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    The Top 10 Pains of Child Custody and Cell Phones (whether smartphone, kid phone, or flip phone)

    The Top 10 Pains of Child Custody and Cell Phones (whether smartphone, kid phone, or flip phone)

    As if “phones and kids” weren’t hard enough already! Here are the key issues to consider and balance as a parent trying to figure out your child, custody, co-parenting, phone calls, and smartphones (aka supercomputers).

    6 Common Pain Points for Parents

    Most of the parent pains can be summarized simply: is the phonereally for the child, or is it for a parent? Hmmm. 

    1. One Phone, Two Households 

    Remember how painful it was to have a “work phone” and “personal phone”? Well imagine if you had a “morning phone” and “afternoon phone,” but the same people needed to get hold of you both times? 

    Even though one parent or the other may spearhead purchasing a phone, phones logically belong to the child. As odd as it would be to have a pair of prescription glasses at each home, or a school backpack at each home, two phone numbers that all your friends have to use depending on where you are is pretty close to impossible. 

    You’re going to have to deal with a child having a phone at both places. Now that can mean straight into the basket at one house, but eventually, you’ll both want to call your child at that child’sone phone number. And you probably would rather split the phone bill… 

     What you can do:
    1. Agree to disagree – If one parent wants the child to have a phone before the other and gets one, then make a lockbox or whatever you want to manage that phone. You don’t have to pay for it until you’re ready to share in how it’s used. 
    2. Take it to the parenting coordinator – It’s usually not right or smart for a parent to insist on having bought the phone and therefore setting all of its rules when the other parent is willing to pay. If you get stuck, call in the third party reinforcements. 
    3. Each household creates its own set of rules – Pinwheel was created with split-homes specifically in mind. They are designed to switch from one household’s settings to another, so parents never have to agree if that’s what they want. The phone magically updates—like having two phones in a single phone body!


    2. Using a Phone to Micro-Manage

    Woman checking GPS location on computer


    It’s possible to know where your kid is on a map at all times! Most kid phones will come with GPS tracking. 

    Obviously a huge concern of both parents is that the other parent is spying on them through the children. Introducing a phone that gives instant-access to another authority in a child’s life, plus location access, and possibly even stats on what apps or communications have been going in and out… well, that’s quite a hot potato! 

    What you can do:
    1. Agree what to share and not share – Using a phone like Pinwheel, you can simply decide which information to share with the other parent when the child is at your house. It’s certainly possible that these settings may be dictated by decree, but if they aren’t, it’s probably best to let your ex know how you manage the phone when the child is in your custody. 
    2. Acknowledge that privacy is a concern – This is identifying the actual issue. You don’t want a phone to bring your ex into your home any more than the NSA, even if you’re doing nothing wrong. That’s okay! Focus on what’s good for the child, and shut down the other concerns (and maybe go watch The Circle if you want a look at going “fully transparent”).

    3. Purchasing a Phone Without the Other Parent’s Permission

    State to state, divorce to divorce, we cannot predict every unique dynamic. What we can say is this:try and cover phones in the initial divorce decree. 

    This way, you will not have to pay a ton later to have the issue addressed in the heart of things. 

    If your decree doesn’t say one parent can’t get a phone without the other parent’s permission, then it’s not a matter of right versus wrong, it’s a matter of how you will navigate the issue. 

    Little girl playing on smartphone

    Luckily, there’s every incentive in the world to cooperate at least loosely: 

    • you both want to speak to your child when at the other person’s home 
    • you both want to get fun pictures from your child when they do cool things, and 
    • you both want your child to know how to use technology well. 

     There are tons to agree on!

     What you can do:
    1. Get it in writing – Through the initial decree, emails between you and your ex, or a parenting coordinator, you absolutely want to have the decision to get a phone in writing so nobody can go back and question it later. 
    2. Explain the issues – If your child suddenly shows up with a phone one day, it’s time to communicate to your ex: social media, the Internet, gaming, purchases, mobile wallets, contact whitelist/blacklists, phones at school, and GPS are all at play with a phone. Unless the two of you can come to an agreement, you will have to set your own set of phone rules. You don’t have to defend or justify (or even tell) your rules—the mere point that your household runs differently is enough to bring phone ownership to the negotiation table.

    4. Constant connectivity isn’t the same thing as connection, even with your own child

    One thing that psychologists will teach even a young child is connection with distance. That can mean a toddler experiments going into the other room, coming back, and finding Mommy still there, or knowing that Mommy still loves me even though he/she has been at Daddy’s house for 3 days. 

    It’s why books likeThe Invisible String are so good for children.

