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How to set up parental controls 2021: Phone, internet and more

Circle, Netgear, Gryphon and Bark: Parental control devices can greatly enhance protection, especially in and around your home network.
Father assisting son in using digital tablet while studying at brightly lit home
Parental controls can help block sites, set screen time limits, monitor activity on a device and more.Maskot / Getty Images

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Keeping your kids safe on the internet isn't easy and standard parental control filters can be cumbersome to manage. Your Wi-Fi router may come with some rudimentary built-in blocking capabilities, but it likely won't equip a lot of fine-grained control. On the other hand, software solutions may only be compatible with certain devices. That's why a few brands have released new devices that apply complex rules network-wide, allowing you to block sites, set screen time limits and monitor activity on any device you have at home.

Of course, your first line of defense should be a candid series of conversations with your kids about privacy, security, malware and the other unsavory things one can find on the web. In addition, no parental control solutions are foolproof, and any kid with some tech savviness — or the willingness to learn — can probably find ways to circumvent them. I recommend using a few layers of controls, if you can.

Best tech for parental control

The devices below will give you the most options but you can also use them in conjunction with the blocking mechanisms of your router and a DNS filtering service like OpenDNS, making for a multi-layer solution that's more work to get around. That, coupled with good parenting, can go a long way.

Parental control with whole-network versatility: Circle

1. Circle Home Plus

Circle has become one of the biggest names in online parental controls: Their software provides more options than you can shake a stick at in an easy-to-navigate interface. Not only can you block certain sites, but you can block the usage of certain apps and even categories of sites. Or, if you prefer, you can set time limits — not just broad screen time limits, but individual limits for certain apps or sites, in addition to seeing the location of any given phone and a history of what's been blocked.

You can install the Circle app on their phones but the Circle Home Plus takes it to the next level, allowing you to implement these controls across your entire network — phones, tablets, Chromebooks, gaming consoles, anything that can access the web. The Home Plus comes with a year subscription to the service, while subsequent usage costs $129 per year — or you can grab the box with a lifetime subscription up front for $300.

Parental control on your router: Netgear

2. Netgear Orbi Whole Home Mesh Wi-Fi System

While many routers come with sub-par parental controls, there are exceptions. Netgear, for example, includes the Circle software on many of its Orbi mesh W-Fi systems, allowing you to subscribe to the same great parental controls without the need for a separate box. If you're planning on upgrading to a mesh Wi-Fi system for better coverage throughout your home, the Netgear Orbi RBK13 is one of the better and more affordable systems you can get today.

Parental control with no subscription: Gryphon

3. Gryphon Advance Security & Parental Control Mesh WiFi Router

While not as well-known as Circle, Gryphon is a powerful alternative that doesn't require a monthly fee. Like Orbi, Gryphon is a mesh-capable router designed to replace your current Wi-Fi, with a host of parental control and anti-malware features built-in. It has many of the same time-limiting and web-filtering options as Circle, with slightly less fine-grained control — though you only pay for the device up front, no subscription required.

You can, however, pay $79 annually for more advanced security features: As far as parental controls, everything is included with the unit itself. You can grab their standard model or, if you don't need top-tier speeds, save a bit of money with the more affordable Gryphon Guardian units.

Parental control on the next level: Bark Home

4. Bark Home Parental Controls for Wi-Fi

Bark works slightly differently from the other devices above. Through the software on their phone, Bark can not only block sites and limit screen time, but it can also monitor text messages and emails for signs of cyberbullying, online predators, risks of suicide and more. Parents can't read the text messages in full — there's still a layer of privacy between them and the child — but they will get notifications when Bark identifies any potential flags in the text, including common acronyms and online teen-speak.

The Bark Home is a hardware companion to the Bark software, performing your typical parental controls network-wide — similar to the other devices on this list — but if you like the extra features of the Bark software, this box makes a good companion. You can grab the box at a discount with a bundled subscription to the $99-per-year service. If you want to try the service before buying the hardware, you can buy the box separately.

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