It will start slowly, maybe with a few rounds of Beat the Clock on a plane ride or an episode of Peppa Pig on a Saturday morning. But eventually your children will spend time in front of screens. It’s inevitable. What you as a parent can do is make sure they’re protected, both from unsavory digital content and spending too much time online. Self-control is a bitch, and nobody wants to raise a kid who throws a fit every time their tablet is taken away. Obviously, active parenting is the first line of defense, but you can’t keep an eye on them at all times. Parental control devices like the Disney Circle Home Plus act as digital safeguards that oversee what kind and how much screen time kids get and, when you decide, lock down their access to the worldwide web.
You can get a router with built-in parental control features nowadays, but if you already have one you like and/or one that pulls double duty as a modem you might be loathe to remake your entire network. Thankfully, there are these add-on devices that put a layer of safety on top of your network. And if you do want to change your internet provider you don’t have to change your parental control software and hardware, which is nice.
Some are one-time purchases, and others charge monthly subscription fees. All provide you with the ability to block naughty sites while letting the good ones through, set time limits on device usage, track online activity, pause the internet, and set custom schedules so there’s no device use when they should be doing homework or sleeping.
In short, they give your kids access to what they should see on the internet when they should see, and they give you that most valuable of parental assets: peace of mind.
This simple box from Circle Media Labs plugs right into your home router while the app gives you control over your kids' mobile devices even when they're out and about. It comes with one year of the premium Circle service for free.
Pros: The app is well-designed. It looks great, and it’s easy to use. It’s also powerful, with the ability to block specific platforms and track and limit the time spent in specific apps.
Cons: After a year, you’ll have to pay $10 per month for premium features like rewarding extra time for good behavior and location tracking.
The Fingbox is the hardware companion to Fing, a popular wireless network monitoring tool. It plugs into routers via ethernet, and does a great job monitoring what's happening on your network in terms of devices connecting and disconnecting and how much bandwidth is being used by each one.
Pros: The Fingbox has plenty of useful diagnostic tools. It has a sweet spot finder that can help you find the best places to connect to an otherwise unreliable wifi network. It sends you a push alert when someone joins or leaves the work and lets you turn off internet access by device remotely. It also keeps a log of what’s happened on your network so you can see how often your kids are online. And there’s no monthly subscription to worry about or pay for. It’s definitely the best tool if you’re an advanced user and you want to get into the nuts and bolts of the wireless network.
Cons: If your only concerns are with the amount of internet usage, the Fingbox is great. If you’re worried about content restrictions, it’s not. There’s no content-based filtering feature to speak of and the Fingbox doesn’t record which sites your kids attempt to visit as similar devices do. The standard schedule and on-off features are all there, but it would be nice if the Fingbox gave you more control than a simple switch.
Like the Circle, the KoalaSafe is a small device that connects to your router, though it uses an ethernet cable instead of a wifi connection. But instead of limiting what happens on your home network it creates an additional one; it's essentially a mini-router that gives kids their own network. But don't worry: You can still create profiles, set schedules, block sites, and track your kids' usage.
Pros: KoalaSafe comes with a companion app that makes it easy and intuitive to set and adjust your kids’ internet settings. There are preset filters built around categories — shopping, gaming, file sharing — that you may want to limit your kids’ time with. There’s no monthly fee, and we think the grid-based scheduler is one of the more intuitive ways to see and alter your kid’s internet time at a glance.
Cons: There’s no way to control your kids’ cellular devices, so if they’re old enough to have their own phones you’ll want to look elsewhere. You’ll also need to make sure that your kids don’t get their hands on the main wifi network’s password. If that happens, they can simply go around the Koala and get the unfiltered internet experience you’re trying to prevent.
The Gryphon works via its own security app, which lets parents filter content, view browsing histories, set bedtime and homework times, limit screen time, and basically, pause Internet access at any time. Boom.
Pros: So you know how you threaten to shut down your WiFi if your kid doesn’t clean his room or do his homework? But never follow through? Now you can. Just download the Gryphon app to immediately pause Internet access. You can also set up multiple users, so there’s a safe Internet for kids, and a regular one for adults. And you can give approval to website or bedtime extension requests from anywhere, in real time, via the app.
Cons: The only con is that it’s on the pricier side, but its features are more than worth the price tag.
The uncreatively named Router Limits is another white box that plugs into your router with an ethernet cable and limits what your kids can do with it. Once it's plugged in, it automatically discovers all of the devices on your network.
Pros: Device-by-device browsing history includes every site your kids visit and every site they try to visit and are blocked from. There’s also a long list of filters that are both category-based — games, social media, porn — and pegged to specific websites and apps — Snapchat, Netflix, Facebook. Router Limits can also filter search results in Google, Bing, and YouTube to ensure your kids don’t stumble across something questionable in a search. There’s also a mobile companion app that you can install on devices to duplicate the protection that’s in place on the home network on mobile connections or other wifi networks.
Cons: If you share your wifi information with guests, you’ll have to tell them you can monitor their traffic (well, you really should), which is kind of awkward. The mobile companion app is nice to have, but starts at $10 per month.
Cujo is an all-in-one internet safety device that includes a robust set of features that parents will find particularly useful. It's essentially a standalone firewall device that uses artificial intelligence to lock down your wireless network. It's also oddly cute-looking with light-up eyes on the side of the otherwise austere white unit.
Pros: Cujo has typical parental control features — website and platform filtering, schedules, and time limits — but its artificial intelligence does so much more. It monitors your traffic and can detect if your kids are being cyberbullied or even if they’re approached by a predator. You’ll get an email alert the minute something like that happens so you can take care of the situation ASAP.
Cons: The Cujo doesn’t work with every router, including popular options like Google Wifi Mesh. Because it monitors all of the traffic going in and out of your network, it can’t handle more advanced wifi setups. So if you have some kind of super custom network this may not be the device for you.
An easy to set up and operate solution for parental controls and so much more.
Pros: Setting up this compact red device is simple. Plug it into your router and use the companion app to scan the QR code on the device and you’re off. Once it’s up and running it’s much more than just parental controls: cybersecurity, a VPN, ad-blocking, and device management are also included.
Cons: It’s not compatible with every router, so make sure yours is one that Firewalla supports.
This device lets you control screen time by app, user, and device. It offers similarly granular content settings, with 79 different categories you can tweak to your own preferences.
Pros: There’s no subscription fee, so the cost of the device is your only expense. Its settings are stored in the cloud, so you can manage and change them from anywhere using the companion app. It also offers detailed graphs and charts that will give you insights into your kids’ internet usage.
Cons: Some reviewers have complained that this device slows down their internet connection across devices.
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