When you first thought about having kids, you probably considered names, imagined kissing boo-boos, and worried about how you'd eventually have to pay for college. What you more than likely didn't think about was which high speed internet providers would be able to keep up with your kids' never-ending demand for bandwidth.
That's the reality of parenting! Chances are the idealized vision of parenthood that convinced you to have kids didn't look all that much like the life you have now. Whether it's the fact that you'll spend years going to the bathroom with an audience or that you'll end up sharing every candy bar you buy, there's a lot doctors, books, and even friends won't tell you about being a mom or dad.
For example, nowhere in the parenting manuals does it tell you how to choose between high speed internet providers when you have a couple of kids or teenagers in the house who are hogging your signal. Should you block their devices at certain hours? Limit their device usage? Forbid digital multitasking? Shut off the Wi-Fi entirely? Or upgrade your broadband plan ASAP?
Today's kids and teens may be the generation with the most devices per person and are probably the biggest bandwidth consumers in any household, so you have to do something. Dealing with slow internet isn't an option for parents who work from home or unwind with Netflix.
Hitting your data cap and paying extra each month? Isn't going to work either. So the best thing you can do is pick a high speed internet provider that can handle a multi-person household with digital natives who care more about staying connected than the cost of an internet connection.
Here's what you need to know about how much internet speed kids and teens really need:
What We Mean by Speed
If you're not one of those digital natives, you may have seen the term Mbps without knowing what it means. Mbps is the shorthand way of writing megabits per second, which is how internet speeds and capacity are measured. Mbps also refers to bandwidth, which is just another way of talking about the overall capacity of your connection. All the users on a network share this same capacity, which is why your connection is sometimes slow when you have multiple kids watching Netflix on individual devices in your home.
The higher the bandwidth of your internet connection, the faster and more reliable it will be - even when several people are using it at the same time. However, just because high speed internet providers advertise certain speeds, does not mean those are the speeds you will actually receive. Advertised maximum speeds are the top speeds it is possible to get with your connection, but chances are the actual speeds in your home will be slower. Check out unbiased sites like BroadbandSearch for more information about how different ISPs really stack up.
Think About Your Family as a Whole
To help consumers choose between broadband plans, the FCC created a guide that lays out the minimum download speed required for typical online activities, and the FCC's Broadband Speed Guide is a good place to start thinking about how much speed your kids need. It's important to remember that the speeds in the guide are based on one person doing one activity at a time.
Families as a whole typically use multiple devices simultaneously and teenagers in particular will use more than one device at a time (e.g., scrolling through Instagram while watching TV). The more devices online in your home, the more demand on your network, and the more you'll notice lag or reliability issues if your broadband connection isn't fast enough.
The average family can get away with plans of 20 Mbps download and 5 Mbps upload speeds, but maybe yours isn't the average family. Perhaps you have to log into a remote computer every day for work. Or your teen has a popular YouTube channel. If you homeschool and use an online curriculum, your internet needs might be very different from friends who are unschooling and feel strongly about using screens as little as possible.
The bottom line: when it comes to internet speeds, there's no one-size-fits-all solution.
Consider What They're Doing and When
As you look at what high speed internet providers are offering, you need to keep your kids' habits and activities in mind, too. How much speed they (and you) need will depend on what you're doing with your internet connection.
Most families with kids in the house end up qualifying as ‘heavy users' because of video streaming and gaming. That means broadband providers with a reputation for both delivering on advertised speeds and being able to maintain their speeds during peak viewing times are a good bet!
Does Everyone in Your Household Have Their Own Devices?
Some families are still sharing a single computer, but most have multiple devices (e.g., phones, tablets, and connected smart televisions) in the house. That means that multiple devices are using bandwidth at the same time. Maybe right now you have little kids who get a set amount of screen time each day and you can reasonably choose your high speed internet provider based on the habits of a two adult household. Just keep in mind that as little kids turn into big kids and big kids turn into teens, you'll want to boost your available bandwidth to compensate. 25-50+ Mbps should do the trick.
Do Your Kids Need the Internet for Homework?
These days, even elementary school children may have homework that requires a reliable broadband connection. Opting for the fastest internet plan that fits into your budget now can be an investment in your child's education since chances are good that your school system will make the switch to paperless homework sooner rather than later. Don't neglect upload speeds! If students need to submit work online, sufficient upload speeds can be the difference between making the grade and missing multiple deadlines.
Is Watching Videos Is How You Bond as a Family?
Entertainment options have changed since the days of TV dinners, but many families still gather around the small screen to share their favorite television shows and movies. According to Netflix, you should have at least 5 Mbps to stream HD content and 25 Mbps for 4K Ultra HD content… but again, that's the recommendation for playing one movie on one TV. Movie loving families streaming 4K content across multiple devices should look for the fastest download speeds available.
Think About How Important Gaming Is to Your Kids
For some older kids and teens, online gaming is the number one way they socialize with friends. An unreliable connection could mean your child gets left out of the virtual get-togethers that are the social glue of their group. Having faster internet is crucial for gaming and for streaming on Twitch, and that means getting the best possible download speeds, i.e., 25+ Mbps or higher.
There Can Be Such a Thing as Too Much Speed
Most guidelines will tell you to get the fastest possible connection but the fastest connections come with the highest price tags. If you're not worried about the cost, then by all means choose a high speed internet provider that can give you 100Mbps.
But if you're like most parents and have to stick to a budget, think about your bandwidth needs before you choose a package. Sure, your kid loves video games - but are they really hardcore gamers? How much bandwidth do those online homework assignments actually use?
Put an End to the Bandwidth Wars
Maybe browsing high speed internet providers for a new plan isn't the best way to take back your bandwidth. Your modem or wireless router may have settings that let some devices in your household get priority delivery over others (i.e., those that belong to your kids). That way the Voice-Over IP service you use for work will automatically get the lion's share of the bandwidth. In most cases, your kids won't even notice because prioritization only happens when one device or application is taking up more than its fair share of the family signal.
Choosing the right internet speed for a household with kids isn't always easy. Should you pay more for more bandwidth because your kid is a self-professed gamer? Is it okay to prioritize the devices and applications of the adults in the home? And will your child need the best possible upload speeds for online school assignments in the near future?
Ultimately, when it comes to paying more for a broadband plan for your kids, homework will probably trump hobbies. Schools are increasingly having students work, watch, and study online, and if your kid isn't quite old enough to participate in virtual study groups, they will be soon enough.. You might not be ready to upgrade your broadband speeds now, but you should plan to do it eventually.
Are you ready to start comparing and contrasting high speed internet providers? Start by finding the ISPs near you.