-to-face visits anytime.

How do you stay in touch with your kids (or grandkids) when they're not nearby?

Lylah M. Alphonse is a Globe staff member and mom and stepmom to five kids. She writes about juggling career and parenthood at The 36-Hour Day and blogs at Write. Edit. Repeat. E-mail her at lalphonse@globe.com.


This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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5 comments so far...
  1. I'm with kajeet, a prepaid cell phone service for kids. We have found that many parents use our phone to connect with their kids when they may be remote for various reasons. The parental controls allow one to put the phone in younger hands with a specified call list (so numbers outside that list cannot be called). It is possible to limit the hours during which the phone is used (e.g., off during school and at night, except for a specified list of parent numbers). You can set usage allowances for the children and if they run out (e.g., because they spent it texting their friends), still allow them to call or text parent numbers. The content and services have been selected with kids in mind.

    No phone will solve all the challenges of long distance parenting. However, if a phone will help you stay connected with your child, the kajeet service for kids provides you the tools to manage the phone so that it best fits your parenting needs.

    Posted by Carol Politi September 25, 09 03:48 PM
  1. I am a therapist and I have clients that live in separate countries that are sharing parenting responsibilities. Technology has worked in our favor. Children are able to show the absent parent their school work, they can get help on assignments and they can share the joy of their day through a video camera, skype and telephone.

    Technology is also great for kids that have moved away and want to stay connected with friends and family. Even their therapist! I continue to stay involved as they move around the world. I am a constant in their life.

    Posted by Dr. Debi Yohn, CollegeWorks101.com September 26, 09 01:08 PM
  1. While I certainly see the benefit in a long distance situation and for older kids like those going to college. I think in day to day relationships with younger children relying on texting is a shame. I love to hear my kids' voices when they come home from school. It is from the tone of their voice I know if they had a good or bad day. You don't get that from texting.

    Only one of my kids has a cell phone and if he decides he is too busy to answer for me, maybe I'm too busy to pay the bill. I think communication and relationships have substantially decreased since the world has decided to communicate in short, meaningless chunks.

    Posted by Jayne September 28, 09 02:31 PM
  1. I have been chatting, thru Facebook, with my (17 y.o.) daughter everyday for the past month, that is, ever since she used FB to request my friendship (I've never met her in person).
    Chat has proved to be a godsend for us, calling her at $1.50 would work out nearly as well.

    Posted by Mark February 10, 10 05:24 AM
  1. You can also try a Videophone! Its about the same price as a cell phone and I get to see my daughter anytime I want. I love it!! I got mines from www.nicephones.net.

    Posted by Kelly February 22, 10 03:05 PM
 
5 comments so far...
  1. I'm with kajeet, a prepaid cell phone service for kids. We have found that many parents use our phone to connect with their kids when they may be remote for various reasons. The parental controls allow one to put the phone in younger hands with a specified call list (so numbers outside that list cannot be called). It is possible to limit the hours during which the phone is used (e.g., off during school and at night, except for a specified list of parent numbers). You can set usage allowances for the children and if they run out (e.g., because they spent it texting their friends), still allow them to call or text parent numbers. The content and services have been selected with kids in mind.

    No phone will solve all the challenges of long distance parenting. However, if a phone will help you stay connected with your child, the kajeet service for kids provides you the tools to manage the phone so that it best fits your parenting needs.

    Posted by Carol Politi September 25, 09 03:48 PM
  1. I am a therapist and I have clients that live in separate countries that are sharing parenting responsibilities. Technology has worked in our favor. Children are able to show the absent parent their school work, they can get help on assignments and they can share the joy of their day through a video camera, skype and telephone.

    Technology is also great for kids that have moved away and want to stay connected with friends and family. Even their therapist! I continue to stay involved as they move around the world. I am a constant in their life.

    Posted by Dr. Debi Yohn, CollegeWorks101.com September 26, 09 01:08 PM
  1. While I certainly see the benefit in a long distance situation and for older kids like those going to college. I think in day to day relationships with younger children relying on texting is a shame. I love to hear my kids' voices when they come home from school. It is from the tone of their voice I know if they had a good or bad day. You don't get that from texting.

    Only one of my kids has a cell phone and if he decides he is too busy to answer for me, maybe I'm too busy to pay the bill. I think communication and relationships have substantially decreased since the world has decided to communicate in short, meaningless chunks.

    Posted by Jayne September 28, 09 02:31 PM
  1. I have been chatting, thru Facebook, with my (17 y.o.) daughter everyday for the past month, that is, ever since she used FB to request my friendship (I've never met her in person).
    Chat has proved to be a godsend for us, calling her at $1.50 would work out nearly as well.

    Posted by Mark February 10, 10 05:24 AM
  1. You can also try a Videophone! Its about the same price as a cell phone and I get to see my daughter anytime I want. I love it!! I got mines from www.nicephones.net.

    Posted by Kelly February 22, 10 03:05 PM
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About the author

Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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