It may start slowly ⏤ an episode of Daniel Tiger before dinner, a few rounds of Peekaboo Barn on an airplane ⏤ but, eventually, your children will use electronic devices. It’s inevitable. And when they do, they need protection: First, from unsavory websites; second, from themselves. Self-control is a bitch, and nobody wants to raise a kid who throws a fit every time the iPad is taken away. Obviously, active parenting is the first line of defense. But you can’t stand over a kid’s shoulder or camp out in their bedroom 24-7. No, the internet is vast and devices are easy to procure when Dad’s busy watching the game. Luckily, there’s a collection of routers and apps that act as a digital parental control, overseeing kids’ screen time and, when needed, locking down the world wide web. They’re all about the tough love.
There are essentially two ways for parents to digitally child-proof their home: installing an app or piece of software on every device and manually setting the restrictions, or configuring a Wi-Fi router/gadget that creates a forcefield around your house and protects your kids regardless of whether they’re on the computer, playing Minecraft, or watching TV. Some are one-time purchases (either for the download or the hardware), and others charge monthly subscription fees. All provide you with the ability to block naughty sites while filtering others, set time limits on device usage, track online activity, pause or turn the internet off and set custom bedtimes.
The whole “parental control” field of devices is pretty full. So we evaluated what’s out there and arrived at these six gadgets. Each is easy to install and keeps kids’ digital time in check.
Circle With Disney
A standalone three-inch cube that pairs wirelessly with a Wi-Fi router, Circle covers every networked device ⏤ no need to install any software. Using the app, simply create individual profiles for each family member and choose their age-appropriate filter (Pre-K, Kid, Teen, Adult). Set bed times, ‘pause’ or turn off the internet (for kids), and even establish parental control limits on specific websites. Kids can earn more screen time by taking out the trash and/or completing other rewards, and can’t unplug Circle or turn it off thanks to an internal rechargeable battery. Circle’s a one-time hit in terms of cost and, unless you upgrade to the cellular coverage, there are no subscription fees.
Torch is essentially a handsome wood veneer Wi-Fi router that offers “Dynamic Internet Filtering.” That means, blessedly, it doesn’t require software or apps on every device in the house or a secondary device. It provides all the standard kid-monitoring features as the others ⏤ internet ‘pause’, activity tracking, site blocking, and custom bedtimes ⏤ plus is equipped to ensure swift internet speeds and 4,000sqft of coverage. The big catch: While the parental control router is free, it costs $25 a month subscription fee.
A relative newcomer to the party, UnGlue is less about parents locking down devices than it is about teaching kids to manage their screen time responsibly. Kids get an allocated amount of online “Entertainment Time” daily that they can spend/track it as they see fit. They can also bank time to use later (similar to a rollover data plan) or earn more minutes by doing chores around the house. While unGlue also, of course, blocks adult content, ‘pauses’ the internet, and provides activity reports, the main gist is giving kids control. It’s currently free, works across all devices, and runs either off a connected desktop computer or through a $30 dongle that connects to your router.
While Screen is primarily an app-based blocker ⏤ it needs to be downloaded and installed on kids’ devices ⏤ it does come with a small box that connects to TV, gaming consoles, and streaming devices via the HDMI port. That ensures every device in the home can be locked down and/or monitored. Once installed, Screen lets parents set time limits/bed times, track device usage, and even shut down the Playstation from the office if they’re working late. Family members are also required to sign an honor pledge at the outset promising to disconnect from devices and do more arts and crafts together, or something like that. Screen is a one-time purchase and there are no subscription fees.
Like Torch, Clean Router is a standalone Wi-Fi parental control router that plugs directly into your modem ⏤ so once configured, it covers all devices, all the time (including game consoles if you attach them). Where it differs is in its proprietary seven-layer “IntelliFilter intelligent filtering system,” which not only sounds both delicious with chips but also allows you to filter sites (using their app) in up to nine categories. Examples include: “gambling,” “guns, violence, and weapons,” and “porn,” of course. Also, “art nudes” and “naturism” (or sites that contain “nude pictures and/or promote a nude lifestyle”) are also in the mix, so consider your kids safe from the nudity. It also blocks sites by keyword and filters YouTube. The basic router is free, but it costs either $13 or $20 per month depending on the chosen plan.
Like Circle, KoalaSafe is a small device that plugs into your current Wi-Fi router (in this case, with a provided ethernet cable). Where it’s different, however, is that it creates an entirely new kid-friendly wireless network in the house. So adults stay on “PatriotsAreChampions17” while all kid devices move over to “DTsNeighborhoodRocks.” Naturally, there’s a companion app where you create individual profiles, set all the usual controls (time limits, usage reports, etc.) and block sites ⏤ either individually or by general categories like gaming, file sharing, or shopping. KoalaSafe is a one-time purchase and there are no monthly fees.
The Ryfi is all about getting those chores done, and it teaches kids the value of hard work and delayed gratification. It has a built-in reward system, which you control, that lets your kid check off when a job has been finished. As a result, he or she earns coins to purchase more internet time or items sold on the Ryfi store. All you do is plug Ryfi into your router and a power source and change the settings on your smartphone or tablet.