How to Manage My Teen’s Online Access: Set a Media Curfew


Girl on tablet

Time for bedBy Samurai Dad

The Android cell tone that rang out in the night was quickly silenced by our teen, but not quick enough to escape our ears.  The nocturnal browsing motivated us to look for ways to strengthen boundaries about using electronics after-hours. We explored both behavioral and technical ways to implement an internet and media curfew.    

How do you set a media curfew?  We started with an honor system.  All devices were powered down and placed in a central location at a specific time until the next morning.  The power struggles we then had with our teens over shutting down different devices at a specific time spurred us to layer on a technical strategy by using our router’s features to manage access.  

An honor system alone may work for you.  We found that the lure of updating SnapChat streaks and postings on Instagram was too big a challenge for our teens to resist.  We still hold the line on screen time limits daily, and we also limit the technology itself whenever possible.

Limiting Access to Smartphones and WiFi Devices Requires Different Strategies
  1. It’s difficult, but not impossible, to limit teens’ access to a cell phone. By design, smartphones offer multiple pathways to access the internet.  The cell data plan allows unrestricted access as long as the user is within range of a cell tower. For the truly desperate user that has used up their data, it’s possible to tether on to a friend’s device to share data. For this reason, the honor system for cell phones forms the centerpiece of our media curfew plan, backed up by the loss of the cell if the rules are broken.
  2. In contrast, WiFi connections are slightly more restrictive because the user needs to be in range of a WIFI network. We have a WI-FI network at home. There are also many public WIFI networks and secure networks requiring login credentials.  The proximity and security challenges can make it more difficult to find ready access.
The Smartphone Challenge

In our house, we have evolved to limit smartphone access to the internet with a combination of behavior rules and practices.  This has gone a long way to keeping our kids more engaged in our home life and limiting the amount of time available to bury themselves in the screen of their phone.

The Rules and Practices for Smartphones

Ideally, you get an agreement in place for devices and phones before your teen ever gets access. But the world is rarely ideal, right? With that in mind, below are the rules currently in place in our house. The agreement is a living document and represents a compilation of what is currently working well.

  1. Cell phones must be used in common family areas of our home.  This keeps the phone from disappearing behind the closed door of a bedroom.
  2. On weekdays, no cell phone use after 9:00PM.
  3. Consistent with the first two rules, after 9:00, the cell phones are placed in our office to charge overnight.
  4. In the morning, the cell phones are not removed from the charging area until everyone is ready for school including eating breakfast and packing bags (which we really encourage to be done the night before).
  5. We limit the amount of cell data available in a month.  Our current data plan includes 1Gb per month.  Talk and text are unlimited but data shuts down when used up.  This limitation helps teach our teens the skill of budgeting a scarce resource – cell data.
  6. Despite the implicit messages from our current society, cell phones are not a right of birth.  They are a privilege and the right to use must be earned by following the rules. When rules are broken, loss of device/phone follows.  
TV’s, Tablets, Laptops and Gaming Consoles

Girl on tabletOk, let’s say you’ve been successful collecting the Smartphones in the evening and securing them from night owl use.  Well done.

Now, let’s look at discouraging after hours internet use on all the other devices in your home.  Collecting all devices every night may not be practical for you.  

If you want to avoid the nightly scouring the house for devices and all that potential drama, you need to get closer to the source, the life-giving elixir of all non-data plan devices: the WiFi.  Here’s where the technology itself can help you manage the late night hours.

Did you know many widely available routers have scheduling features?

Yes, it’s true.  There are many easily configured features in your router to help you manage WI-FI usage via a pre-defined schedule. Parental controls are also available that allow you to blacklist sites by device if you choose to add additional layers of protection.   

Our intent is to shut down the internet access during the hours our teen should be sleeping.  After all, it’s the 24/7 internet access enabling your teen to check in on what senseless drivel a distant acquaintance posted on Instagram at 2 AM.  Drastic times may call for drastic measures. Cut it off. Set a schedule for WIFI availability. This can be done by a specific device like your teen’s iPad, laptop, Smart TV or gaming console.  Or, you can shut down the WI-FI network completely and it will come back online automatically at a time you select.

