Over the past few weeks, we’ve looked at some of the less desirable apps and websites out there. We’ve also touched on some of the ways that a district can protect your student while in school. I’d like to wrap up October with some tools that you can use to monitor technology use in your house and restrict it when you see fit. They are designed to do more than just limit tech. These applications offer a variety of ways to better understand how your kids interact with technology and can help lead to more positive behaviors with parental guidance.
Circle allows parents to take better control of the Internet at home. It’s the only device on this list that was specifically designed for parents. Circle is incredibly easy to setup. Plug it in, connect it to your home WiFi, and then all the configuration is done through an easy to use app. Parents can choose to set time limits for usage, but those limits can be different for each child. Content filtering (blocking out sites) can also be done on a per-student basis. Imagine being able to pause access to the Internet on all the chosen devices in your home so that kids can focus on chores or homework? Circle’s Pause feature makes that dream a reality. Other features of such as Bedtime and Rewards makes Circle one of my favorite devices for parents. Circle recently released Circle Go which provides parents with similar functionality for older children with their smartphone. Circle costs $99 and is available for purchase at Amazon, Best Buy, or Walmart.
Norton Family Premier (https://us.norton.com/norton-family-premier)
Norton has been a leader in online security for over twenty years, so it’s no surprise that their team has developed a suite of tools for keeping children safe online. Norton family premier offers parents a wide variety of safety options such as website and app blocking, time limits, youtube video “watch lists” and even location supervision. This software packs a ton of features! The cost is $49.99 and while that’s an annual cost, it does ensure that you have all the latest features to keep up with new gadgets and phones. The only negative to NFP is that software needs to be loaded on each device to monitor it.
Qustudio is very similar to Norton Family Premier. The software needs installed on each device and requires an annual subscription based on the number of devices you want to monitor. The reviews I read while doing research were mostly positive, especially with the amount of features available. One advantage to Qustodio is that it allows parents the ability to set time limits on individual apps. On the other side though, its feature set is somewhat limited on iPhones and iPads. Depending on the makeup of devices you’re going to monitor, Qustudio might be the right fit for your household.
The last application to round out our list is NetNanny. NetNanny was one of the very first companies to begin protecting children online, reaching initial popularity in the late 90s. For years it was the trusted solution for countless families across the globe. The most recent version of NetNanny include features similar to the other options listed above. Website blocking, time limits, and settings that can be adjusted per child. One of the options that stood out was the ability to mask profanity on sites for younger students. NetNanny is subscription based ($59.99) and does require installation on every device.
I want to be clear that these last two options are a bit different than the others on the list. These options work by configuring the devices that control the wireless internet in your house. You may need to reach out to one of your “techy” friends if you choose to experiment with the options below.
Another option for parents is to use the content filters provided by the wireless router at your home. Every wireless router is different though. They all have various features and different levels of difficulty to get configured. Companies such as Google and Eero are new to the consumer wireless market. They’ve tried to take a new approach by making it easy for those of us who are less tech-savvy to access these features. Parents can set some restrictions on what websites can be accessed and pause the Internet. The features and content filtering will vary based on what wireless router you have at home.
The two options above use a physical piece of equipment to lock down various aspects of the Internet. OpenDNS uses software to prevent devices from accessing unwanted content, but it
does not require you to install software like NetNanny to work. This makes OpenDNS a fantastic option because you can block content for all your wireless devices in one place. Oh, and it’s free. There are a few downsides here though. It can be a bit tricky to set up. It also lacks some of the features of other options such as time limits, pausing the Internet, or blocking an app altogether. OpenDNS is a free solution to filtering out sites or categories of sites from all the devices in your household.
To help compare apples to apples (and some oranges), I’ve designed a chart to help. I’ve list out the solution, cost, one pro, and one con for each of the items above.
|Solution||Install On All Devices||Cost||Cell Phone||Summary|
|Circle||No||$99||Yes (Circle Go)||Easy to control many devices. Allows for special rules for when friends are over.|
|Norton||Yes||$49/year||Yes||Most feature rich of any of the options.|
|Qustudio||Yes||$55/year and up||Yes||Great for Andriod households.|
|NetNanny||Yes||$59/year||Yes||Lots of features, including profanity mask.|
|OpenDNS||Yes / No||Free||Limited||Works well for the price tag, but install is tricky.|
|WiFi Router||No||Free||Limited||Really depends on what you have at home.|
What does this mean to parents?
It means you have options. Some of the tools listed above can be so much more than a way to limit or restrict your kids. The goal of Help @ Home is to help connect parents to their student’s digital lives. The tools list above can provide parents with a better idea of how their children are spending their time online. The knowledge of what they are doing online can lead to some phenomenal conversations.
For example, I would suggest that one parent (or both) take a few minutes out of the day to watch a couple of the videos that are popular with your child(ren). While you may not understand what you are watching, I’m confident you’ll get a sense of the kind of content in which your child is interested. In our household, Stampy Longnose was pretty popular with my eight-year-old son for a few months there. My wife and I spent some time watching a few of the videos to ensure the content was appropriate, but also so we could better understand his world. He was so excited that we were able to speak his language.
If you decide to look into using one of these tools, I would encourage you to consider all the positive ways you might be able to connect with your kids through the use of these tools. One idea I saw is to pause Internet access to everyone’s devices during dinner time to help minimize distractions.
What does this mean to educators?
The idea of parental control over student technology use is a fantastic topic to drive a conversation in class. Start by polling your students with a simple, anonymous form to get an idea of which students have parental limits on tech and how they feel about it. Students could discuss the pros and cons of using apps like the ones above. Finally, wrap up the topic by asking students to identify other ways parents could help kids safe online.
Choose an application on the list to investigate more on your own. Even if you’re not considering installing a tool like this, just knowing what options you have is important.