Just In Time For Back-To-School… Hardware-Based Parental Controls For Today’s Connected Home

By Ben Halpert, Founder Savvy Cyber Kids, an EarthLink partner


When we talk about outside information exposure and its impact on our kids, it helps to take a step back to when we were younger (yes, I am showing my age.). Our parents had to manage several input sources: friends and family that visited, newspapers, magazines, T.V., phone calls, fax messages, and VHS/Laser Disc/DVDs — along with audio cassettes/CDs and books purchased, rented, or borrowed from the library. Later, if your family was lucky enough to have one of the first computers to gain access to information — while only accessible over a really slow modem, your parents then had a new set of enormous input implications. Watch War Games if you want to see an older computer getting online and a negative implication caused by a curious teen.

The difference between then and now is that with the prior information sources, much of the information was based on proactive information gathering. Think of it as a “pull” to access information.  For today’s parent, the evolution of all the prior technologies has resulted in “push” enabled technologies that expose our children to all the world has to offer — both good and bad.

Most every device parents purchase today, beyond traditional computers, tablets, and smartphones, is Internet-enabled, from thermostats (Nest, Honeywell), gaming platforms (Xbox, PlayStation, Nintendo), TVs (almost all of them!), home assistants (Alexa, OK Google, Hey Siri), home appliances, and even children’s cuddly toys (!) are connected to the Internet and information is always available all of the time (and let’s not forget the privacy implications of devices because they are always listening – topic for another post). Whew, that’s a lot for a parent to consider in today’s age of digital parenting.

There is a class of parental control options that can help parents raise their children in a world filled with ‘always on and connected’ devices. Admittedly, it is hard to find any set of parental control devices where you can compare apples to apples. Each hardware solution was built to fulfill a specific set of requirements that the company deemed to be the most desirable by its intended users. But some comparable features do exist across the solutions that are available for parents to use in their home.

While there are several hardware-based parental control options for today’s connected home, such as Torch, KoalaSafe, Screen, router based options, and OpenDNS, I am going to focus on selected aspects of two solutions: Circle and Luma.

Both Circle and Luma address the two most common pain points I hear from parents. Without fail, during and after the parent cyber ethics sessions I facilitate via Savvy Cyber Kids, parents always bring up the same two biggest issues:

  • Getting their kids to put the devices down (technology addiction issues – again topic for another post); and
  • Limiting exposure to inappropriate content such as pornography, violence, among other categories (also known as content filtering).

For both Circle and Luma, you will begin by creating a profile for each member of your family. Then you assign child-specific parental controls based on aspects unique to each child such as age, maturity, etc. Here’s a glimpse at how our two featured products address these common digital parenting issues:

Limiting Screen Time Without Having An Argument Every Time:

To do this, both Luma and Circle allow you to set a bedtime in their accompanying apps. You can set a different bedtime for each member of your household. In this context, “bedtime” means the time when the internet stops working on your child’s device. So while you may have some initial discussions and negotiations on when connected time should end in the beginning, these devices help you digitally parent by enforcing a technology bedtime rule.

Preventing Your Child From Being Exposed To Inappropriate Materials, For Each Child:

You can set content filter levels specific for each child. In Circle the categories for assignment are Pre-K, Kid, Teen, and Adult. For Luma, the categories follow more of the movie industry rating system of G, PG, PG-13, R, and U (unrated or unrestricted access).

Although content filtering sounds fantastic, if you try and restrict your child to a low filter rating, many of the games they play, apps they use, and sites they visit may not work. This is because many of the sites, apps, etc. are supported by ad networks that register as a higher filter rating than the content your child is actually trying to access. In addition, your rating of a site, app, or game may be different than the company’s content filter that you are using. In other words, this is a highly subjective process that is challenging to automate.

Here’s some differences between the two solutions that may help you choose:

  • For the Circle, there is an app called Circle Go (additional subscription fee required) that extends your home parental controls to your children’s phones and devices when they are NOT on your home Wi-Fi network.
  • For Luma, if you have any Wi-Fi dead spots in your home, Luma actually acts as a Wi-Fi enhancement solution. Weak Wi-Fi in one room? Add a Luma. Weak Wi-Fi in another area of the home (or outside!) add another Luma.

All parents need to understand that parental controls will never work as you hope they will 100% of the time. What does that mean? All parental controls should be used as an aid in digital parenting and NOT as a digital babysitter.

