Dear Dr. Jann: I live four hours away from my child. I don’t particularly care for his mother and don’t want to talk to her, but I’d like to talk to my son every day just to check in. I’d like to get him a cell phone for Christmas, but I have seen his mother ground his older brother (not my biological child) from his phone. It infuriates his father. If I’m paying for a phone, I want to be able to talk to my kid. How do I control this?

Dr. Jann: There’s more than just a problem with a phone here. Divorced or separated parents cannot properly coParent without communicating with each other. I realized many absolutely hate each other and don’t want to speak, but if you have kids going back and forth between homes, you must put your children first and learn to problem solve with the other parent. (This is taking into consideration that abuse, violence, etc. wasn’t an issue. Those are court ordered considerations and based on your safety or the safety of the child.)

That said, if the child lives with mom, trying to control things from afar is impossible. You can’t parent via cell phone. The best approach is to make mom an ally, not the enemy. That means talk to her, find out her motivation for the decisions she makes, and then compromise to build a disciplinary plan that you can both support. As an ally she will support your efforts, as your enemy she will undermine them.

For the record, there are ways to ground a child from the phone without grounding them from the other parent. Have a “phone basket” in your home. The phone is placed there as soon as the child comes home (understanding that if they are grounded, they are not going out, etc.) If dad calls, they can take the call. If a friend calls, too bad. If friends come over, their phone goes in the phone basket, too. Once the child is no longer grounded, he can have his phone back.