Screen time is always a struggle in our house. Tablets and computers are like electronic crack for my two little ones. Yes, there are filters and timers on some devices, but not all. If Tiny runs out of time on her Kindle Fire, she can switch to her laptop and is back at square one. The depth of the problem became crystal clear when I found her playing Minecraft well after midnight one evening – on a school night! Something had to be done, and done now. I had to figure out some way to regulate her screen time without taking all devices and throwing them in the trash. Enter Circle with Disney stage right.
Circle is a small device that I picked up at my local electronics store for $99.00. It hooks into your wifi and allows you to control any device that connects to your network using a simple app on your phone. Not only does it allow you to filter content, you can create profiles for each member of your network and assign specific devices to each member. Tiny has an age appropriate filter on her devices. Teeny has a pre school filter on the one device that he uses for ABC Mouse. The app allows you to create a profile for each child and customize it to their needs. Since we seemed to have a problem with too much Minecraft and Robolx, Tiny now has a daily limit on how much time she is able to play each of those games. She also has an overall daily time limit, and a bed time. I have her profile set to 1 hour of screen time per day with a bedtime of 7:00 PM. Once she reaches 1 hour of screen time – across ALL devices assigned to her profile, the app notifies me. The one thing I don’t love about Circle is that it does not automatically shut the computer down when the daily time limit has been reached. It doesn’t replace being vigilant about what your child is doing and where, but it will assist. You may still have to ensure that the device is powered down so that the time limit kicks in – nothing replaces old school parenting.
Another feature that I have found useful is the bedtime setting. I love love love the bedtime setting. At 7:00 PM (8:00 PM on weekends), on the dot, all of the devices assigned to Tiny’s profile shut down. They remain off until 8:00 AM the next morning. No more sneaking screen time after you think Mommy is asleep. Just so you know, dishonesty and sneaking anything – especially when you KNOW you are not supposed to – is what turns Mommy into Momleficent. Nobody wants that.
The Circle app allows you to control specific websites as well. You can grant access to or deny access to a variety of web sites depending on the age and maturity level of your child. Tiny, currently 9, does not get to search, use YouTube, or play any game where she is interacting with other people. Call me old fashioned, but I will do everything I can to protect her while I am teaching her to use technology responsibly. She is a great kid with a great head on her shoulders, but at the end of the day, she is only 9. There are just too many risks out there. I wouldn’t invite strangers into my living room and allow them to play Go Fish unsupervised with my child, why would I allow a virtual version of that to happen?
Another feature of the app that I love is the disconnected notification. So far she hasn’t, but if she disconnects the Circle and attempts to bypass it, the app notifies me immediately that Circle has been disconnected – wherever I am in the world. If the wifi has a brown out or the power goes it, Circle thinks it has been disconnected, so be sure to ask questions before doling out punishments. 🙂 If the child is working on homework, you can easily extend the bedtime or time limit for a one time session. You can also send “rewards” in the app. If your child earns a treat of additional internet or tablet time, you can grant access of an extended time limit in 15 minute increments. Tiny will work her little self to the bone to get an extra 15 minutes of Roblox time.
In the app you can monitor where your child is spending their time, in real time, as well as how long they are spending on a specific site. I have found this helpful as Tiny starts to get interested in new games or websites and can work with her to evaluate the content on each site. I like to do this with her so that she sees what I view as acceptable and what is not. This has helped with some of her requests because she knows it is going to be a hard no.
Another feature of the Circle app that I love is the pause feature. If you want to pause all devices on a specific profile, you can simply push the pause button. Any device associated with that profile will then pause until the app owner unpauses access. Tiny is currently on device restriction for a particularly surly attitude she presented one morning. Had you heard the caterwauling associated with taking away her computer, you would have thought we were beating her. If you were anywhere south of Kentucky and west of the Mississippi River, you just may have heard it. No, it was not a tornado siren, it was just Tiny. The pause feature overrides time limits and bed times to completely stop all access until manually unpaused. Any device that you want to remain unfitted needs to be “unassigned”or “unfiltered” so that the pausing and bed time limits do not impact it.
There are no additional fees associated with the Circle device. You pay a one time purchase fee and no additional upkeep is needed. All in all, I would give the device 4 out of 5 stars. It has been SO helpful in keeping me aware of what Tiny is doing online and has been a great teaching tool as Tiny and I discuss what she has access to and what she does not. The device was amazingly simple to set up and connect to the app. The app is password protected and intuitive. It couldn’t be easier to use and was worth every penny! Pick up yours here!
I am not an affiliate of Circle and was not paid for this review. Any links to Circle via Amazon may net us a small commission at no additional charge to you.