Where we stand: Our commitment to Our Customers

Net Neutrality and Internet Privacy have become popular talking points and we understand there may be confusion about these topics. As your Internet service provider, we wanted to remind our customers of our commitment to our customers’ privacy, as well as where we stand in regards to Net Neutrality. EarthLink supports an open internet and values our customers’ ability to access the world. We do not block or slow down any internet traffic such as streaming or web browsing.

We also wanted to remind our customers that EarthLink does not collect and sell our customers’ information to anyone, including third parties. You can read more about this topic on our Customer Privacy support page.

Above all, we are committed to protecting our customers’ privacy on our network today and well into the future. We stand by our mission to provide a fast, secure, and reliable high speed connection and to allow our customers to do everything they love on the Internet, without interference.

Thanks for being our customer.

Software-Based Parental Controls Extend Your Digital Parenting Reach

By Ben Halpert, Founder Savvy Cyber Kids, an EarthLink partner


Your parents had it easy; parenting today is hard.  Not just because it will be awkward to explain to your child, as they get older, why everyone on every sports team gets a trophy at the end of the season. But because the world today is a very different place than when your parents raised you. After all, the iPhone just turned 10 years old; And yet many of us can’t imagine how we would function without a smartphone on us at all times. While the topic of this post is not technology addiction, the addictive nature of these devices is a pressing issue that you as a parent have to deal when it comes to your children and their technology use.

However, parents today are not alone. With organizations like Savvy Cyber Kids providing cyber ethics sessions and resources for students, teachers and parents, help does exist for today’s digital parent.

While the most important thing any adult caregiver can do for their child is to talk to them on a daily basis about what is happening in their lives (including their digital lives), we are all busy and could use some help when it comes to imparting our values on the next generation. The reality is that it is simply not possible to sit with your child every moment they are using their devices. Thankfully, you can look to software parental control options to provide some assistance.

The first software-based parental controls tools that came to market years ago were focused on providing website filtering. These tools would block a child (or anyone for that matter) from going to a specific site or a category of sites such as pornography, violence, gambling, or other sensitive topics. An example of such a tool that has evolved overtime from a filter-only solution to a more powersuite of software parental controls is Net Nanny.

A few months ago, PC Magazine reviewed a selection of parental control software solutions and selected ContentWatch Net Nanny 7, Symantec Norton Family Premier, and Qustodio Parental Control 2015 as their top picks. These full-suite software solutions, along with others in the market such as Boomerang, uKnowKids, and TeenSafe, provide cross-device controls that can provide insight into what your children are doing with their technology while also letting you set usage limits.

In addition to full software suites, there are specific tools that focus on one aspects of your child’s technology use. Do you just want to filter out specific websites? Try the SPIN Safe Browser. Do you want to just limit the amount of time your kids are on their device? Give UnGlue a try. Are you just curious about potential issues that may arise with social media usage? Give Bark a try.

There are a few important things to remember when using any technical parental control solution:

  1. Technology is never perfect. Sometimes your child will see, hear, and experience things you thought were being blocked.
  2. Technology, even if parental control solutions are used, should never be used as a digital babysitter. An adult should always be near (I didn’t say sit next to, but somewhere in earshot) the child when they are using their devices.
  3. Have some aspect of the Tech Talk every day with your kids. For conversation starters, download the free Savvy Cyber Kids Digital Parenting Guides.

Grandparents Guide to Technology

By Ben Halpert, Founder Savvy Cyber Kids, an EarthLink partner


May is Older Americans Month and seniors, like the rest of us, are spending an increasing proportion of their day in cyberspace and less time in real life.

From shopping, dating and sharing, to learning, buying and teaching, older American’s interactions with the virtual world are having a greater and greater influence on how they and others see themselves, how they think and how they see the world and their place in it.

Regrettably, there is not a virtual justice system ensuring that those who use the Internet for good are rewarded and that those who do otherwise face appropriate consequences. So, in recognition of Older Americans Month, Savvy Cyber Kids wants to remind everyone that the internet is, as Thomas Friedman of the New York Times put it, “an open sewer of untreated, unfiltered information, where [we] need to bring skepticism and critical thinking to everything [we] read and basic civic decency to everything [we] write.”

Check out Savvy Cyber Kids’ Grandparent’s Guide to Technology and our in-depth analysis of seniors and the scams they need to be aware of.