Limiting internet time for teenagers
November 3, 2008 3:05 AM   Subscribe

My teenage cousin is staying up too late on the internet and my aunt has asked me to help her limit how much time she is spending on it. It is very similar to this question which has come before. But I'm looking for a software solution.

Now obviously any kind of program is NO SUBSTITUTE for parental supervision. Just to get that out of the way. I can't reasonably have any effect on my aunt's parenting style. She lives with the kid-- I'm just housesitting with her next week.

While I am there, my aunt has asked me to try limit my 14 year old cousin's internet time. It isn't the internet that is a problem-- it is the fact she is staying up past midnight chatting to her friends on msn and myspace. She's not getting up in the morning in time for school and is constantly late. My aunt is a single parent who tends to do late and early morning shifts so she's struggling to set appropriate time constraints/boundaries.

I'm coldhearted so I recommended unplugging the modem and taking it away but I don't think my aunt wants to set herself up for that battle. I tried to show her how to change permissions on the router using the other computer in her room, but she's unable to really grasp it. I think an automated program limiting internet access would be helpful as it is something that my aunt would not have any direct control over. If my cousin has a tantrum over her limited internet access, my aunt has no option to fold under the pressure. My cousin can't handle computers beyond internet explorer so I'm reasonably sure she would not be able to circumvent this. And if she did, well, at least she finally learnt something useful on the computer.

What I imagine would be best is software on the computer that would block the internet connection after 9:30 or some other arbitrary time on a weekday, and could possibly be controlled over the network using the other computer in the house. Does anything like this exist?

Thank you for any assistance.
posted by roshy to Computers & Internet (21 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Oh, and while I know some modems can do time limiting based on IP/mac address, I'm not yet sure that theirs can.
posted by roshy at 3:10 AM on November 3, 2008

Chronager 3.3 is a parental control software program, Chronager gives you complete control over your child’s use of the computer: when he or she can use it for entertainment, and when for doing homework. It enables you to restrict the times when the computer can be used, and to set the times that your child may surf the Internet, play games, use particular programs, and watch movies.

It's not free, and I've never used it myself, but it seems to do everything you (and your aunt) need it to do.
posted by Effigy2000 at 3:13 AM on November 3, 2008

Incentivize not using the internet after 9:30pm - give your cousin the choice to use it, or lose an (easier to suspend) privilege from another part of her life. Simply barricading the computer after a certain time is only going to upset her, and cause a rift between her and your aunt.

Make it worth her while not to stay up late on the internet, either by offering some kind of incentive, or - like I said - by restricting something that you have more control over. I'd recommend the former.
posted by armoured-ant at 3:30 AM on November 3, 2008

Effigy2000 - Thank you for the Chronager suggestion. It looks like it might fit our needs. I've just sent an email to the company asking if it uses the system clock or another to set the scheduler. I wouldn't put it past my cousin to set the clock back a few hours to get a bit more time. :)

armoured-ant - My cousin is mostly a good kid, but I know from experience that the internet is seductive and the instant gratification it offers often outweighs any distant incentives. I don't think that the incentive idea is a bad one, however I would prefer to implement it in a different way. I personally think it would be more beneficial for her to earn back her internet access and see it as the privilege that it really is.
posted by roshy at 3:54 AM on November 3, 2008

Roshy-- as a standard user, she shouldn't be able to change the system clock, only administrators are allowed to do so.
posted by Static Vagabond at 4:40 AM on November 3, 2008

Also, disable booting from CD/DVD drive in the BIOS (and password protect the BIOS). Its trivial download a linux CD and run entirely from that, bypassing Windows altogether. Might not be trivial to you, but to the kids, its a well known thing.

(And if youre really keen, solder the BIOS battery to the Motherboard but thats probably extreme).

But seconding the 'talking to her' option. There are ALWAYS ways around the technology.
posted by daveyt at 4:50 AM on November 3, 2008

Just use the router. I don't know a router that can't control usage by time/name/IP. You can even turn on web access to the router, so that if she NEEDS it turned back on you can pop on and turn it off.

Of course, chica could just learn to reset the router, but the available software solutions are often such a huge bulky timesuck that you wind up abandoning them.

Really, I'd use it in this fashion:

Set the expectation. "You will be off the computer and in bed by X pm." Then she ignores it, and mom unplugs modem/removes modem/does whatever that night, shuts her door, and goes to bed.

