The pandemic tension in my house peaked this summer the night my father turned off the wifi. He claimed, “You spend too much time on your phones and not enough time with family! I never had the internet when I was your age; We used to play on the street. "
With all due respect, when he was 16 it was the 1980s and the world was not in the middle of a pandemic. My parents are doctors who both had the virus and are aware of the effects of this pandemic. Dad just says what a lot of parents say because they're not sure how much time my generation spends online. But teenagers are wired to be social, and right now the internet is one of the few places we can safely socialize.
Later that night, my 8 year old brother and I snuck downstairs to turn the router back on. But it was heavily guarded – it was in our father's study where he worked. The next day I woke up early and immediately checked that we were back online. No, we weren't. In fact, the whole box was gone! My father took it with him that morning to work with him. I was speechless. Who turns off the internet? Apparently quite a few of you said a search on Twitter later when I got internet access again.
But at the moment we have refused to accept defeat. At first we were in denial and couldn't believe the box wasn't in the house. We looked under the beds, behind the TV, and even in the bathroom. There was no sign of it. Under normal circumstances, when there was no pandemic worldwide and all schools were open, this could have been more bearable. Maybe. But at a standstill, with no school and with no cancellation of all events in Bristol, England, where we live, it seemed like my connection with the outside world had been cut abruptly.
The time felt infinite. When I watch Netflix, time seems to quicken and before I know it, the hours have passed. But with the internet, time became my worst enemy.
I've looked for inspiration elsewhere. My father said that as a kid he played on the street all day. I took my bike out for a ride. It was hot and none of my friends were there so I went back inside soon. Then I realized how much I needed technology. I'd used my cell phone or laptop to read, watch movies, play games, and talk to friends. Without the internet, I could hardly do anything I would normally do in a day.
At first I was angry when my father cut my only connection with the outside world. I had a Zoom meeting with my friends later that day that I knew I couldn't attend. I was concerned that my friends would think I was ignoring them, but I was able to explain what had happened later – much to their amusement. To make matters worse, my cell phone data was exhausted shortly before the internet was turned off. So I tried to connect to the neighbour's WiFi but it was password protected. After a few aimless hours, I started reading current books. It was better than I expected. Fortunately, I have a lot of books. When Dad got home that night, the router wasn't with him. He had left it at work.
Although my father's upbringing was rather authoritarian, he had a valid point. My brothers and I spent far too much time hiding in our rooms as if we were isolating ourselves from family. We'd always done that to some degree, but much more in lockdown. In the absence of technology, we went for walks, baked cakes, and cycled together. My mom taught me how to cook some of my favorite dishes from my grandmother's recipes. But we had a couple of disasters when baking. I made a misshapen, overly sweet cake that no one ate, not even my little brother.
The only benefit was that my family had something to laugh about together, which helped us appreciate each other.
And then, after a week, without much notice, my father switched the internet back on. I didn't immediately run upstairs to check my phone. The short time without the internet had changed me: I realized that I wasn't missed as much as I thought I was.
Despite the lessons I learned from this experience, part of me wishes my father had taken a different approach to encourage us to spend more time as families. He made the decision unilaterally before asking us children why we had spent so much time in our rooms. I felt like he couldn't understand the reality of how the pandemic was affecting my life. My parents went to work and had little free time, unlike us who spent a lot of time at home. I was upset and disappointed at first. I wish he had spoken to me first and given me the opportunity to make decisions with them. But maybe he was right. Would I have listened otherwise?
My daily life is so different from my parents' younger years and it's hard to imagine that they were ever teenagers. But they still have the ability to understand and learn from me as I do from them. They too have learned that their role as confidants is invaluable to me and my siblings and that it is beneficial to talk to us and ask us questions (but not too many!).
Although the traditional questions like "How was your day at school?" or "What did you have for lunch?" I no longer apply, but I still appreciate my parents' questions. Asking what we do to pass our time in lockdown, help us structure our days, or write a list of goals really helped me. I've built a better relationship with them and our relationship is stronger.
While I'm really happy to have the internet back, I find that our conflict was never about the internet. It was an opportunity for my parents to remind myself and my brothers to value human connections and to find balance in our lives.
And as my siblings and I head back into a new school year with new, different routines, it has also helped my parents understand that being a kid in 2020 when they were kids isn't the same.
Before they often asked me to "come downstairs and spend time with the family!" And ask me "What are you doing in your room?" But now, since the lockdown and especially our internet lockdown, my parents are working to respect my autonomy and understand that sometimes I need space and time alone, far from the chaos and drama of today's world.
Zoya Aziz is a schoolgirl in Bristol, England.