The older my son gets, the more time he wants to spend on video games and YouTube. But the Internet can be a scary place and I want him to be able to entertain himself without always needing a screen.
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We've tried to set limits. Of course, we don't always have the best luck enforcing them. Thankfully, there are gadgets that can do that for you.
KoalaSafe is a Wi-Fi access point that allows you to monitor, control, and set limits on web-enabled devices used at home. In other words, it's a gadget that helps you limit time with gadgets. Isn't it funny how that works?
Of course, you're going to leave the house at some point—and a lot of times, those gadgets are in tow. Devices can be great on a long road trip, but some kids assume tablet position every time you back the car out of the driveway. In fact, I was starting to wonder if my son could recognize the streets within a 5-mile radius of our house. When you are out and about, you can cut screen time using KoalaSafe in conjunction with the curbi app.
Up close with KoalaSafe
Measuring about 2-by-2-by-1 inches, KoalaSafe is a tiny access point that connects to any available port on your home's Wi-Fi router. Once it's plugged in, download the free KoalaSafe app and create an account with your email address and a password. Then, follow the on-screen directions to pair the access point with your account.
Once everything is connected to your Wi-Fi network, you will need to create profiles for everyone you want to monitor. Each profile should include devices you want to keep tabs on, as well as sites that should be blocked at all times and screen-time schedules. Those schedules will allow you to automatically lock out the iPad, 3DS, or other devices during homework times, sleep times, or any other times of day. You can even customize those times for every day of the week.
A few KoalaSafe quirks
The KoalaSafe acts as a middleman, which sits between your child's device and access to the web. For the whole thing to work, those devices need to be connected to the KoalaSafe at all times. Of course, if your child disconnects from the KoalaSafe and taps into the home's Wi-Fi, the entire system is useless. To combat those crafty kids, make sure you have a private password on the home's Wi-Fi network—which you really should have anyway.
Also, I found having that middleman made devices connected to the KoalaSafe perform slower than normal. It wasn't painfully slow, but it was noticeable. I guess that's the price you need to pay for controlling your child's web use.
It's also worth noting that you need to connect each device individually to the KoalaSafe to enable safety features. If the iPad is connected and the desktop computer is not, the desktop will always be able to access the web. The same goes for separate iPhones, gaming devices, and anything else with web access.
Setting up all of those profiles, sites, and schedules can be a bit daunting, but should be a one-time process, unless you find yourself changing permissions a lot. Still, the app could use a bit of streamlining.
It seems like there could be less steps for site blocking and the graphical scheduling option is confusing and a little unnecessary. Thankfully, there's a way to do manual scheduling, with scrolling and a few clicks.
Throwing in a curve with Curbi
Another thing to know about KoalaSafe is that it only works inside your home, where you have access to Wi-Fi. For those times outside of the house, there's Curbi. This app company recently partnered with KoalaSafe, so you can monitor device usage both in and outside of the home.
The Curbi app is free for iOS and Android devices. Because that is a necessary component, it doesn't work on the Nintendo DS, laptops, or other portables. So basically, if you're looking to lock a PlayStation Vita outside of the home, you're out of luck.
Also know that to work, you need to install two apps on your main device, Curbi Parental Controls and Curbi Kids. The latter also gets installed on any device you want to monitor.
Once the app is installed on your child's device, launch it and follow the simple setup process. Then, you can input on-going restrictions for in-app purchases, camera use, adult-themed sites, social media, and much more.
Like the KoalaSafe, Curbi also allows for scheduling, so you can block certain sites and apps, as well as everything at specific times of day. When I set up the app on my iPad, it immediately wiped out the selected apps during my scheduled period. There was no way to access any of it!
It should be noted that you do need the KoalaSafe access point to use the Curbi app. Also, the app provides free basic service for up to two devices. If you want to monitor additional devices or have extra perks, expect to pay between $2.99 (iOS) and $3.99 (Android) per month.
Ready to cuddle up to KoalaSafe?
For many, the KoalaSafe's $99 will be well worth it. Even with a few minor quirks, it performs as advertised. It would be nice if it performed outside of the home, but the Curbi app is free—but also limited. I'm hoping Curbi eventually adds access for gaming handhelds, Kindle tablets, and more.