By: Stephen J Smith
A few weeks ago I was presenting our DIGITAL TATTOO program to a group of parents. The question of “how to manage and monitor your child’s online activity” was perhaps the most persistent question broached. After discussing several services such as TeenSafe and uKnowKids, one eager mom raised her hand and asked what I thought about the Circle with Disney product.
Although I knew of the product was released about a year ago, I hadn’t yet tested it in our home. However, after doing some research, I discovered that it’s likely one of easiest and reliable program to setup in your home.
Unlike LUMA and TORCH that replace your current router, CIRCLE With Disney works with your router to aid with the monitoring of your child’s internet usage – while also managing their screen time. How cool is that!
TRUST DISNEY TO MANAGE MY NETWORK? REALLY?
Typically, I would associate anything with the name Disney as expensive, quality entertainment, and long lines in the sweltering sun – but disastrously weak in terms of in-home technology. However, in this case, nothing could be further from the truth.
First, the product looks as if it were designed by Apple. It’s sleek, simple and elegant in appearance. However, it is in no way shaped like a circle. Rather, it’s square with rounded corners. That’s where the confusion ends.
Unlike products such as OpenDNS, you don’t need a degree in Information Technology or Computer Science to setup and operate.
I often say, you wouldn’t let your 13 year-old child go to Times Square by themselves. Yet, Times Square is a great place to take them if they’re with a trusted adult. That’s essentially the role that Circle With Disney plays. Much like Times Square, the Internet can be a great place for your kids if you are the curator. Circle with Disney helps to enable your role as that TRUSTED ADULT.
The product provides a window into all of your connected devices that exist on your network. You in turn decide what is applicable for each child and their device in terms of screen time and internet choices.
In that respect, it’s flexible based on the age or maturity level of each child in your home.
EASE OF USE
What I like most about the product is its ease of use. Management is available via an app in the IOS store and more recently in Google Play as well. It’s quick to setup and pair with your home wi-fi network. Moreover, there is no need for a subscription or additional software downloads. However, I do have some concerns as to how the unit can be updated as kids no-doubt find work-arounds the device. Kids are always looking for ways to hurdle barriers.
If you have more than one child on the network, you’ll need to spend some additional time customizing the settings for each child/device. But again, the process is easy – but can take some time due to the plethora of options provided.
Circle GO The system provides four age categories: Pre-K, Kid; Teen, and Adult. I’m not sure why adult is included – since I doubt you want to manage your own Internet use… or do you?
As you might assume, each age category provides age-appropriate content that users can access. One of my favorite features is the ability to block app access such as Kik and Snapchat. However, understand that when a device is used outside of your home network, Circle With Disney is useless.
For example: If you child turns off wi-fi on their device, they can use their carrier’s 3G or 4G service to access apps and websites.
Or, you know your crazy neighbor Carl who never cuts his grass and parks his car in his front yard? Well among other bad choices made be Carl, he also never secured his wi-fi…and all the kids in the neighborhood know it. So if your child spots Carl’s unsecured wi-fi showing up on their device – there is little Circle With Disney can do to block your child from leveraging crazy Carl’s network.
That is until the aforementioned Circle With Disney just launched Circle Go that will allow you to secure your child’s device on any network. However, at $9.95 per month, it is a rather expensive option.
But I digress…
Circle With Disney provides controls such as allowing your child limited time on social media apps – or streaming apps such as Hulu, Youtube or Netflix.
You can also set more general guidelines for overall screen time – regardless of the app or website.
TECH FREE TIMES
We always recommend that families have tech free zones for their kids. We also suggest tech free times such as during dinner. With Circle, you can actually pause the internet so no one has internet access. Moreover, these time limits can be defined on a device-by-device basis. This affords you the luxury of keeping tabs on your child’s total screen time. What?! Johnny was on Minecraft for 5 hours?
After one week you will be shocked at the time each member of the family uses technology. This revelation should be used as a means of helping your child develop appropriate technology usage habits.
Look, Circle With Disney is an excellent tool for most families. It is not perfect – but then again none of the devices and programs we’ve seen come without some issues.
Understand that kids will often do whatever they can to circumvent controls placed on them by their parents and guardians. From VPN’s, Ghost/Vault Apps, Proxy Servers – kids are experts at doing end-arounds of even the most complex barriers to their wants and desires. As a perceived barrier, Circle With Disney is no different. However, based on our initial review of the product, the developers have done a good job of building a simple to use, affordable, credible tool for the family wi-fi network.
Now if you can just get Crazy Carl to password protect his network, you will have made real progress on the home-front.
Other resources about the Circle With Disney:
About Stephen J Smith