Kids have been loving Disney for years, but that sentiment may change once they get a load of the House of Mouse's latest project. It's strictly for parents!
Circle with Disney is a small box that connects to your Wi-Fi network, so you can manage and limit screen time for everyone in the house. It does that through a companion app for iOS and Android devices, which allows parents to schedule and set time limits on certain devices and websites, as well as cut off Internet access all together.
Getting into the Circle
Setting up the device is insanely easy. Just download the app, plug the Circle into an outlet (preferably close to your W-Fi router), and follow the on-screen instructions. There are two nice perks about the setup process that should be noted. First, Circle does have an internal battery, so if one of the kids tries to unplug it, it will keep going—for up to 8 hours. Also, if you prefer to hard-wire everything, there is an option to connect the device directly to a router (and Circle has even included the cable to do that). However, Wi-Fi makes placement options a lot more flexible.
Once the device is plugged in, create a Circle account with your name and email address. From there, you'll be asked to set up profiles for everyone you want on the Circle network. Besides a name and optional photo, you can choose a "filter level," such as Pre-K, Kid, Teen, Adult, or None. Each level has a set of different apps that you can block or leave open for use. You can also set daily time limits for specific categories or the total time spent online.
After you set up a profile, you can start adding any device that's on your home network. For instance, the listing included all of my son's web-enabled devices, as well as things like the DVR, our Nest thermostat, and smart lighting products.
Inside the Circle App
The coolest thing about the Circle is that it allows you to set schedules to web use. When my son was younger, we used to frequently catch him playing online after bedtime. Not with the Circle. The app allows you to set bedtime hours, so the web is not available to connected devices during that time. You can even mix those up every night, so weekends can be a bit more lax.
However, it does have a few other nifty perks beyond setting schedules. First all of, the Circle app allows you to keep tabs on the sites and programs your child is using across all devices. That way, if your kid says they have to look up something for homework, you can actually check on that, as well as daily usage.
It also allows you to set time limits across those devices. So even if you set homework and bedtime hours, you can cut off connected devices and/or apps after they've reached a certain number of minutes or hours. This is awesome. After all, just because your child has access to the web during waking hours doesn't mean he or she actually needs to be online during all of those hours.
The app also has a section called Connections. This will add options to flag inappropriate content on social media, send extra screen time for certain activities, integrate the system with Amazon Alexa, and more. Right now, the only Connections feature that's active is Chores, which rewards extra screen time for completed tasks. The rest of the Connections are listed as coming soon.
What Parents Need to Know
The one quirk about Circle is that it only works inside the house—and when devices are connected to your Wi-Fi network. In other words, if your tech-savvy child has a device that can access a cellular network, all they have to do is turn off the Wi-Fi to bypass the Circle system. Also, if you have neighbors or nearby shops with an open Wi-Fi network, your child should be able connect to one of those and be out of the Circle loop completely.
It also means that when you leave the house, connected devices will no longer be managed by Circle. The only way to fix that is to subscribe to Circle Go for $9.95 per month. This extends Circle capabilities outside of the home, so you can manage devices and track websites anywhere, whether your child is connected to 4G LTE or another Wi-Fi network.
I've tried a few of these parental security devices now, and Circle is absolutely my favorite. It has a clean, intuitive interface, making it easy to manage web use. Even better, it actually works. Of course, no device is going to replace actual parenting, but it's definitely nice to have a second set of eyes sometimes.