Limiting a kid's internet access: like getting involved in a land war in Asia?
January 23, 2012 10:13 PM   Subscribe

How to cleverly limit internet usage, with preference for limiting time rather than content, with certain desirable features? More below the fold...

Asking for a friend. How might one control a teenager's internet usage, subject to the following criteria?

1. There doesn't seem to be any particular worry about content. My friend doesn't have a problem with things like pornography, but is mainly concerned by the fact that MMORPGs take up a lot of time that the kid could spend other ways. The idea is therefore to limit the length of a browsing session without restricting content.

2. Friend's pipe dream is that, after a certain specified period of time, the hypothetical software would block internet access unless the kid answered a bunch of questions as annoying as those on his homework. I am guessing something analogous to the Gmail add-on that makes you do arithmetic before sending emails, as a sobriety test, but with harder questions (although no real restrictions on subject matter or anything; it would just have to be as much of a pain in the ass to access the internet without doing his homework as it would be to do his work and get unfettered intertubes).

Google-fu can find things satisfying 1 but not 2. Is there software that could do something like this?
posted by kengraham to Computers & Internet (5 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
IIRC, that's built into software like Net Nanny or Cyberpatrol. You can configure zero filtering and only use the time management part.
posted by Mad_Carew at 10:45 PM on January 23, 2012

Install a proxy machine in between the kid's computer and the Internet. Restrict all Internet connectivity such that it has to go through this machine. Set up the machine with the rules and tests that ou want. This is essentially the same system that airports and hotels use to charge you for Internet (except instead of redirecting you to a test when you run out of time, they send you to a payment page).

I could build such a system, but I don't know of a free or commercially available one, but you might start looking for the places that airports and hotels buy theirs from.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 10:45 PM on January 23, 2012

This is a pretty frequently expressed requirement, and there are various technical solutions, but none of them are typically much use.

What tends to work better is negotiating from a position of strength backed up by the parental nuclear option (withdrawal of all wireless Internet access, very easily achieved with any wireless router by changing the WPA password).

mainly concerned by the fact that MMORPGs take up a lot of time that the kid could spend other ways

Could: sure. Should? That needs discussion and negotiation and clearly understood expectations and boundaries.

Parents who rely on nanny-style technology to monitor and control a teenager's Internet usage often end up with kids who learn to work around the restrictions and acquire even better hiding-things-from-parents skills than their natural teenage inclinations would lead them to do. It may look like the easy option, but it really is making a pretty big rod for your own parental back in the medium to long term.

We used scarcely any technological means to control Young Master Flabdablet's internet usage. I severely rate-limited him for a few months after he'd completely blown away our household's download cap two months in a row, and we cut off his net access altogether for a week at a time whenever he displayed the unmistakable signs of internet abuse (i.e. morphing from being reasonably pleasant company into a surly, antisocial cave dweller). It would generally take him about three days post-cutoff to come good, we didn't have to do it often (I think it happened maybe four or five times in total from age 13 to 19) and he ended up with pretty good Internet self-discipline.
posted by flabdablet at 11:35 PM on January 23, 2012 [4 favorites]

If you have a base station like Airport Extreme, you can control the times during which a certain device can connect and use the Internet. (I have an Airport but I'm pretty sure other wireless routers have the same features.)

If you sign up with OpenDNS, you can block and unblock specific domains, e.g. block and I think you have to do this manually - I don't know if they offer a set schedule.

BUT: if it's World of Warcraft, you can use Parental Controls to strictly limit access to the game world on a schedule or by amount of time used.

Other MMORPGs probably have the same features.
posted by teedee2000 at 6:14 AM on January 24, 2012

Nothing the idea that is is better solved through parenting than through technology. My kids can't use the computer because it's password-locked. When they want to use it, I log them in and I start the timer on the microwave. When the timer beeps an hour later, they are done. I try to be reasonable; I don't make them quit in the middle of a big boss fight, for example. This approach works pretty well for us.
posted by DWRoelands at 9:43 AM on January 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

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