As a specific example, we use a Linksys router.  Let’s walk through what this process looks like for restricting access for all WIFI (read on below for device-specific scheduling):

  1. Log into your Router – Type the default IP address into your browser address bar.  For Linksys, type http://192.168.1.1.
  2. Enter  your username and password – You probably wrote it down on your quick setup guide when you installed the router
  3. Once you’re logged in, the main page will have a menu on the left side.  Under Router Settings, select WI-FI settings.
  4. You will see four tabs as shown below. Select the Wireless Scheduler Tab. 
  5. You will see the scheduler display. Set the times that wireless will be on and off. 
  6. For the above example, I’ve shut down all WI-FI access from 10 PM to 7 AM for weekdays.  
  7. Typically, our teens and their Netflix-binging parents tend to stay up later on weekends. I extended the weekend schedule to shut down from midnight to 6 AM.

** Note: Before you click apply, keep in mind that devices will temporarily lose connectivity as the router is applying the changes.

8. When you’re ready, click apply and you’ll get the following message: Your router is applying changes.



A couple of things to remember:

  1. If you’re making these changes on a device connected by WIFI to your router, you won’t be able to access the router during the off period.  We keep a laptop connected to our router via network cable.
  2. The changes don’t have to be permanent.  If you find that the settings you saved are too restrictive or permissive, follow the procedure again to get it just right.

Let’s walk through what this process looks like for restricting WiFi access to a SPECIFIC DEVICE:

  1. Log into your router – Type the default IP address into your browser address bar.  For Linksys, type http://192.168.1.1.
  2. Enter  your username and password – You probably wrote it down on your quick setup guide when you installed the router
  3. Once you’re logged in, the main page will have a menu on the left side.  Under Smart WI-FI Tools, select Parental Controls.
  4.  As shown in the diagram below,
    • Set Enable Parental Controls to On,
    • Select the device you want to control the WI-FI on/off schedule from the list in the Restrict internet access on box.  I’ve chosen the iPad.
    • Once you choose the device, you’ll be able to select Specific times in the Block internet access box.
    • Then, click on the edit link 
  5. Now it’s time to select the Block schedule for the specific device.  As you see in the picture below, we have selected 10 PM to 7 AM every day of the week for the iPad. 
  6. Click OK, then on the Parental Controls menu, click OK again.  There will be no further notifications.
  7. You have successfully created a Block schedule for a specific device on your WI-FI network
Related Questions

Where can I find other online parental controls?

Smartphones

  • iOS 12 offers parental controls for mobile Apple devices
  • Android device management features in Settings
  • Google Family Link App to track and control online usage

Operating System and Software Apps

  • Windows, Google Chromebook and Apple Operating System settings
  • NetNanny – Block and filter Internet content, monitor social media, place time limits on use, and block desktop PC games
  • Qustodio – in addition to many of the features similar to NetNanny it adds call and text monitoring/blocking, location tracking and a panic button

Pairing with your built-in router protections

  • OpenDNS- filter internet content
  • Circle Access control, time management, and content filters

3 Best Router Models for Parental Controls

  • Linksys EA8500 Max-Stream™ AC2600 – This is the router that we currently use and has great parental controls among its many features.  Great user-friendly interface and easy to configure. Allows you to restrict access to inappropriate or distracting content, control usage, and block specific devices from accessing the Internet.
  • Skydog Web App and Smart Family Wi-Fi Router – Monitors home internet use real-time by user and devices.  Email notification features help manage web use. Parents can create a safe-list of appropriate websites for younger children in your home.
  • Gryphon Smart WI-FI Mesh System – The most advanced parental controls of any router I researched.  Uses family groupings for age-appropriate content control filters and restrictions for apps like YouTube.  It has great time management features and capability to notify parents through their mobile app to approve your child’s internet use during restricted times.  For instance, if your son needs access to perform research for an essay or they just finished early and want to go online.

What time should my teen be home on a school night or weekend?  How to set a curfew for my teen.

See also: Are You a Parent Samurai?

Recent Content

Raising teens is a big job.


Join the conversation.

 

Get a FREE e-book from Parent Samurai and be the first to see new posts!

Your FREE e-book is one click away!