Alexander: Turning off teen Internet isn't so easy

  • Article by: STEVE ALEXANDER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 17, 2012 - 4:21 PM

QIn my quest to promote sleeping during the night for my three very electronically connected and addicted teenagers, I've decided that this school year I will disable the modem each school night at 9:45 p.m. That will disconnect their many Internet-connected gadgets. (Two kids have cellphones without Internet access.)

If I remove the power cord from the modem and tuck it under my pillow, will I do any harm to the modem or affect the reconnection of the router, laptaps, Xbox or iPods the following day? Have I forgotten anything? Do you have a different recommendation?

HEATHER GOELTZ, READING, PA.

A You're the parent, so you have the right to set the household Internet rules. And your plan to power down the Internet modem for the night will work fine. It won't hurt anything, and your family's devices will easily reconnect when you turn the modem on in the morning.

But shutting down the household modem may not be as effective as you hope. It's likely that many of your neighbors have home Wi-Fi networks that your teens might be able to use if the signals are strong enough. If the Wi-Fi router at a neighbor's house has been left unprotected, or if a friend gives one of your teens the password, your children can access the Internet that way.

In addition, your teens with cellphones can still send and receive text messages, even if they don't have Internet access on their phones. Why? Text messages travel over the cellular voice network, not the Internet.

QMy wife and I will be traveling to Europe next year, but we want to keep in contact with our family by e-mail. Should we buy a laptop computer or an iPad for this trip?

BARRY READ, FLEETWOOD, PA.

AYou could use a laptop, an iPad or a smartphone to stay in touch. With any of them, the least expensive way to send e-mail is to use public Wi-Fi hot spots, many of which are free.

If you have a laptop or an iPad that uses AT&T's cellular network (which is compatible with European networks), you can buy an international data plan. Alternatively, you may be able to get better rates for an iPad by purchasing a European SIM (subscriber identity module) card, a fingernail-sized memory card in your iPad that contains your account information.) See tinyurl.com/6pnlbgr.

Many AT&T and T-Mobile smartphones work in Europe (they're compatible with European phone systems.) You can either buy an international phone plan or a European SIM card. Alternatively, you could buy an inexpensive prepaid phone in Europe. For details, see tinyurl.com/7vl2lxw.

E-mail tech questions to steve.j.alexander@gmail.com or write to Tech Q&A, 425 Portland Av. S., Minneapolis, MN 55488. Include name, city and telephone number.

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