When it comes to technology, we all need a better balance. And managing the screen time of your kids is especially important. We have covered different parental controls for services like Netflix, managing kids screen time on Windows 10, and even managing restrictions on your Wi-Fi router. But setting up each device and service’s parental control features is tedious and time-consuming. That’s where the Circle Home with Disney comes in to make things easier. It’s a network appliance that puts parental controls in the palm of your hand. Essentially, the Circle allows you to easily manage every device connected to your home network.
Circle Home with Disney
The Circle device is a small white cube that you plug into a power outlet via a micro USB charging cable. The device also has an Ethernet port that shouldn’t need unless you are directed by customer support to fix an issue. Once the light on top of the Circle is blinking, it’s ready to be paired up with your network. Note that only works with the 2.4GHz connection. But after it’s set up, it can manage devices connected to 5GHz and devices that are hardwired.
After you have it powered on you can download the Circle app which is available on iOS or Android. The setup experience is a bit wonky as you need to connect to the Circle device for a couple of steps then your regular Wi-Fi. So, you’re switching back and forth between the app and your phone’s settings. And if you’re using a VPN or alternate DNS service, you need to disconnect first. It’s not a huge deal, and the app walks you through every step – including creating an account. But the initial setup experience could be more seamless.
Once you have it connected, it will discover all devices on your network. Note that if you have a lot of devices and a so-called Smart Home with a lot of IoT devices, it can be confusing figuring out what each one is. However, the devices you are most likely to care about the most, i.e., Roku, Apple TV, Xbox, PS4, those should be plainly labeled. If you’re not sure what a device is, you can tap on it to get more information including the manufacturer and MAC address which should help identify it. You can also rename any of the devices to make managing things easier.
Creating family member profiles and pairing devices is straight-forward using the Circle Home app. It has filter levels that range from Pre-K to Adult. Each level will include different platforms and categories. The Pre-K will consist of PBS and Disney but won’t have HBO, for example. There are over 30 content categories you can go through and block or allow. The Kid filter will block social media, explicit and mature content, gambling and dating sites. As you go up in age, more categories and platforms are available.
Circle Home doesn’t let you set up specific hour-by-hour use, but you can set time limits for overall use for platforms and categories. For example, You can set up only one hour of Netflix viewing during the week and let them binge on the weekend. You can also set the “BedTime” for when the devices are to put away and not used. Of course, the Circle Home can’t take their devices away, but it can disable their internet connectivity. So, they can’t have their phone under the covers playing Fortnite against their friends.
If they try to access a site or platform or inappropriate content you have blocked, they’ll get a message that it’s been filtered plus a countdown to BedTime.
If they scroll down the page, it is filled with Disney-related content. It includes characters from different shows as well as videos, puzzles, games, quizzes, and links to other age-appropriate Disney pages.
One of the coolest features you’re going to love as a parent is the ability to pause a device on the fly. Just select the device from the app and pause it to put it offline or back online. In fact, you can pause the entire connection for all devices from the home screen of the app if you want. Or, if you feel like the kids deserve a reward you can set that, too. The Rewards section includes no time limits for the day, late bedtimes, or no off times.
Another helpful thing it does is keep track of all the sites accessed (or filtered), and the time it was viewed in the History section. You can also monitor usage which shows the amount of time spent on each category or service. Maybe your kid is spending too much time on the Cartoon Network and not doing their homework.
Something else worth pointing out is if you try to access a site after it’s been blocked (after Bed Time) you might get the alarming “This site is not secure” type of message. This is because Circle uses what’s called Address Resolution Protocol (ARP) which is often used in spoofing attacks. But don’t freak out. The Circle isn’t attacking you, and the content filtering and other activities happen locally on the device. Nothing is sent to the cloud.
It would be nice if the initial setup process were easier. Especially if you have 10 or more connected devices, similar to the Fing app, it finds them all and identifying some of the devices can be a chore. It could also use site-specific blocking and an option to generate more detailed reports on internet use.
Overall this is a useful device for parents who want whole network control over the content kids can access and the amount of time spent online. There is a steady stream of new Wi-Fi connected devices coming into our homes these days. The Circle Home with Disney provides a simple way to manage them. It’s effective for devices on your home network. And is a great supplement when used in conjunction with the parental control tools on specific devices.
Remember, though, a smart and crafty kid will always find a way around these types of filters. If you block the internet for the house, they can switch over to their data connection if they have one. Maybe they could disconnect it while you’re asleep. They could steal the Wi-Fi bandwidth from your neighbors. Still, this can be a helpful tool in this fast and constantly evolving tech age.