    Teaching Presence Or Non-Presence to Your Children 

    We want our children to learn to self-regulate and to confidently build their independence. Constantly texting one parent from the other parent’s house can teachnon-presence and be an unhealthy means of accidentally cultivating co-dependence. And do you really want to see every picture of your ex’s new girlfriend when they take the kids on a road trip? 

    Being physically present with your children when they’re present is as important for you as it is for them. After all, this is one of the dangers of social media in the first place! A sort of omnipresent, low-intensity connection that substitutes for the real thing. 

     What you can do:
    1. Don’t over-text or call your child – Depending on the recency of the split home, this may be a goal to work towards rather than to create right away. What you’re looking for isn’t a specific amount of calls or texts, but a security in the relationship without having to share every single detail as it happens. 
    2. Ask for the replay later – Hear all about the road trip, museum, or skiing vacation afterward. Just like we used to share photo albums and stories in person, before Facebook, try and really enjoy the whole experience of your child’s excitement and retelling rather than the “kind of sort of being on the trip” option. 


    5. Removing access to the phone and preventing contact with the other parent

    Taking phone away from little girl

    Texting at midnight is texting at midnight, even if it’s texting the other parent. 

    Let’s get this straight:removing access to a phone purchased by the other parent is not the same thing aspreventing contact with the other parent unless that’s specifically written into your decree. 

    It’s crucial for your child to have access to the other parent without unreasonable interference, but it’s not crucial to have that access via a phone purchased by the other parent.

    What is reasonable access?  

    We can’t answer for you what’s reasonable for a non-custodial parent’s access or limitations on phone calls, but we can help you administer and hold clear boundaries using Pinwheel.


    What you can do:

    1. Know your decree and laws – Unless specified by court order, without any proper interaction between parents of the child, it is okay to still insist that the other parent use what tools you make available in your home to communicate with the child, consistent with your state’s laws, children’s bills of rights, and your order. There’s no “but I got them their own phone” trump card.
    2. Point out similar boundaries – You aren’t going to call their house at 1 am and ask to speak to your child just because you want to, whether it’s on the kid’s phone or the other parent’s. That’s normal. 

    6. When is it time to get the kid a phone?

    The average age a kid receives a first phone in the USA is 8-12 years of age. You’ve got an additional reason when it comes to custody and split homes: your children don’t live with you part of the time, and you want to talk to each other. 

    Divorce is one of the top reasons to get a kid a phone. 

    But all the reasons not to get your child a phone still exist! Addiction,monetization of youth attention, social comparison, and online predators are just some of the many reasons a phone may still seem like a bad idea! 

    You don’t want to be the uncool parent because you don’t want your child to have a smartphone, but these risks are real. 

     What you can do:
    1. Agree to disagree – You and your ex likely won’t both believe the time is right at the same time. You can still have a plan! That play may include the phone going straight to a lockbox at the other parent’s home. 
    2. Get a kid-designed device – Whether you want to learn all the parental controls out there or you want a device like our Pinwheel phone, you should consider buying a phone that was specifically designed for children. Don’t be tempted to give your kids an adult piece of technology simply because you want to call them. It’s also worth noting that Pinwheel phones were specifically designed to address the unique circumstances of spit-homes.  
    3. Come up with a solution first! – One of our top suggestions here is to beat your co-parent to the punch with a workable, wellness-centric solution that doesn’t have the downsides of disabled adult tech. (That’s why we made Pinwheel as a choice you can give any kid who can read, without worrying.)

      4 Common Pain Points for Kids 

      The life of a child who has two homes is hard enough: the inescapable tug of loyalty, challenging transitions, sadness, weirdness, learning to use schedules and calendars before the usual time, and occasionally being used by one parent or the other as a means of control. 

      Phones can help and hurt a child’s stability between households. 

      1. Parents quizzing kids about the other parent’s rules

      What’s hardest about asking isn’t actually the nosiness, prying, or spying, but the classic putting the kid in the middle. It’s the worst thing that can happen for a child, defending one parent to another. 

      How so? 

      Because unlike the “what is bedtime over there?” question, there’s usuallynot a clear answer to phones or tech. It turns out that many parents experiment, are inconsistent, and have to make exceptions regularly—so now the child has to try and save face for the other parent or answer quizzes about consistency. 

       What you can do:
      1. Embrace your inconsistency – It’s okay to make exceptions. Phones are something you “manage” more than standardize. So much is situational.
      2. Write it down – Make a simple timeline for the phone: morning, at school, free play, family time, bedtime. The principles for these times can be really clear, and help explain many of the likely inconsistencies. It’s not as simple as “what can your child do on the phone?”
      3. Get a phone that does this for you – Find a mode-switching phone, like Pinwheel, that matches your rhythms of life with what the phone can do… put it on autopilot. Share the schedule with your ex, or don’t. 


