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Loosening The Reins Before College

Loosening The Reins Before College

By Mir Kamin

It will never cease being fascinating to me, how two people can share genetics and be so completely different. My children do have some similarities, of course, but they are outnumbered by the differences.

My daughter—despite struggling with anxiety over matters both real and imagined—is fearless when it comes to heights, speed, and other sorts of physical danger. She loves roller coasters, went zip-lining on vacation with her aunt and uncle when the rest of us demurred, has tackled every rock-climbing wall in her way, and says she wants to go bungee jumping.

My son—who will happily explain to you with Spock-like logic why thrill-seeking is illogical—would be more than happy to hold her purse and maybe get some ice cream while she does all of those things.

My daughter is a night owl. Left unchecked, she will putter around into the wee hours, and if she didn’t have to get out of bed before noon, that would be fine by her. Don’t try having a conversation with her once she gets up, either, until she’s had her meds, some coffee, and at least 45 minutes to stop being angry that she’s awake.

My son has always been a morning person. As a toddler he would grab his blankie and toddle off to his crib whenever he was sleepy, and as a teen his body clock continues to remind him when he’s tired, and off to bed he goes at a reasonable hour. When his alarm goes off in the morning I can hear him spring out of bed; he’s in the shower before his sister would’ve even heard the alarm.

My daughter is always up for something new. Yes, she’ll join your club. Yes, she’ll check out that new store or terrible movie. Yes, she’ll learn a new craft or pick up a new instrument or try that thing she saw on Pinterest.

My son is a creature of habit, and is suspicious of what he doesn’t already know. We’ve reached an age where at least he knows this about himself, and as he protests our dragging him into a new activity or situation, I can gently remind him that he never wants to do something he hasn’t done before, but then usually after he’s tried it, he likes it.

My daughter thinks rules exist to make her life miserable. (Maybe an exaggeration, but only a slight one.) My son finds rules comforting.

At this point in our lives, with my daughter about to be a high school senior and my son about to be a high school junior, both kids have laptops and iPhones. Both laptops have parental controls in place—both for accessible content and time limits—and both phones have Smart Limits which control the hours they’re functional and the amount of data the kids can use. Our household router kicks their devices offline at bedtime and doesn’t allow access again until morning. Both phones must be docked in their designated downstairs location before bed (or the phone will be taken away the following day), and it’s only recently that we’ve even allowed them to take their computers upstairs at all (the controls shut them down at bedtime, so they’re unusable after hours, anyway).

Are we monsters? Too controlling? It depends on who you ask. The reality is that almost none of this has ever been necessary for my son (maybe the time limits have, but only because he’ll lose track of time), and most of it has been implemented because my daughter would happily stay up all night surfing Tumblr and chatting with friends if she had the opportunity to do so. I’m perfectly at peace with the choices we’ve made regarding electronics up to this point.

The evening of the last day of school, my daughter was sitting in the family room with her computer, and suddenly she looked up at me in a panic. “Are you going to leave the parental controls on my computer when I go to college?” she asked. “Am I going to, like, have to call you and be all ‘I need you to come down here and let me change this setting?'”

I choked back a laugh. “No, honey. When you go to college it’s all up to you.” She smiled, and went back to what she was doing. “In fact,” I continued. “The whole idea here is that we set up what we think are reasonable limits, and then we pull back on those gradually and you take over regulating yourself, you know?” She looked confused. “If we kept managing all of this for you until the day you move out, you won’t know how to do it on your own and then you’ll be away with no safety net of me nagging you. Over the next year we’ll start giving you more freedom to figure this out yourself, bit by bit, assuming you’re handling yourself and meeting your responsibilities.” She considered this.

“I want a later bedtime,” she said, a hint of challenge in her tone. “This summer for sure, but also next year.”

“Fair enough,” I said. “Right now you just have a ‘be upstairs’ time and we haven’t been enforcing lights out, right?” She nodded. “That was the first step. We can shift that time some, that’s fine. It’s already up to you what time you get into bed. And you know I don’t care how late you stay up as long as you can get up in the morning. You have to figure that out.” She nodded. “You’re going to be taking a heavy course load next year, so probably the next thing is that we’ll take the time limits off your computer. But that means you still have to figure out getting your work done, not that you can spend six extra hours surfing the ‘net.” She laughed, and as happens more and more often, I saw a flash of her toddler-self in her nearly-adult face. “By the time you leave for college, you’ll have already been managing this stuff for quite a while. I’m not going to pop into your dorm room to tell you to stop gaming or turn off the lights and get some sleep. It’ll be all you.”

She nodded, deep in thought. If I had to guess, it was about two parts triumph and one part terror. And that seems about right, because that’s how it feels to me, too.

You hold on so tight for so long, you’d think letting go would be a relief. It is, but it’s also scary. Maybe I can take a tip from my fearless firstborn and spend this next year figuring out how to find it a little exhilarating, too.

About the Author

Mir Kamin

Mir Kamin began writing about her life online over a decade ago, back when she was a divorced mom trying to raise two regular little kids and figure out what she wanted to be when she grew up. Now ...

