Genius Idea From Fed-Up Dad Could Make Teen Internet Addiction a Thing of the Past

The VexBox won't take away Web access—it just slows it down to dial-up speeds.

(Photo: Courtesy VexBox)

Feb 2, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

It’s tough enough to get Internet-addicted adults to put down their devices, but combine the lure of seeing how many likes a selfie got on Instagram with the mood swings of a teenager, and you have a parent’s worst nightmare: arguing with a surly teen who insists the dishes can’t be done right now because he or she will miss out on whatever’s happening online.

Portland, Oregon–based inventor Sean O’Riordan can relate. O’Riordan was having so many arguments with his son Joe about the amount of time the teenager was spending online that he decided to come up with a tech solution to the problem. O’Riordan’s answer is a small cube called a VexBox, a device that allows parents to slow down Internet speed on a smartphone, tablet, computer, or gaming console that a child is using.

The device connects easily to an existing wireless router and creates a secondary hub through which kids can access the Internet. If the backtalk about doing chores or logging off starts, a parent simply has to click a few buttons on the VexBox website, and bam, the teen’s Internet is slowed. Meanwhile, the parent can tweet, text, and watch Netflix at normal speeds to his or her heart’s content.

How slow are we talking? How about a molasses-style, completely frustrating 56K dial-up speed. That excruciating pace is one that most teens in America aren’t familiar with, and O’Riordan found it drove his son and the other teenagers he tested it on for six months totally nuts. The VexBox worked so well for O’Riordan’s family that he has launched a Kickstarter to raise $50,000 to cover the cost of manufacturing more of the devices.

Sure, a parent could just lay down the law for free and take away all of a teenager’s devices after the allocated time playing Trivia Crack or using SnapChat is up. But not every parent has the energy (or desire) to experience that kind of drama every day.

“It improved our relationship with our teen and each other because we are no longer fighting over these issues,” wrote O’Riordan on the Kickstarter page. An 18-year-old named Aislin told O’Riordan that the endless “loading” circle she experienced was so annoying that “it would be worse to deal with [slow Internet] than doing homework."

Of course, adults who are looking for a way to unplug (and stay unplugged) could also use the device. “My wife even uses it to limit her own time online to increase her productivity working on her computer at home,” wrote O’Riordan. One thing is for sure: Parents who use it will never be in danger of being fined for their kids having way too much screen time.