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How to Manage Your Family's Time Online

The 1 Holiday Present I'm Buying My Family This Year — and You Should Too!

My kids made their holiday wish lists the second the first catalog arrived on our doorstep, but I've been quietly honing mine over the past couple of weeks. While the kids have made their dreams of receiving a hoverboard and a Star Wars Furbie widely known (hint: they're not getting either — I'm not that crazy!), there's one gift at the top of my list that is for the entire family — and it's one that I am recommending for all families.

Like many families, mine is a bit tech obsessed. Between our phones, tablets, computers, iTouches, and Apple TV, at any given moment, you're sure to find a device in one of our hands — and I'm not just talking about the kids. We've tried parental controls and going on a tech diet and it's helped, but it isn't quite enough. That's why I'm buying my family Circle With Disney ($100) this year. It's a device (yes, another device, but hear me out on this one) that helps parents manage their family's Internet activities on all devices on their home network.

So what exactly does that mean? It means you can set time limits for specific sites (say, Minecraft!), specific devices, or even entire categories like social media sites (Instagram, anyone?) and gaming sites. The small white cube connects to your WiFi and then parents manage the settings via the Circle app. Want your kids to go to bed at 8 p.m.? Set the device bedtime for that time and anyone in your Circle with a device will disconnect from the Internet at 8 and not be let back on until the designated time the next morning. Think your daughter is spending too much time on Instagram? Set a 45-minute limit and the app will calculate every minute she's on it. When she reaches the 45-minute limit, the app is disabled. The device is even programmed to outsmart crafty kids who split their time between desktop and mobile versions of an app or website, adding up the time spent across all platforms for that site. Your family's WiFi can even be "paused" during set times of the day if you wish.

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Parents can monitor how much time everyone on the Circle is spending on specific apps via the Insights section of the app. They'll also receive alerts when a family member reaches their limit. The statistics are compiled so parents can compare use by day, week, or month.

And while all of this may sound a bit Big Brotherish, it's really no different then setting up parental controls on your kids' devices — only these actually work! Plus, I plan to put limits on my own devices too. I know I spend too much time scrolling through Facebook on my phone and drooling over Instagram feeds of people I don't know. I could use some limits that I don't have the self-control to impose on myself otherwise. Oh, and for those who worry about what the app is doing with all of this browsing and usage data — don't worry! Disney is using end-to-end encryption for the data, so it's all safe!

Right now the device only works on your home WiFi network, but the company already has plans to expand to 4G LTE networks next year, meaning it will be able to monitor devices wherever they are!

My kids don't know we're getting this for the holidays, but I'm already considering it part of my New Year's resolution — spending less time arguing with my kids and more time enjoying each other's company. I'll let you know how it turns out!

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