The next morning you do the same thing. You will be off, blah blah blah. This night, the router does it for her, mom doesn't even have to be around.

Next morning, assuming that girl has a hard time getting up after being up so late, mom sets her alarm earlier, say a good 30 mins, explaining that since there's an issue getting up on time and out the door, that she'll have to get up earlier. I wouldn't even refer to the computer at all, because now the router's shutting her off.

First night that chica gives up and turns off the computer and goes to bed, mom moves alarm back to where it was and you move on down the road.

Now, does this 14 year old have a cell phone?
posted by TomMelee at 5:14 AM on November 3, 2008

There are ALWAYS ways around the technology.

Indeed, physical access trumps all. If she's determined to use the Internet, she will, unless you break her connection to it by removing the modem, and that may not work if there are open 802.11 networks in range.
posted by oaf at 5:19 AM on November 3, 2008

Now, does this 14 year old have a cell phone?

I was going to ask this also... it's only a matter of time before she can access the web on a mobile device if she doesn't already. It's like when my mum told me lights out and I snuck under the duvet with a torch to read my comics.

Better to introduce an incentive, or as someone else suggested, impose a restriction on something you can control as punishment.
posted by twistedonion at 5:34 AM on November 3, 2008

I recommended unplugging the modem and taking it away but I don't think my aunt wants to set herself up for that battle.

The simplest solution is to turn the router off at X o'clock.

Why would the software solution make the aunt's life easier? Either way, she's denying the teen access to the net.
posted by zippy at 5:41 AM on November 3, 2008

Doesn't Vista include parental control software and isn't there Microsoft software available to add this functionality to XP for free?
posted by dance at 5:48 AM on November 3, 2008

Personally, I loved tomato firmware for this purpose. It will let you restrict all internet or specific sites by days or certain hours. It was very easy to install, but I did have to buy a different model router (<>
In his case, he was spending way too much on certain game sites. I used it to completely cut out access until his grades and spoiled attitude improved. After that, I've used it rarely to help keep focused on school projects or work he needs to finish.

If it were me, and she's not using the computer for school, I'd take it away. Keyboard and Mouse, gone. Cellphone, gone.
posted by ick at 5:55 AM on November 3, 2008

Yeah, I was going to second Tomato as long as she has a router that's supported by it. If the router or the modem is kept in a restricted area (like in the parent's bedroom) then it won't be possible to just circumvent the Ethernet cable around the router to the modem.
posted by crapmatic at 6:34 AM on November 3, 2008

I tried a few technological solution to limit my brother's computer use but in the end nothing worked. Few technical solutions can survive a dedicated teenager.

The only real solution is getting the computer out of the kid's room. Put it in the kitchen or living room where use can be monitored and late night usage can be eliminated.

Also, disable booting from CD/DVD drive in the BIOS (and password protect the BIOS). Its trivial download a linux CD and run entirely from that, bypassing Windows altogether. Might not be trivial to you, but to the kids, its a well known thing.

Yup, my brother got a CD from one of his friends to bypass the BIOS password I put on his computer.
posted by exhilaration at 6:38 AM on November 3, 2008

I think an automated program limiting internet access would be helpful as it is something that my aunt would not have any direct control over.

I'm not sure I understand this - are you saying you will set up and configure the nanny software, and not teach your aunt how to use it? Are you sure you want to be the bad guy, here? It sounds like you're trying to set this scene:

Cousin: I want to use the internet at night!

Mom: Sorry, nothing I can do. Roshy set up a program that kicks you out.

Mom needs to put her foot down, here. She needs to set the rule, enforce it, and take responsibility for it. If she needs your help in a technical capacity, fine, but she shouldn't shuttle the blame off to you by not knowing how to operate whatever solution she ultimately chooses to implement.

Also, I agree with those who say that a physical solution is going to be much more effective than software. Take away the keyboard/mouse. If it's a laptop, take away the power cord and battery. Unplug the router(either the ethernet cable, or power if there's a possibility of wifi access). You can't circumvent any of those actions by booting to Linux, resetting the BIOS, or monkeying with the system clock.
posted by owtytrof at 7:11 AM on November 3, 2008

A physical solution is the only effective solution. Believe me, I know.

