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How to manage media rules for your kids with your ex

I'm the Parenting Editor at Common Sense Media, and I started blogging to help families navigate the complex world of media and technology in kids' lives. I'm a family-technology expert who specializes in approaching media literacy is...

Having consistent media rules with your ex can be difficult–but not impossible

Figuring out media rules for your own home is enough of a challenge. Trying to find middle ground across two households and between two people who — shockingly — might not agree on everything can be twice as difficult. Syncing up media rules with your ex is key to managing your kids' overall screen time and maintaining a measure of quality control. You may not be able to control everything, but you can agree on some basic ground rules so that media doesn't come between you and your kids — or cause conflict between you and your ex. These tips can help separated parents come to an agreement on screen time:

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Plan ahead for weekend visits

You may have basic ground rules for the school week, but weekends tend to be a media free-for-all. Outline daily screen limits, allowing separate time for homework on the computer and entertainment time. Planning ahead gets everyone on the same page — including the kids. It also gives you time to research specific media titles, reduces the likelihood of unwelcome media-related surprises and hopefully avoids unnecessary conflict.

Try to agree on movies — but have a backup plan

Disagreement about which movies are OK for your kids is a big source of conflict. One of you might be eager to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and the other might think it's too violent. Obviously, your kids can't unsee a movie, so if the ex takes them to see something you're not thrilled about, at least talk about it with your kids. Read the "Families Can Talk About" section on every review on Common Sense Media for conversation starters. (Check out 5 Conversations to Have with Your Kids After Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens.) 

Divvy up media between households

Consider eliminating some of the media overlap: Have each parent manage a specific type of media in his or her home. Maybe the Wii stays at Dad's house and the iPad at Mom's. With each parent having some ownership over specific forms of media, it will be easier to track kids' overall media intake, feel less like a media free-for-all and help both parents with media accountability.

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Pick your battles, and don't sweat the small stuff

It's normal to want some non-negotiables, but not everything should fall into that category. Determine what's really important to you. If you care deeply about not exposing your kids to violence, propose that you and your ex agree to use Common Sense Media's age-appropriate ratings as the guide — maybe titles with more than three icons for violence are off-limits for your tween. Agreeing to use the ratings of a neutral party can make the discussion less contentious. If you and the ex can come to some agreement on the big stuff, it'll be easier to let some of the smaller stuff go.

Set expectations with your kids

Make sure the kids know the rules and try to present a united front. Consider offering small rewards when they're able to regulate their own screen time.

Work together and communicate

Yes, it's often easier said than done. If you and your ex aren't in a place where it's easy to talk about potential areas of conflict, consider figuring it all out over email, collaborating via instant message or a shared web-based document or even using old-fashioned written notes. If, for some reason, you want to adjust the plan you've agreed on (though try to keep that to a minimum), communicate the situation beforehand — no one likes being blindsided.

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