“What do you want for dinner?” My daughter Ava asked cheerfully. “I’m cooking!” I smiled and considered my options. (She’s a good cook.) “And don’t worry that I’ll leave the kitchen a mess,” she added. (She is also messy.) “I’ll clean up, too.” She had to shout this over the sound of the vacuum cleaner because she was cleaning the living room.
Did I raise the perfect child? Hardly. I simply have an Internet connection and know how to use it.
There comes a moment for every parent when we realize we might be powerless. This can happen when a recalcitrant toddler melts down in public and there is nothing you can do to stop it. But, even if you survived the toddler years with authority unquestioned, there comes a moment in an argument with a teenager when you say, “Clean your room … or else.” And it happens. She challenges you. And you don’t have an “else.” (Are you really going to throw her out, call the police, or send her to boarding school? Do not make threats you aren’t going to keep if you want to retain the little power you have.)
As a nerd, I am here to tell you that, if you have Wi-Fi in your home, you have all the power you need. There is very little a teenager – or anyone, really – can do in this information age without a connection to the Internet. If you have the power to turn that off, meter it, filter it, or set time controls on it, your power is limitless. It’s not cruel. It’s not extreme. It’s effective parenting.
Circle is one of the best ways to parent your internet.
For several years, this was hard to do because of the Internet of things. When my kids were small, I changed the Wi-Fi password every day so they had to ask for access. It was fun. Sometimes I used their school spelling words so that they had to type them all, correctly, at least once to get online. But then everything from the stereo to the lights to the thermostat to the deck lighting started to connect to the Internet. And this strategy became impossible. For years, as this has evolved, managing a kid’s internet access has been very difficult.
But in the last year, a slew of routers launched with great parental controls on them. It’s obvious why this is a necessity if you have small children. And most of the products do a good job of explaining why: You don’t want your four-year-old watching Game of Thrones or your middle-schooler steeped in porn. And kids have too many devices and friends with devices to manage this by installing something on their phone or computer. What’s less obvious is how controlling the content that comes in over your router can help you direct a teen rebellion toward adulthood.
Sometimes disconnecting your teens from the internet is a great idea.
Two weeks before this beautiful day when my daughter was agreeably cleaning and offering to cook dinner, she was locked in her room, watching Netflix, refusing to talk to me, clean up after herself, or do anything to help around the house. I had allowed her unfettered access to the Internet because she had made a coherent argument for her own right to be treated like an adult. I knew this descent into showverdosing would likely be the outcome. But I gave her a little time to maybe sort herself out – and to make my point.
I knocked on her door at 2pm. “What?” she wanted to know, rudely. I opened the door and discovered, as I’d suspected, she was watching endless reruns of Buffie the Vampire Slayer, still in bed. I resisted the urge to make obvious vampire comparison jokes and asked her to get up, clean the bathroom, walk the dog, and tell me how her job search was coming. After a frustrating conversation, full of evasions and an obvious hankering to get back to her TV show, I left. She slammed the door.
Standing outside her door, I shut off all access to her Internet – not the house’s. The Circle with Disney ($96) device I use to do this installed an “Internet Pause” button on my phone so this took only a second. (Some routers come with this feature built in. The Circle easily adds parental controls to any router.)
Teach your kids responsibility with age-appropriate internet filters and schedules.
Her door flew open. “Really!?” She demanded, clearly not learning her lesson quickly.
“You are behaving like a child,” I told her. “Adults don’t have to be told to clean up after themselves, get a job, or contribute to the house. We know we have to do these things or we will end up living in filth under a freeway overpass. It’s nice to be a child. But adulthood has perks, too. Internet access, for instance.”
She rolled her eyes and slammed her door. Again.
Clearly, pausing her Internet wasn’t going to do it. So, I set the filtering on her phone, computer, and tablet to ‘Pre-K.” I had already told the Circle which devices in the house belonged to Ava so this was a matter of a few taps. Since she also has a smart phone with data access, she could still use that to get to the Internet – and use up a lot of expensive data while she was at it. So I used the Smart Limits app from AT&T ($5 a month) to turn off her data, with one tap. (Circle offers a feature, too, where you can extend it’s controls to the phone so your limits work even if she leaves your home network. That requires installing something on her phone, though, which I have not done.)
I used the AT&T Smart Limits app to set a bedtime.
I also set a bedtime for her Internet access. When I was done, she could access the Internet but only programming and content appropriate to a small child and only until 8pm. As an afterthought, to encourage her to get out of bed in the morning, I gave her two hours of teen-level access from 8 to 10 am. I chuckled and went about my life, confident this would resolve itself.
She is stubborn. So it took a few days. But those days, she left her room and went out with her friends.
About three days later, she came home and asked, calmly – almost politely, “Why can’t I access anything on the Internet?”
I explained, “You get the Internet access for the age you are acting, not the age you are. We tried adult access. And you couldn’t handle it. You started acting like a toddler. Toddlers don’t clean up after themselves or work and they tend to throw childish tantrums when they don’t get what they want. If you act like a four-year-old, you get the Internet access of a preschooler. Act like an adult, and you can have adult-level access.”
She stormed off to her room and slammed her door again. (I told you. She is strong willed.) But it was boring in there so it didn’t take long for her to reassess her strategy. Not only was she bored but it was humiliating to be treated like a child, and embarrassing to know she deserved to be treated that way. Slowly, it dawned on her, that the only way to be treated like an adult was to act like one. She got up and cleaned her room.
A few days later, we found ourselves here, on this glorious day (that I know will not last, not yet) where she was cleaning, cooking, and being as polite and as adult-like as she could muster. “Can we have mac and cheese with chicken?” I asked, in answer to her dinner question.
“Sure! Yum!” She answered cheerfully.
After dinner, I changed her bedtime to 11 pm, set her filtering level to teen, and turned her phone data back on – with a bedtime to match.
“Let see how teen access goes,” I told her. “When you get a job and I don’t have to tell you to clean your room, we can talk about setting it for an adult.”
So far, she hasn’t gotten there. I’ve tried the adult settings a couple of times but she always reverts back to childish behavior and out-of-control media consumption within a few days. That’s okay, I suppose. It took a while to teach her to read, too. I remain hopeful that she will grow up eventually. Meanwhile, her Internet access will reflect the age she acts.
Want to know more about routers that give you this sort of control over the signal? Check out our review of three new Wi-Fi Routers.
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