Mir Kamin began writing about her life online over a decade ago, back when she was a divorced mom trying to raise two regular little kids and figure out what she wanted to be when she grew up. Now her life looks very different than it did back then: Those little kids turned into anything-but-regular teenagers, she is remarried, and somehow she’s become one of those people who talks to her dogs in a high-pitched baby voice. Along the way she’s continued chronicling the everyday at Woulda Coulda Shoulda, plus she’s bringing you daily bargain therapy at Want Not. The good news is that Mir grew up and became a writer and she still really likes hanging out with her kids; the bad news is that her hair is a lot grayer than it used to be.

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  • Jean

    June 2, 2015 at 10:44 am

    Mir, this terrified me (not how you are handling – that’s wonderful) but this thought terrifies me. My PDD-NOS boy is going in to middle school next year. He wants a tv for his room (which he will get as moving up gift) and only has an ipod touch. I think a phone might be coming but I think the middle school has wifi so he can contact us from there.
    How do you decide about the bedtimes thought? On the weekends we are lenient – 9:30/10:00 is usually about right. During the summer because he has camp, his bedtime is still 9:00. I know next year’s workload will be big? What rule of thumb did you use for bedtime? My boy will also be getting up earlier so this is all very confusing and scary….waaaaaahhhhh!!!

    • Mir Kamin

      June 2, 2015 at 11:19 am

      My bedtime rule has always been determined through some combination of what seems right and whether she can actually get up in the morning. For example, she has always complained bitterly that her friends have much later bedtimes than she does… but she has so much trouble getting up in the morning, I’ve never bought into “but everyone else gets to stay up forever.” My son tends to go to bed at about 9 on school nights and we send my daughter upstairs at the same time, but I’d guess she’s usually not lights out until 10-10:30ish most nights. (She stays up later in the summer but the latest I’ll let the kids sleep is 9 during the week, so we adjust accordingly.)

      I would say set something before the school year begins, and if he’s springing out of bed in the morning and complaining that his bedtime is too early, move it a little and see how he does. Also don’t be afraid to say that any time after a certain point in the evening is electronics-free; if he wants to stay up and read in bed, fine, but no TV or gaming, etc. You’ll figure it out!

  • […] flying blind. It’ll all work out, though. I mean, probably. Right? Right. Today at Alpha Mom I’m loosening the reins in preparation, and we’re a little excited and a little […]

  • Lisa

    June 2, 2015 at 12:20 pm

    What do you use for the parental controls? We have guidelines that my girls are expected to follow – but I love the idea of having the time limits on the actual devices. Thanks for all your insight!

    • Mir Kamin

      June 2, 2015 at 12:54 pm

      All of our computers are Macs and the built-in Parental Controls have worked well for us. You can set it to try to “filter inappropriate content,” and the worst thing that happens is that it blocks a site that’s actually fine (and then we can approve those individually).

  • meghann @ midgetinvasion

    June 2, 2015 at 12:34 pm

    What have you found that works for the whole internet content thing? That has been our biggest issue BY FAR, and it seems everything I try, a work around is found by this particular child.

    As far as letting go, this summer is terrifying for me. All four kids are going to summer camp, even the spectrum boys. The younger one has never been away like this, and he leaves Sunday. He’s so excited, and I have to just smile at him through the panic.

    • Mir Kamin

      June 2, 2015 at 12:55 pm

      See my response to Lisa—we’re just using what’s built in to the Mac OS. Maybe someone using a program they like on a PC can chime in.

      And I think it’s great you’re sending everyone to camp! Deep breaths!

  • Kathryn

    June 2, 2015 at 5:18 pm

    My 18 year old daughter graduated high school last June, and has been in Warsaw, Poland since January. She’s home in a month for 7 weeks, then off to university. It’s still scary, to me, that the rest of the world basically considers her an adult – not to mention the fact that the drinking age in Poland is 18, and she’s hanging out with a bunch of Australians 🙂 I have been so impressed, however, at how well she’s done. She takes care of herself better than I had any idea she would at this point in time. It’s absolutely scary, and sometimes they will phone you with questions that make you wonder how they even make it out the door by themselves, but the growth you see in them is amazing. Good luck with everything!

    • Mir Kamin

      June 2, 2015 at 6:52 pm

      This comment gives me hope! 😉

  • Becky

    June 3, 2015 at 12:44 pm

    Oh, woah, flashbacks to my dad panicking that I was going to become a mindless Internet zombie once I had unfettered access to a laptop upon going to college. His idea of parental control was keeping the desktop in his bedroom so he had total control over when and who was on it for how long…and sneaking up behind a person to check what they were up to.

    Good times. If anything, my sleep schedule actually improved in college. Bless the ability to elect to avoid morning classes.

  • BA

    June 4, 2015 at 6:53 am

    I have one piece of advice for chicky when she goes to college. Don’t schedule any classes before 11:00 am! Lol. I thought I would go to 7:30 classes because I got up for high school but almost failed out my 1st semester because I never got up since the teachers didn’t enforce attendance. Of course now I can’t sleep past 6.30. Those were the days! Hope this helps 🙂

  • Leanne Hendricks

    June 4, 2015 at 12:28 pm

    Mir,mew too are an Apple family. I tried blocking explicit content but it then wouldn’t allow access to You Tube which my kids frequent on a regular basis. My youngest searches for what he calls hacks for whatever game he is currently playing and my eldest watches a lot of pet oriented videos. How do you keep the no explicit content and ok certain apps that do contain explicit material such as You Tube? I monitor You Tube with my old fashioned eyes and ears.