Allegedly Lacking Parental Supervision of Teens’ MySpace Activity Doesn’t Support Custody Change–Gillum v. Gillum

Gillum (Davies) v. Gillum, 2011 WL 2084148 (Ohio App. Ct. May 27, 2011)

The parents are divorced, and mom has custody of the kids. The dad is now trying to obtain custody. There is some mildly amusing discussion about which parent is the bigger pothead, but the focus of this post is the family’s use of MySpace. The dad makes two allegations: (1) the kids are posting inappropriate things, thus evidencing mom’s lack of adequate supervision, and (2) mom is saying not-nice things about dad on her MySpace page, which the kids are likely to see, and in private MySpace messages. With respect to #1, the court summarizes:

The images to which Gillum objected included pictures of the thirteen-year-old daughter kissing one of her girlfriends on the cheek and pictures of the fifteen-year-old wearing a bikini and cowboy hat at the beach. The pictures of the younger daughter and her friend included the daughter’s captions such as “sexii” and “kisses;” the pictures of the older daughter included her captions such as “one sexii cowgirl” and “im the hottest cowgirl you’ve ever seen.” Gillum contends that Davies’ failure to object to the girls’ posting of such pictures or her ignorance of this fact shows that she was not adequately supervising the children’s Internet usage and that she was “in denial that child predators exist.”

The dad’s argument failed to sway the trial court, and the appellate court didn’t see any reason to overrule the trial court:

Although the wisdom of allowing Internet posts of a bikini-clad girl or of young girls kissing is

certainly problematic, Gillum’s characterization of the photographs as “sexually exploitive” is also debatable. The magistrate and trial court, as is unfortunately often the situation, had to weigh this and other conflicting evidence. Viewing the evidence as a whole, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in finding (implicitly) that the danger posed by such postings and Davies’ knowledge of or failure to prevent such postings did not demonstrate that a change of custody was in the children’s best interest.

My eldest is only 8 years old and has shown zero interest in social networking sites so far. I’m sure that will change soon enough. For now, I haven’t had the personal experience of trying to manage my teenagers’ use of social networking sites. However, I don’t look forward to those days, because everyone who has had first-hand experience has told me it’s effectively impossible. (As a separate matter, I had thought 13 year olds weren’t allowed on MySpace, although we know social networking sites’ efforts to screen out young teens have failed miserably).

Therefore, it would be odd, indeed, if a parent’s inability to control a child’s social networking site activity became a grounds for switching custody, because it’s probable that neither parent can do better than the other at controlling kids’ online behavior. While I can’t say I would be excited if my kids did the things described in this court opinion, on the scale of good-to-bad teen usage of social networking sites, these kids look like they are doing OK, all things considered.

Meanwhile, if anyone has developed the elixir for causing teens to make adult choices when given the very adult publishing power of social networking sites, I’ll pay a lot for a bottle. Or two.