In Illinois, the only law regarding telephone or electronic contact with children is the requirement that “provisions for communications, including electronic communications, with the child during the other parent’s parenting time,” 750 ILCS 602.10(e)(11), be included in the Parenting plan.
There is, however, a longstanding tradition that whichever parent is not with the children that day shall have some kind of telephone contact with the child at a reasonable hour once a day.
Of course, this comes with a lot of assumptions like 1) the other parent will be with the child at the scheduled time of the call to facilitate the call (if the child doesn’t have his own phone) and 2) that the child is able and willing to talk.
Young children have early bedtimes and are not able to maintain in-depth conversation. Older children have activities throughout the afternoon and evening when the calls are typically scheduled. Also, older children may not be as eager to have a daily conversation on the telephone.
Over the last 5 years or so Skype has allowed parents to engage at a greater level with their children then they would otherwise be able to via telephone. In my experience, a Skype conversation turns one parent into a cameraman and a participant in what should be a one-on-one conversation between the child and the non-present parent.
I have found a wonderful new app that resolves all of the above issues. It’s called Marco Polo. Marco Polo is an app for your phone that allows you to record short videos which your child can view at any time. Your child may also record short videos for you, your parents and/or any extended family you choose to include in a group. Additionally, Marco Polo creates a timeline of videos you and your child have sent back and forth. This timeline lets you and your child relive the memories of your exchanges at any time.
For those familiar with Snapchat, this sounds a lot like Snapchat except there’s not an emphasis on photo/video manipulation and Marco Polo has no option to delete videos. This bare bones structure allows you and your child to focus on the videos and communication alone. There are some fun things applications like voice modification and virtually “breathing fire” but they are not the focus of the Marco Polo app.
Moreover, the parent child relationship is not something that is always at its best when it is spontaneous. Often, you are not going to say the perfect thing to your child off the cuff and neither is your child. A well thought-out, short video can rarely cause escalating arguments.
Finally, conversations between estranged parents are often through court ordered apps like MyFamilyWizard or TalkingParents. The functionality of these apps are largely that they are a text messenger wherein you are not able to delete incriminating messages that would be proof of alienation, intimidation or other behavior that is not in the best interest of the child. Messages like that are often reviewed by a child representative, Guardian Ad Litem or the court itself to make parenting time and custody decisions. Marco Polo provides this exact same functionality for the conversations between the parents and the children. If a parent were to say something horrible (typically something about the other parent) to the child, there would be a record of it to present to the courts.
Marco Polo may not know it yet but I believe they have created an app that will help millions of families have more productive, loving relationships with their children. If that’s not a killer app, I don’t know what is.