I was the computer whiz in elementary and high school. I had fun circumventing all the stupid software crap/BIOS passwords/etc. that my friend's parents would put on their computers. You would be surprised at how knowledgeable and determined 14-year-olds can be, and ultimately the only thing that would prove effective would be to physically remove some IMPORTANT link in the chain (router, computer, modem) and lock it up.

Remember: keyboards can be bought for $2.99 at thrift stores. :)
posted by wsp at 7:34 AM on November 3, 2008

Your cousin was me ten years ago. Possibly. Everyone thought I was staying up late to play around on the internet. But really, I was playing around on the internet because I couldn't sleep. These days I have a sleep disorder diagnosis. This might not be what's happening with your cousin, but life would have been a whole lot easier if people hadn't assumed I was just being difficult. So it might be worth talking to your aunt and cousin about this.
posted by xchmp at 8:42 AM on November 3, 2008 [2 favorites]

On windows Vista, you can block certain times using "parental controls". Lock down the admin login with a fresh password only Mom knows and she won't be able to change the system time.
posted by Barry B. Palindromer at 8:52 AM on November 3, 2008

The parental unit aka my dad put up a server he called the Death Star, ran internet through that and had it turn on and off at certain times, days etc. i.e. I had no internet in my room from 10am Monday until 5pm Friday etc. Not saying its the best solution and probably seemed a lot more impressive when I was in middle school than it does now but it worked quite well. He wrote the program etc, if you really want I could give you the specs and everything for it just shoot me a MeFi-Mail.
posted by Sgt.Grumbless at 10:13 AM on November 3, 2008

I think I'm picking up as a subtext that the cousin is maybe home alone very late at night (I don't see an issue with that at 14, so lets not go there, please) while her mother is working late night/early morning shifts. Is this true? If not, ignore what I say below:

I suspect that she's lonely and is online because she wants the company. Being late to school is a natural consequence of that behavior. I'm torn, because obviously she could get into trouble on the web, but I wonder if the web goes away if she'll either leave the house or start having friends over.

I think the solution here is for this to be a learning experience about consequences of choices. No problem, she can stay up as late as she wants on the web, but there is some very severe and significant punishment for being late to school.

14 is a great age to learn about the real world. If I stay up until 3am on the web, its no problem so long as I can get to work on time. If I'm late to work three times, I get a written warning. If I'm late three more times I'm fired. No technological solution is going to fix this -- if you take away the web and she doesn't end up finding a way around it then she's going to be on the phone. Her mother needs to find a way to tie a punishment to being late for school, not punishing her by taking away the internet.
posted by anastasiav at 11:17 AM on November 3, 2008 [2 favorites]

There are really two issues in play here. The first is that my cousin is staying up too late on the computer, past midnight in some cases, and then doesn't make it to school on time in the morning. The second is that my aunt struggles to set and then maintain appropriate boundaries and consequences. Partially because she isn't always there in the evening/morning to drag my cousin into and out of bed, and partially because she's a single parent of a teenage daughter.

Only one of these problems I have the tools to help with.

My cousin is consistently late for school when there are no adults in the household to humbug her out of bed. My aunt thinks that these late nights on the internet are a contributing factor. I am hoping to remove at least one factor, and I don't mind being the bad guy here. I was wrong when I said "no direct control". What I would really like is to empower my aunt, giving her some control over my cousin's internet habits when she is not physically there to enforce restrictions.

Thank you all for the advice about dealing with a teenager. I agree that there are certainly underlying factors, and deeper reasons to my cousin's computer habits than "deliberately miss school, spite mum". I am not unsympathetic to my cousin. I did the same thing in high school. My parents spoke to me, reasoned with me, yelled at me-- they were not able to change the behaviour. Reflecting back, I did need an external limitation. The problem with the internet is that it is very "moresome" and my cousin does not currently have sufficient skill in self-regulation (There have already been battles over the mobile phone). I am not a parent and I don't know about raising teenagers, but my aunt asked for help in restricting internet access, and I am happy to assist in that capacity. I am sure it all fits into some greater plan.

Honestly, if this causes my cousin to develop her computer skills to the point she can circumvent these measures, then I will be so proud and happy she took the initiative! I would like to see her do more on the computer than upload the standard teen pics on myspace.
posted by roshy at 4:51 PM on November 3, 2008

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