        2. Parents mean “phone” completely differently

        Dad and daughter listening to music on their phones

        Let’s be clear on the word “phone.” It means any mix of:

        • A way to call people
        • Texting and messaging device
        • Internet browser
        • Media consumption device
        • Gaming console
        • Safety and GPS wearable
        • Library / Encyclopedia
        • Music player
        • Helpful tool

        That’s why talking about “phones” can be challenging: a phone means anything from what that thing telemarketers still use to a supercomputer. Odds are, no two parents are going to see how and when to use it in exactly the same way or have the same definition of “healthy” for a child. 

         What you can do:
          1. Be clear on the purposes of the phone – Pinwheel had kids help identify a ranked list (top to bottom) of what they wanted a phone to do for them, if you eliminated games, YouTube, social media, and entertainment. Here’s their forced ranking of what they think a phone should do.
        List of things children believe phones should do

        1. Speak in terms of what you can do, not “the phone” – Children are smart enough to resist anti-phone rhetoric by coming up with arguments as to what good things phones can do. Try and refer to the specific categories of this amazing device—like games, tools, social media—instead of praising or blaming “phones” in general.


        3. Managing transitions is already a huge challenge

        Whether the custodial or non-custodial parent, you know that transitions are hard on kids. Wouldn’t it be nice if the kid’s phone could transition too? 

        Consider this: 

        Most children don’t have a reason to use a calendar, but kids whose parents are divorced have every reason to closely track their weeks. One of the most important facts of life is, “when am I going to be at the other parent’s home?” 

        A phone can help manage those expectations for a child, giving them something to look forward to and being a sense of stability in their life as a transitory object.

         What you can do: 
        1. Set the custody schedule on the phone – Your child can pull up the calendar and know when it’s a Daddy day or whether Christmas is at Mom’s house or not. Additionally, he/she can see what routines and modes will be set there. On a phone designed for kids (like Pinwheel), the calendar will be pretty kid-friendly and include fun countdowns the child can create on their own. 
        2. Have household-specific routines preloaded – When your child is at your house, you can have the phone serve your “get ready for school” routine. And when the child is at the other parent’s house, it can load their “get ready for school” routine. From bedtimes to chores, let a phone do some of the work for you and help your child to easily transition!


        4. Divorced kids are travelers!

        One thing divorced kids learn early is how to travel between places! They’re always going from this school to that house, that house to this class, this class to the other house, one grandparent’s for a week in summer, another for vacation in winter, and on and on. Kids who are being co-parented learn mobility pretty early on after a divorce. 

        What’s one of the best things for mobility? A phone. It helps you feel safe, stay connected, shows your parents where you are on a map, and helps you contact caregivers, relatives, teachers, and coaches. 

         What you can do only on Pinwheel:
        1. Create a whitelist of contacts with sub-groups – Whether “Friends,” or “[Your Last Name] Family,” or “Neighbors,” your Pinwheel phone only lets approved contacts text or call—and even then only at the times of day that you’ve approved that particular sub-group (no texting friends while at school!). Strangers can never call or text a Pinwheel phone.
        2. Keep that GPS-mode on – Your kid feels safe when you know where they are and are just an emergency-contact away. It’s a great reason to get a phone for your child. 

        In Summary: The PROS and CONS of Getting Your Child a Phone After a Divorce



        • Maintain parent-child contact
        • Transitionary object that builds security
        • Child knows their own schedule
        • Maintain connection with friends/family
        • Teach children to use technology
        • Phone addiction and dangers
        • Premature intro to social media
        • Monetizing children’s attention
        • A numbing device
        • Using the phone to spy/micromanage

        How Pinwheel Solves the Cons

        The team at Pinwheel designed this phone with our own children and households in mind. Frankly, We couldn’t find anything out there that really worked toco-manage a child’s phone without the parents agreeing on everything and tracking everything each other does.

        So we created Pinwheel. 

        Little boy holding up Pinwheel phone

        It’s designed from the Operating System up so that we could do things for split households that nobody ever has:

        • A phone that’s all tool, no toy – no social media, entertainment, Internet browser, ads
        • Parents canchoose what settings and info to share from their own household when the child is with them, and vice versa
        • The child’s phone switches all settings, including routines, task lists, contact settings, and even what apps are available when the child transitions to each home

        With Pinwheel the child never has to be in between parent conflicts about phones, and parents don’t have to worry that anything bad is happening. It’s the easiest phone to choose because therapists designed it with wellness at the core. You can confidently give your child a Pinwheel phone and withstand the scrutiny and social pressure.