I absolutely love the internet. It’s where I read news, find recipes, watch TV shows, and connect with people. But I also know that the internet can replace my real life all too easily.
And not to mention the dangers that are out there–pornography, hate sites, and more.
I talked a few weeks ago about three simple ways to protect your family from the internet, and I think they’re great ideas. But since I wrote that, readers have been sending me OTHER ideas. And I’ve researched one in particular that I’m really impressed with, and I want to share it with you today.
It’s Circle by Disney. When I first heard that, I thought, “Oh, great, what’s Disney trying to sell us now?”, thinking it would all be about merchandising or something. But this is seriously cool.
It works WITH your wifi router (that little device that gives you your wifi signal in your house) so that you can manage every device that connects, individually. You can filter what content those devices can see; set limits for wifi use or for individual apps or sites; set “bedtimes”; discover where your kids (and you!) spend their time online; and pause the internet. Seriously, this is great even for adults with no kids!
Let’s look at each individually:
Filter the Internet
When you set up Circle using your phone (either Android or iPhone) or other device that uses an app, you’ll be able to identify each device that’s connecting to your wifi. You don’t have to do this with their devices in your hand. You can then set them using individual filter levels (Pre-K, Kid, Teen, and Adult). Adults can see everything; others can’t. So if you’re worried about yourself, or if you’re worried about your husband, you can set your filter at Teen and then porn or other extreme violence won’t be available.
It’s completely controlled by the device that set it up, and you can’t get around it without that device. Here’s what some parents said:
My son tended to look up “nekkid womas mud wrestling” (silly google would always figure out what he was looking for) and it has stopped that. You can, customize it as well, so if a site gets through, you can put it on the blocked list. I do have my son’s account locked down pretty tight.
Another parent said:
The only way around it is for the kids to unplug Circle–but then you’ll get an alert on your phone!
From the reviews I’ve read, it’s pretty good at making sure inappropriate images don’t pop up, too. And if it blocks a site you think shouldn’t have been blocked, or if it DOESN’T block something that should have, you can manage sites manually.
Set Time Limits for Devices
You can set time limits for each device in your home, including your kids’ computers, tablets, or phones, but also including TVs, Xboxes or Playstations, Wiis, or anything else that connects using wifi. Even if the device is hard wired with an ethernet cable, Circle can still control it.
This is seriously important, especially with the incredible problem of video game addiction. If kids could only play video games for an hour or two a day, then they would learn to fill their hours with other things. And with so many kids home for hours after school without a parent present, you can’t necessarily be sure that they’re abiding by your rules.
Video game addiction is harming kids, especially boys. It’s stopping them from getting jobs. It’s stopping them from getting relationships. The number of women who leave comments on this blog in desperation because their husbands play video games until 4 in the morning and then sleep until noon is mindboggling.
Help your kids not grow up like that! Teach them to limit their time.
And it helps marriage, too. When couples talk about, “how much time do I want to spend on video games a day?”, they’ll usually come up with a low figure, like an hour or two. But when you look at how much time is actually spent, it’s often double or triple that. People don’t want to be on as much as they are, but once you start, it’s hard to stop. This helps you to stop and restores that relationship!
Set Time Limits for Sites/Apps
This is one that I find personally intriguing. You can set time limits for each app for each person. So instead of setting time limits for the wifi in general, you could just say “only 2 hours of Netflix” or “only 30 minutes of Facebook”. You can also set limits by category (like social media).
I find this seriously attractive because often we don’t realize how much time we’ve wasted on social media. And when you look at how damaging social media can be to pre-teens especially, it’s good to give them an “out” so that they aren’t glued to it constantly.
The ability to set time limits for apps also helps in another way. Sometimes kids need the wifi for homework. If you were to set a blanket time of “3 hours of internet a day”, for instance, then what happens if they’ve used up that 3 hours completing a big project? This way you can differentiate between work and play.
