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May 10, 2016

Circle with Disney gives parents some control over kids' Internet usage

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Parents, do you limit your children’s Internet screen time? Or do you have the best of intentions but find it difficult to monitor? It can be a full-time job tracking what and when your children are online. But Disney and partner Circle Media think they have the answer for you: Circle with Disney. This device allows parents to limit what kids can access online, when they can go online, and how long they can be online.

At the end of 2015, Disney began promoting the tech device, which retails for $99 and connects to a home’s Wi-Fi router to monitor the activity of each device connected to the router. This includes game consoles, smart TVs, laptops and tablets, as well as cell phones that are using Wi-Fi. (If phones are using cellular data, Circle with Disney cannot as of yet affect that.)

Parents control the device through an iOS app that offers a range of controls based on individual profile settings or preset filters that are designed for certain ages. Ads can be blocked, and search engines will eliminate adult content from appearing as a choice. Devices can be given bedtimes and awake times, too, to limit late-night usage or encourage morning usage to allow parents a little more shuteye. Adults also can pause Wi-Fi access in the house manually if, say, you have company and want kids to pay attention to the visitors instead of the screens.

At first glance, Circle with Disney seems like it could be a useful tool for some parents and some situations. I have not tried the device, so I cannot speak to how easy it is to implement. But knowing that each family situation is different – and changes over time as children mature – I can see how such a device from a trusted brand would be attractive to some families.

My husband and I, however, have chosen not to set electronic filters and limits on any of our family’s electronic devices. Instead, we try to educate and monitor our kids’ activities online ourselves by giving them rules to follow based on mutual trust. This certainly is easier during the school year, when our children are very busy with activities and homework and don’t have a lot of time leftover for Internet surfing. For us, it would be more of an issue in the summer. Even though they are busy with sports and other activities, my 11-year-old daughter and 13-year-old son have more time for YouTube videos and Netflix shows when they don’t have school. Both of these sites can be monitored with Circle with Disney, as well as social media channels such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. However, Snapchat – the fastest growing and most used instant messaging software by kids – is not part of the Circle with Disney system, unfortunately.

In addition to trust issues, parents also should be concerned about any such device saving private data. Circle Media founder Jelani Memory has said in interviews her company and Disney are not collecting and storing families’ online actions for their own benefit, such as marketing. Still, we all know that any Internet usage leaves a digital footprint that has the potential to be traced.

For families seeking help with parental controls online, Disney with Circle may fit your needs if you are an Apple product user. (The app is not yet available on Android devices.) Two nice bonuses: There is no subscription, or monthly, fee for the service, and users have access to Disney content online.



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