Review of Circle, by Disney

I have teenagers now.  Somehow that fact surprises me every now and then.

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Facebook is amazing at reminding me that just ‘yesterday’ I had three little boys, only one of those in elementary school, and internet access was not something I worried about them having.  It was just an automatic, obvious, “no.”
Now that they’re becoming more independent and one of them is about to start his second year in high school, I have to admit that internet access is a fairly necessary part of their lives.  But that doesn’t mean I have to or should release access to the entire world-wide-web with no restrictions or guidelines.
When the bigs were littles I got some advice that has stuck with me all along.  Not advice, as much as a way of thining about how and when to allow certain freedoms and privileges into their lives:  Handing the boys unrestricted access to the internet before they are mature enough to handle it is like handing the car keys to our 10-year-old and sending him to the grocery store alone.  In many ways, a 10-year-old is not ready for the responsibility of driving a car.  For one, his legs aren’t quite long enough to reach the pedals and he’s not tall enough to see over the steering wheel adequately.  Added to that, he hasn’t been trained to handle the four-thousand pound vehicle safely.  His brain isn’t ready to predict the actions of other drivers nor is it able to react to mistakes those other drivers might make.  In no way would it be wise for me to hand the keys of my car to my 10 year old and let him go.
I’m currently teaching Driver’s Ed to our 15-year-old and some of the slides we see make me worry that even he isn’t ready to be behind the wheel.  Of course, part of that is because he’s our first to reach this milestone and new adventures are always a bit more nerve-wracking with the first, but also because he’s my baby and he was 5-years-old yesterday… how in the world can he possibly be at this stage in life?!?
I sit beside Hayden during each and every Driver’s Ed lesson and talk about mistakes I’ve made behind the wheel, times my life has been spared by inches… I need to do the same when discussing the internet and the dangers it presents.  Circle allows them the ability to access some of the internet while blocking known dangers, all while Matt and I are able to have the difficult conversations with them that revolve around internet access.
Driving is a privilege, not a right.  It is something that must be earned and that privilege must be handled with care and concern.  I can’t tell you how many times lately I’ve pointed out a driver doing something absolutely stupid and told Hayden, “If I ever see you do that, I’ll take your license away.  You think I won’t be following you around town just to see how you drive?  Think again, buddy!”  With the internet, same thing.
Our rule so far has been that the internet must be used with filters, (we’ve used K-9 Web Protection with so-so results) and if they want to sit and surf, they have to do it in the main living areas with other people in the room. There have been times they’ve seen things that they shouldn’t have, and wouldn’t have had we allowed zero internet access, but I believe we must train our kids in how to handle themselves with access to the internet and what to do when they do run across something inappropriate.
I began seeing ads for “Circle by Disney” a few months ago but it wasn’t until one of my real-life friends “liked” their page on FB that I decided to give it a deeper look.  When I noticed that one of my favorite podcasters had released a review, I put it on my playlist.  After hearing what he and his friends said about it, both the good and the bad, I decided it was worth  my $99.
I made the purchase on Amazon the next day and two days later, it was here.  It was easy enough to set up… you simply plug it in.
The hardest part of setting it up is figuring out which device is which.  I was able to easily find the MAC addresses of each device, but I am sure that this would be a frustration to many people. (If you mostly have Apple products, and have given each product a nick-name, this process will be very easy.  If you have a variety of products, like we do, you may need to hunt the MAC address.  If you need help doing that, a quick search on Google will lead you in the right direction.)
There are many people who have done reviews that are much more thorough than what I have time to offer but here is a brief list of pros/cons and below, I’ll link to the reviews I used to make the decision to purchase.
Pros:
  • I can change settings in the moment.  Originally I had wireless connection turned off until 8 am for each of the kids, then Hayden woke early one morning and wanted to start on his schoolwork.  I was able to change his hours from where I sat while feeding Anna.  He didn’t have to go get the device, I didn’t have to dig around on his device to find the parental settings.  I hate (that’s a bit of an understatement) their Kindle devices, and despise messing with them to alter the settings.  Our level of allowed access changes based on whether we’re on vacation, traveling, weekends, etc. Before Circle I had to get all four boys to bring all their devices, then I had to dig into the parental settings, give their devices back.  Then after the weekend/vacation, gather them all back up and undo the changes.  This process was so time consuming and absolutely maddening.  Now, I can do all of that in about two minutes from my OWN PHONE (which, of course, is an iPhone).
  • I can add in specific websites that are automatically blocked.  Hayden’s English class is online, so I manually added in the website he needs to access.  It’s as easy as clicking on “Custom Filter” and typing in the website’s URL.  Takes seconds to do and then only seconds for it to take effect.
  • The app is user-friendly.  (I’m pretty sure an Apple-minded team developed it.)  It’s pretty and the layers are easy to dig into.
  • I can see at a glance how much time each child has spent online each day, and if I want, which sites they’ve accessed and how long they were there.
  • Unlimited number of devices can be controlled.
  • NEW INFO:  As of May 21, 2016, this can now be controlled on an Android device!
Cons:
  • A few bugs.  Two or three times in the first day or two my app told me there was no Circle on my wireless network.  I found a troubleshooting page on Circle’s website and followed the directions.  Both times the problem was resolved and everything back online within a few minutes.  It hasn’t happened again.
  • Adult settings. Setting up the appropriate filter level for Matt has proven tricky.  So far, I myself haven’t accessed a website that is questionable and I have my level at “adult.”  While Matt hasn’t tried to access anything inappropriate, several times Circle has blocked what he was trying to do.  Instead of working through the problem (and adding the site he was trying to access manually) I changed his filter setting to “none.”  I need to take the time to add in these sites – we all can benefit from these filters.  I admit, this isn’t really a con as much as it is me being lazy.
Other Reviews of Circle:
Overall, I’m very pleased with Circle and I’m glad I bought it.  I am going on two weeks of sickness (sore throat, and as of yesterday, headache) so that means I’m barely able to formulate all my thoughts into coherent paragraphs.  I’ll leave it with what I’ve written:  a few basic reasons for wanting to have Circle in our home, some pros/cons, and links that helped me made the decision to purchase.
Thanks for stopping by!
 (Oh, and I didn’t receive the Circle from Amazon or Disney in exchange for my review.)

About Jennifer

"Yes, they're all mine." The answer to the question I hear most often.
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5 Responses to Review of Circle, by Disney

  1. Jen says:

    Interesting… I had not heard of this at all. I went to their website and noticed things like “limit time on Facebook and Instagram” but what if you don’t want access to those at all (especially IG!)? I also wondered what, if anything, it does for texting.

  2. Kay Denny says:

    Thank you Jennifer.

  3. Stephen Byrd says:

    Jennifer, we have been looking at this also. One of the biggest downsides we were seeing is in regards to Internet Access times. Our kids use the internet to do different parts of their school work. Have you ran across an issue of them using all of their internet time for school work and not having any left for other activities? If so how did you work around it.

    • Jennifer says:

      I haven’t found a workaround, simply because I haven’t run across this yet. I’m sure there is a simple answer, I just haven’t looked for it. What if you you increase the amount of time they’re allowed online but switch them to “kid” mode during school and approve ONLY those websites that are for school. THEN, after they’re done, switch them to teen mode.

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