Set Bedtimes/Pause Wifi
Teens need an incredible amount of sleep, and yet very few are getting it. And sleep helps reduce the symptoms of ADD. Sleep is key to growth, to mental health, and to academic success.
With the advent of the internet, though, young people’s sleep patterns are being really disrupted. Now you can turn off the wifi for each device at a different time. And you can set different bedtimes for weeknights and weekdays (though I don’t recommend that, because for health, you should be going to bed at the same time each night!)
And Circle can pause wifi at certain times, too, or for certain devices.
Block Individual Apps
Did you catch your child sending inappropriate Snapchats? Did Facebook become a haven for bullying in your family? You can block certain apps altogether, or for a limited time.
What About When Kids Leave the House?
If it only blocks the wifi, then what if they connect another way? Or what if you turn the wifi off and they just connect with their phone data?
When you buy Circle, it’s a one time cost ($99) that works on your wifi. But if you want it to control each device even using data (or other wifi signals), then you can pay an extra $10 a month for the Circle To Go plan.
Should We Really Be Controlling Teenagers This Much?
In my post on the “pyramid idea of discipline“, I explained that parenting should be like a pyramid. Ideally you have a lot of control when the kids are young, but you slowly give increasing amounts of freedom as the kids grow, so that by the time they’re almost out of the house they have basically no more rules. It’s better to give them 100% freedom when they’re still with you, because as soon as they move out they’ll have complete freedom anyway. (If you don’t end up setting firm boundaries when they’re young, you’ll have to do it when they’re older, and it will completely backfire on you!)
I think setting firm limits using Circle up to age 14 is a great idea, and then giving increasing freedom until about age 17, at which point you give complete freedom.
But I would give that freedom like this: I would ask kids to ask themselves, How much time do YOU want to spend on Facebook every day? My daughter, for instance, works from home, and she limits her time on social media using an app or else she’d get no work done! You can ask them the same thing with filtering: “Porn is such a temptation to people, and I’d strongly suggest that you keep the filtering in place. In fact, we’ll help you continue with filtering when you move out if you’d like, but not so that you’re accountable to us. Just so that it’s a help to you.”
It should be their choice, but you can steer them into using the help that’s available.
Personally, I think even adults can benefit from Circle. We can make sure we don’t spend our entire lives online and miss out on things like playing board games together or just talking or exercising. When I was homeschooling, I frequently found that I’d sit down to take a break and I’d end up being on social media for two hours! This would help me stay accountable myself.
How is This Different from Covenant Eyes?
I’ve talked a lot about Covenant Eyes, and I think that’s really worthwhile, too. They both have their strengths. Covenant Eyes does accountability, so that someone can get an email if a person tries to access a bad site. Covenant Eyes isn’t linked to your wifi, so it will work even if you’re out of the house.
But Covenant Eyes doesn’t do the time limits on the devices or apps, which I find really useful. It’s geared more for filtering porn. So it just depends what you need as a family.
I haven’t been this impressed with a product in a long time.
I can see how this would make such a difference in families–helping them get off of their devices and spend some serious family time again! And helping teens avoid some of the pitfalls from social media or getting sucked into the dark internet.
And it helps us adults, too, by helping us to stay accountable to what we actually want. My husband and I have said, “No more than an hour of Netflix a day for us”, and yet we frequently exceed that. If Circle turned off Netflix, I think we’d go out for more walks!
I am an Amazon affiliate, and my affiliate link is in this post. But everything I’ve said is entirely my idea. I’m really impressed with this, and I hope that it helps families get some time back and stop video games and social media from stealing our lives.
(Note: for some reason it doesn’t seem to sell in Canada yet, though it would work just the same here. I’m sure it’s coming soon. I’m picking mine up when I’m in the U.S., but I’m sorry to all my fellow Canadians! I hate it when companies do this. Camera companies do, too–they’ll release something but not in Canada. Sigh. If you have American friends, just get it shipped to them and then have them send it to you!)
What do you think? Have you tried Circle or something like it? Do you think that you, as an adult, could benefit from some accountability too? Let’s talk in the comments!