Reimaging home Internet with Circle, a complete device management system.
When you have kids in your household, you worry about their virtual well-being as well as their physical well-being. With cyber bullying being a very real concern in this day and age, parents want to ensure their child is safe and happy, but they also want to trust them to be their own person. Since I am a child of the 80s, this wasn’t as much of a concern because email safety wasn’t even a problem until sometime in the late 90s. But today, children are practically born with a mobile phone in their hand. Sometimes even if you trust your kids, you can’t trust the ‘friends’ they are talking to. Some of them are wolves in sheep’s clothing and they are on the prowl for victims. With that in mind, you need to do what you can to protect your child from harm. One way to do this is to enlist the help of parental controls on Internet usage.
Apple has some parental controls built into macOS and iOS, but all they really do is block content. They don’t manage the content and give you options for advanced monitoring Internet traffic. Some WiFi routers give you parental controls as well, but one device that really stands out when it comes to Internet filtering — Circle with Disney.
Circle is a remarkable device. It’s not just great if you have kids as permanent residents; it’s also a great addition to your network system when you have guests in your home. The device itself is only slightly bigger than a Rubix’s cube. It measures 3.25 x 3.25 x 3.25 inches and it only weighs 1.25 pounds. It’s small enough and light enough to be placed nearly anywhere in your home. Circle connects wirelessly to your WiFi router so you don’t even have to have it physically next to it — it just has to have a strong WiFi signal. Circle Media (the manufacturers of Circle) recommends placement in the same room as your router — within about 5 feet of it. Set-up of the device is extremely easy. The instructions are all included in the app (free to download) and you connect to your network like you would most ‘smart’ devices you might have around your home. You will first connect to Circle as a WiFi hotspot. Then you will be instructed to pair it to your WiFi network. This involves selecting your network and entering a password. Once this is completed you will need to reconnect your to your network and let Circle do the rest.
What makes Circle so unique is that it communicates with every single device that is connected to your network. It does this by communicating through your router rather than connecting directly to each device that’s connected. Circle is a total management system and is very well-developed. Most of the magic happens through the app itself. I was instantly amazed with how well the app connects to the Circle system and how quickly it reacts. For example, as a test of the systems reaction timing, we created profiles for the internet users in the home. Plus, we created a ‘guest’ account for any outside devices that might be in our home for an extended period of time (i.e. slumber parties, etc.). To test how quickly the Internet would shut down if we paused a profile’s access, we selected ‘pause’ on one of the accounts. Within seconds, the devices assigned to that profile were paused. When Circle is denying Internet access for whatever reason, you will see a screen like this.
The user immediately knows why their Internet isn’t working — their access was paused. So, with kids, if they are spending too much time online, or should be doing something else at that moment, they will see this screen and realize they should check in with their parents. When I tested this feature out, it took about 3-5 seconds for the device’s access to be paused and then another 30 seconds or so for this screen to appear. It only appears if you try to access a new site. Instead of the screen refreshing, you receive this message.
I can’t narrow down one favorite feature of the Circle app because it’s all so well thought out. It’s a very intuitive interface. You can view all the devices on your network and then assign them to profiles or just leave them on the Home profile. You also have the option to categorize devices as ‘unmanaged’. This would be for things like smart thermostats or smart lighting. You want their connections to remain constant. When you assign a device to a user you then have management control on how that user interacts with the Internet. For example, my step-daughter has an Apple TV in her room and that is assigned to her profile. Because it has limited access to the Internet, we don’t worry about pausing it’s content too often. If she is working on her school laptop, but we find that she’s not doing schoolwork on it, we can pause her school laptop exclusively from her profile and she still has access to the Apple TV.
The profiles also give you options for time limits, bed time, and OffTime. With the Time Limits feature you can set time restrictions for the entire profile, specific apps or app groups. The Bed Time option will cut off Internet access starting at a specified time. This is particularly useful if your child uses the Internet in their room or if they have a mobile device. They could be tucked away in bed surfing the Internet and stay up into the evening without you knowing about it. Circle helps to manage this by cutting off the access at a specified time. OffTime is a unique option because it basically sets times for breaks. Let’s say your kid is working on a school project and you want to help them be productive by setting break times for them. This will provide a scheduled OffTime for them. They will get a warning on screen that tells them it’s time for a break. This is also a great tool for those kids (or adults) that need to socialize with the family more than their device in-hand.
Circle also has a built-in reward system. If your child has completed all their homework or has behaved well, you can issue them a reward through the app that unrestricts some of their access. You can give them no OffTimes, no time limits, or a later bed time.
When I first installed Circle in our home, I wasn’t sure about the Disney integration. This really comes into play with the MyCircle app. It’s different that the Circle app that manages the user profiles and home Internet access. MyCircle provides profile users on your network with a personalized dashboard where they can access Disney videos, blogs, GIFs, emojis, music, games, and characters. It’s a really nice option for a household with smaller kids because they feel like they have complete access to their own content without any restrictions. We haven’t used this much since we don’t have smaller kids in the house, but I did look at the app. It’s a very clean interface and it’s again, very easy to navigate.
Before my step-daughter came to live with us, I didn’t see the need for managing Internet traffic into our home. Our household makeup consisted of three adults — one of which is in her 80s and only plays Solitaire on her iPad. My step-daughter has limited access to Internet accesible devices in our home, but even so, we want to make sure she is safe from unwelcome contact from bullies that she has had in the past. Circle helps us to watch her online movements and keep her safe and healthy as she learns proper etiquette for Internet behavoris. Circle is a great device that will help you to organize and teach your kids how to use the Internet properly and still make time for personal interactions.
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