- A woman who was very hurt and feeling betrayed by her husband posted on Facebook in very colorful language about what a jerk he was, including vivid, angry descriptions of his undesirable qualities. Even though privacy settings were used to limit the posts to her close friends, the Facebook page was up on her opened laptop and read by her son when he arrived home from school, causing him considerable distress.
- A daughter asked to use her dad’s phone and discovered romantic texts he had exchanged with a girlfriend. The shocked daughter shared this information with her mother, and then felt responsible for their subsequent divorce.
- A few months after her parents’ divorce, a child discovered that her mother’s status on her Facebook homepage had been changed to “In a relationship.” This was upsetting to the child, who was still adjusting to the reality if the divorce.
During my childhood, a common folk saying was, “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” Clearly this adage predated the internet age. Children can be hurt by words, and need our protection. Probably most people you know send texts and are connected to a social media network. Texting and social media are easily accessible and help people feel connected. The average American adult user of social media is plugged in 3.2 hours per day, sharing and receiving information online. Parents and their children often belong to the same social media networks. The impression that text exchanges and social networks are private and personal is problematic. Although there are privacy settings that can restrict sharing to specific online friends, people don’t always use them, nor are online posters always careful to self-filter and think twice about what they share. Even when messages are taken down, what goes up on the internet really never goes away. What does this have to do with protecting children during a divorce? Here are a few cautionary tales: