Monday, November 26, 2018

Meet Circle: Parental Controls for Home Internet


I have a little gift for you this holiday season. It's called "taking charge of the internet at home and protecting your children by controlling their access through filters and time limits."

Note: This is not a sponsored post. I am sharing this device that I discovered and has been of great value to our family.

A year ago, when we moved back to Texas, we moved in with my father-in-law, who at the time had open internet at his house. There was no password and it was on 24/7. My kids were in hog heaven. And I was freaking out because my 11-year-old, especially, is a tech head and would happily play games all day long if he was allowed. Plus, I was worried about what they would stumble upon while watching YouTube videos and such.

But then, I heard about Circle (aff) from Disney. It sounded ideal. Just plug it in and pair it with your internet and you can help monitor the internet for your children. So I bought it. And I have been so happy with it ever since!!

Here's how it works:

Circle is actually a simple square device that is super easy to set up. You just plug it in and then download the app. After that, you just follow the steps to pair the device with your internet and then you set up your personalized dashboard on the app.



I have added a profile for each member of my family and each one is customized to their needs. Each profile can have the following settings manipulated:

DEVICES


First, it's important to assign each person their own device(s). This includes desktops, laptops, tablets, phones, Xbox, smart TVs, etc.

FILTERS


There are five filter levels:

  1. PreK
  2. Kid - filters out social media, explicit content, mature content, gambling, dating, and malicious content by default. 
  3. Teen
  4. Adult - filters out explicit content by default.
  5. None
(All of my profiles have one of the filter levels 1-4 assigned. More about adults in a minute.)

The filter levels are pre-set with certain allowances and restrictions but you can override them and adjust them as you see fit. 

You can adjust various platforms and categories by setting them to Allowed, Not Allowed, or Unmanaged.



Each level comes with default platforms accessible to the user. If you don't see a platform listed, then it is automatically filtered out unless you add a custom filter adding access to it for that profile.

The preset platforms for the "Kid" filter include:
  • Amazon
  • Cartoon Network
  • Club Penguin Island
  • Disney
  • FaceTime
  • Hulu
  • Minecraft
  • Netflix
  • Nickelodeon
  • PBS
  • TikTok
  • YouTube
The categories are:
  • App stores & Downloads
  • Arts & Entertainment
  • Business
  • Education
  • Email
  • Home & Family
  • Issues & Lifestyles
  • Kids
  • Music
  • Online Games
  • Photo
  • Science & Technology
  • Search & Reference
  • Sports & Rec
  • Travel
  • Videos
And lastly there are three Privacy and Safety settings:
  • Ad Blocking
  • Safe Search
  • YouTube Restricted

Of course, you can custom filter any of these. So let's say that I block Online Games for my son, but I have a couple of exceptions. I can click on Custom Filter at the bottom of the page and add a website that he is allowed. Or, vice versa, I can allow Online Games, but block certain websites in the same way.



BEDTIME


This setting will allow me to establish a bedtime for each day of the week. So I can extend it on weekends or on Mondays or whatever. 

TIME LIMITS


This is my favorite part. I can set time limits for specific websites or an overall time limit for access to the internet forcing my son to think carefully about where he wants to spend his time.

OFF TIME


You can also schedule some good ol' tech-free time for your kids. So if you want your mornings to be free of the internet, you can schedule it here (you can also adjust your bedtime limits), or you can block off a set amount of time in the middle of the day. Whatever you want!


The final two sections on the profile are for parental monitoring. 

USAGE lets you see how much time your child has been on the internet. You can look at the usage by day (for up to 7 days), by week (for up to a month), or by month (for up to a year maybe? I'm not sure. Mine goes back to May when we bought the Circle.)

HISTORY is my favorite section because it lets me see, in detail, what my child is looking at online and when. 


Now, I should also note that there are two extra functions that you can find at the top of their profile: Reward and Pause.

So, let's say that you ask your kids to clean up their rooms once a week, but you notice one day, that it has been two weeks since your kid cleaned and their room looks like an abandoned house full of trash. Your kid is currently sitting in front of the computer playing Minecraft. You've already asked him or her to go clean their room, but they zone you out. So you pick up your phone, open your Circle app and your child's profile and you hit PAUSE. You don't have to take away their phone or laptop. You don't have to go turn off the internet or change the password to something you'll never remember. You just pause their access and when they finish cleaning their room, you RESUME their access. It's easy.


Of if your child has worked hard ALL DAY helping you rake the yard and cut the grass, or maybe they helped you clean out the garage, and they deserve a reward. Boom! You just click on REWARD button and you'll have the option to extend their time limit today, or give them a late bedtime tonight, or no offtimes today. It's awesome and easy. 

----

My kids hated Circle at first. Some would argue that I am invading their privacy or that I am a control freak. But I take my role as their mother very seriously and I believe it is my responsibility to keep them safe. Reigning them in and helping them develop self-control has been very important. And knowing that there are safety filters in place to protect them from things like porn or adult content is priceless.

The only downside is that you cannot pair the app to more than one internet at a time. We use two sources of internet at home (one is unreliable), so that's a bit frustrating. Plus, I bought another Circle for my parents' house for when they babysit and I couldn't use my app on my phone for it. I had to download the app again onto my mom's phone. I wish I could have just switched Circle devices. 

OTHER BENEFITS:


Anytime a new device pairs with your home network, you receive a notification. You can choose to add them to your dashboard with a group profile (i.e., Other Family or Visitors), or you can just erase them after they leave. I like that I am alerted when someone comes to my house even when no one is home. 

THE BEST PART!


Now here's the great part: I went to look and they are on sale right now (I guess for Cyber Monday?) and they are available for only $49.99!! (aff) I paid $99 for both devices, so I really recommend taking advantage of this sale!


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