I am always looking for ways to help protect my family from the dangers of media.  From too much screen time to pornography and everything in between.  I want to limit the access to addictions.  So I was very curious when I learned about Circle.  It looked great, but how would it really work?

I decided to buy it to review it.  I bought it with my own money and I don’t have any connection or benefit from the company for doing this review.   I am just passionate about keeping my family safe.  🙂

I have 3 boys – 18, 15 and 10 years old.  I am a pretty strict mom when it comes to media usage.

Set Up –

I was a little worried I would need help setting it up, but it was pretty easy and here are my tips.

I didn’t need my husband’s help.  So that means it was easy.  😉  I just plugged it into the wall, downloaded the app and followed the instructions, which basically required the Wi-Fi password.  And voila – we were up and running.

Set Up Tips

Have your Wi-Fi password handy.  (my husband has created the most secure passwords ever and I need to always look it up when I need it)

While waiting to get your circle you can:

  • Download the Circle App so you are ready to get started when it arrives.
  • Take time to name all your devices, I spent awhile doing that once it got here, because I had about 10 devices named apple and a few other random ones It was confusing to know whose was whose.

http://www.howtogeek.com/howto/windows-vista/change-your-computer-name-in-windows-vista/

http://www.droidviews.com/how-change-phone-name-in-wifi-and-bluetooth-connection-on-samsung-galaxy-devices/

https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT201997

Some wouldn’t show my new names even though I changed them, so here is how to figure out which IP address goes with each device.  With that knowledge I could name them on my Circle App.

IP address http://www.macinstruct.com/node/554

 

Sharing devices – how does that work?

Well, it doesn’t.  We have a computer in the dining area that the boys share.  Each boy has their own account with a time limit set up on it via the parental controls on the computer.  We also have Net Nanny on there.

How awesome it would be if it could know when T3 is logged onto the computer and have that know it is him.   But we can’t so I made a Boys Computer profile.

Also our Wii U is mostly used by T3, but sometimes T1 will play with his friends, so time limits could get messed up that way.  For the moment I have it under T3, because he uses it the most and he is the one I am really trying to limit.

Other than that we all have our own devices.  T3 doesn’t have one, but sometimes I let him use the iPad so I am putting that under his profile, again because I don’t really use it very much and he is the one I want limited with it.

Circle would be ideal if each person has their own device, their own computer, etc.  I am not sure how realistic that is.  In our house we have a lot of shared things.  However, you can make it work if you have a blanket policy you want for devices overall.  For instance, google safe search on all devices, etc.

You can choose to have certain things NOT included in the circle.  Which is good so my husband won’t be affected by the limitations.

Time limits –

Sadly the time limit portion works only for when they are actually using something with Wi-Fi.  For instance, my son has been on the Wii U for an hour.  But it shows that he has only been “active” on the Wii U for 20 minutes.  I guess since the Wii U isn’t always accessing the Wi-Fi it isn’t counting it in his time.

I was thinking that Circle would kick him off after an hour, but NO, I still have to set a timer and then “help” him get off.

So this is disappointing.  I will be interested to see how it is when he is on the iPad.   I guess it will just count the time he is accessing online things, which is rare on the iPad as I usually only allow him to play games that don’t need internet connection.

So the time limits is not very “limiting”… at least for T3, since he doesn’t use much Wi-Fi. 

Bedtime –

Again this only counts for things needing Wi-Fi.  Facebook, Instagram, etc.   This will probably be helpful for me! 😉  (It has been, I actually set it up so that I can’t access Facebook on my phone after 10PM and it has been helpful.  In the past I would sometimes get in bed and just check Facebook “for a minute” and 30 minutes later I would still be on Facebook!  Now if I try to it won’t let me… I could of course switch to data and check, but I choose not to!)

However the bedtime limits wouldn’t help my sons, because they could use their data on their phones if the Wi-Fi turned off.  (The Bedtime portion doesn’t really matter for us, because the boys plug their phones on the chargers in the kitchen every night at bedtime.)

Older kids with internet connected devices

Here is another huge limitation in my mind.  Many kids (my older boys included) have internet access through their cell phone data plan.  My boys tend to use Wi-Fi at home to save their gigabytes, but it would be so easy for them to switch off of Wi-Fi and onto Data if they wanted to keep using their phones.

When they were younger we had data turned off. They couldn’t even get pictures or group texts… (awesome thing you can do with most cell phone plans, but you have to call many providers to get it set up.)  Then they couldn’t go on Instagram or the internet without Wi-Fi.  But as they have gotten older and as we got a plan with $10 data a month, we let them have data.

Since Circle is Wi-Fi specific I don’t think it will really help me with the older boys at all.

Benefits –

I can see if your kids use a lot of Wi-Fi apps and don’t have data available on their devices, then Circle could be a very useful tool.

I do like that you can make certain things blanket – Things like Google Safe Search – this makes it so that on the boy’s computer safe search will be on each person’s account.  That is helpful.  However, with Net Nanny I can do the same thing.  So again, limited benefit for our family at this time.

Another benefit is that you can see who is doing what.  (Net Nanny does something similar on our computer.)  But this way I can see what is going on via hand held devices.

Warnings –

Be aware that Circle will not protect your kids from everything.  I see how circle can be one more layer of protection for my family, however it isn’t enough by itself.  And at $99 a unit I would want it to do more.  Click here to see all the different tools I use to help keep my family safe.

Overall thoughts –

I am not sure the benefit Circle will play yet.  I think if my boys were younger and if they did more Wi-Fi connected things it may be more helpful… but I will know more as we use it over the next few weeks.  I love the idea, but I think it is too limited to really benefit my family with my wide range of boys.

*** After using Circle for a few months, I am glad we have it.  It is fascinating to see how long people have been online, etc.  Also the bedtime portion and time limits is actually helpful to me!  

Also – I set our Roku up as a profile and I have it turn off at 1AM, and then it makes everyone go to bed, because they can’t watch shows!  So I love the bedtime aspect.  

I feel it is definitely more limited then I had hoped. However, I can understand that with using Wi-Fi as it’s measuring stick, things like time limits and bedtimes force it, well, to be limited.  Circle may be useful with younger kids, but with teenagers with data on their devices, I am not sure how useful it will be.  They could easily circumvent the limitations with using their data.

If you have young non-tech-savvy children Circle may be a good addition to your tools in keeping your family safe.   If your family dynamics are different, you may be disappointed in Circle’s limitations.

Want to know what additional tools I use to keep my family safe in the digital world?

Check out Tools for Fighting Against the Dark Side and Keeping Your Family Safe in the Digital World

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