Staying one step ahead of the electronic media monster is wearing me out. Just when we think we’ve outsmarted it, it throws a new challenge our way.
First off, we did what we consider the “right thing” a long time ago and not let our kids have a computer or TV in their bedrooms (I could go on and on about the advantages, not the least which are that it lessens isolation and promotes more family time, keeps kids away from unsavory websites and keeps you “in the know” without having to load sophisticated spy software on their computer. You can know how much screen time your child is logging and what they’re looking at simply by looking over their shoulder).
As the kids got older, that rolled into another issue: Electronic media has a powerful pull, and you often see your kids spend too much time with it, languishing away a beautiful Saturday in front of The Disney Channel or watching Harry Potter Puppet Pals on YouTube. So then (if you’re a caring parent) you impose limits, asking them to stop, and implementing consequences if they don’t. Or, if you’re like our family, who has a child who continually prefers to say, “No!” rather than keeping major privileges, you lock out both the computer and TV with pass codes, so that access isn’t even granted until things get done, like homework and chores. (Check the Menu feature on your TV’s remote or its owners’ manual for more info on this; explore “Internet Options” from your computer’s Control Panel.) These types of pass codes are great tools and very easy to use (and enforce) once everyone gets used to it.
But, true to the nature of the beast, we still can’t rest easy. Lately this semester we’ve been troubled by a new electronic media dilemma. Computer access is now often granted because of homework, since the kids (especially the teens) need the Internet to look up definitions or print off a teacher’s review sheets. And the teenagers often don’t start their homework until 9 p.m., so Mom and Dad are usually going to bed when the teens are still up. And the teens have been staying on the Internet, long past the time homework is done– or getting on the Internet and then getting distracted from doing their homework. How do I know? Because often I’m a night owl, too, and I see them sitting at the computers, or I check a computer’s web history the next day. If Allison’s not Facebooking, she’s surfing to fashion and makeup websites. Late at night is a tempting time for Cleo to communicate with her friends and family in France, as they start waking up six hours ahead of us. I also know our teens are up late on the computer because they tell me so. Just last week, Allison said to me, “It’s amazing how early some people get up. I was on Facebook so late the other night, I actually saw people online who were just waking up.” I winced. “How early was that?” I asked. “Oh, about three-thirty in the morning,” she said.
It all adds up to two very tired girls who have had some tough repercussions as a result—Allison has been “too tired” to do well on quizzes, gotten zeroes for forgetting or not doing assignments, and slept late so often, it’s usually a mad dash for her in the morning in order to make it to drill team practice on time– or some days, she’s taken unexcused absences. (Her drill team carpool partner got so fed up, our carpool ended last week.) Cleo already has had to serve a 3 ½ hour after-school detention and have a conference with an assistant principal due to sleeping through her alarm and being late to school too many times. Some may say, “It’s their problem– let the natural consequences work things out,” but, in addition to poor grades, the natural consequences can lead to a truancy court appearance not just for the kids, but also for the parents. It’s become our problem, too.
Some would say, “Take them off Facebook.” And I will show them several local kids on Facebook whose parents think they don’t have a Facebook account. It’s one of the main ways teens communicate these days, part of the social fabric of their lives, and when parents “forbid” Facebook, the kids simply start up another account when they’re on a non-home computer, sometimes using a different name.
Some AFS parents (host parents from Cleo’s sponsoring organization) have told us they cut off their computer router at a certain time each night and that we should try the same. Well, we can disable the wireless portion of our home’s router via a password, but that’s not a perfect solution. For us, we have both wireless and hard-wired computers used by the teens. (And if you’re an all-wireless family and you try this, you can’t get back on, sort of like locking yourself out of your house.) You can physically disconnect the entire router (and plug it back in, in the morning) but it needs to be housed in a place where kids can’t get to it. Ours is not. Andy finally found something that just may help, something called EZ Internet Timer. Its simplicity is genius. For around $10, you get software that you can load onto every computer, and it simply shuts off Internet access at whatever time you set. He got it a few days ago and loaded it on, with an 11 p.m. cut-off, and we had a family meeting to inform the kids. “But what if we need the Internet past 11 for homework?” said Allison. “Too bad,” we said. “If you know you’ll need notes or definitions off the computer in order to study, then print it off early, and don’t come whining to us later….and if you think you can then tell your teachers it’s our fault for an assignment not being done, we’ll be happy to explain our policy to them, and I’m sure they’ll be on our side.”
We’ve only been using it for a few days, and I’ve already seen positive results. Well, partial. Cleo went to bed at 11 Thursday night. Allison was still up, laying out her clothes for Friday, and Facebooking— on her phone.