The Digital Natives are Restless:
Engaging High Conflict Parents Through Technology
By Sherrill W. Hayes, Ph.D.
When I started working as a parenting coordinator (PC) in
2006, I envisioned a practice filled with uncomfortable and heated
conversations around a table. But while there have been plenty of
heated conversations, they have taken a different form than I expected.
I have spent a lot of time, and had some of my most challenging
experiences, not in meetings or other face-to-face encounters but
rather in listening to lengthy unfocused voicemails, reading and
editing inflammatory emails, and teaching the fundamentals of
netiquette to parents who had forgotten their e-manners.
I have found that many parents have little or no face-to-face
contact, but engage with each other electronically quite frequently.
For these parents, co-parenting is a virtual activity. Parents in
high conflict disputes use technology to avoid direct contact
while maintaining a high degree of communication. Sometimes
they turn this communication into a cyberwar, using voicemail,
email, text messaging, and social media as the weapons, but often
enough it works. Traditional face-to-face sessions rarely result in
any progress and in some cases are counterproductive. Reasonable,
articulate and even conciliatory individuals become irrational,
incommunicative, and intransigent with the prospect of being in
the same building with a co-parent, much less the same room. In
effect, the thoughtful application of communication technology
may be what allows these co-parents to parent at all.
Avoidance and Technology-Facilitated Parenting
My opening question for new parenting coordination clients is
now “In what manner do you typically communicate with the
other parent?” Most parents answer “email”, “phone”, or “text.” A