Automatically turns on and off Internet according to your schedule
Blocks content not deemed kid-safe
Easy to set up and modify as needed
A bit pricey
May not discourage older kids from attempting to use Internet
Parenting and the Internet: is there anything more difficult to try to balance? On one hand, you realize it's important for your kids to grow up using the Internet, but you also want to foster a healthy relationship with technology. Between video games, social media, forums, email, and more, there's a lot to be concerned about. Fortunately, we ran across a device that takes a lot of the effort out of keeping your kids safe online -- a smartly-designed router called the KoalaSafe.
What is a KoalaSafe?
KoalaSafe is is a tiny, unassuming plastic box that just might be the best thing to ever happen to tech-friendly parents. Imagine never having to worry about your young children having unrestricted Internet access in your home, whether you're there or they're left with a sitter. That's because KoalaSafe is actually a clever little router that is designed around a child's relationship with the Internet. Gone are the days of worrying if your kids are sitting up in their bedroom, surfing the web on their iPods at 3AM, and gone are the days of unplugging the router at 9PM and cutting out Internet for all the adults in the family, just to keep kids from staying up past curfew.
The basic setup
KoalaSafe works by setting up a secondary Wi-Fi connection, and allowing you to pair specific devices to it. From there, you can set how long each device is allowed to use the Internet, as well as what they're allowed to do when they're on the Internet. The setup is entirely plug-and-play, and takes almost no time to set up. First, you hook up your KoalaSafe router to your preexisting router, plug in the included USB-to-wall adapter to power your KoalaSafe router, and then download and open the appropriate smartphone app (more about this momentarily).
From there, you can set up your KoalaSafe connection in about two minutes, making this hands-down the easiest networking device we've set up to date. Just make sure you change the password on your original router, and make it a strong one -- otherwise, kids who know it, or those that could guess it, will still have unrestricted access to the Internet.
The nice thing about the KoalaSafe is that there's almost no way for kids to get in an mess with the settings, as they're all done from the phone app. This gives you the ability to remotely control what they're exposed to, which we find is especially important for younger kids.
Accounts for all
The primary way you go about restricting Internet access is by creating different accounts for different kids, and then adding their devices into them. For example, if you've got a son who has an Xbox in his room, and an iPad that he carries everywhere he goes, you can add those devices, and what they're capable of doing. Maybe you have a slightly older daughter who tends to use her laptop into the wee hours of the morning -- you can set an 10:30PM Internet curfew to curtail late-night Netflix binges and Facebook lurking. If your kid has an Amazon Fire stick, an Apple TV, or a Roku attached to their TV, you can add them to your child's profile, and set those devices to lose access at a specific time.
If you think that your kid could use a little more time on the Internet on occasion, be it a few extra reward minutes for gaming or an extra hour for homework, you've got the option to extend their time with just the tap of a button, and without editing the preset schedule you've created. We thought this was a great idea, because it could be a real hassle to constantly be changing the schedule, or unlocking the Internet for "special cases."
Keeping kids safe and smart
If you've got a preteen who loves playing Minecraft so much that they're slacking on chores and homework, feel free to set up specific times that they can access the Internet -- this way, they still get their Minecraft fix, but only after homework has been finished and the dishes have been put away. Worried about your younger Internet users opening apps on the iPad that they don't need to? You can restrict access to specific apps on specific devices, including the App Store. Now you don't have to worry about deleting tons of apps when your kindergartner accidentally makes their way to the productivity section of the App Store.
What if you don't worry so much about the time they spend on the Internet, but more about where on the Net they're spending their time? Don't worry -- you can block specific websites in addition to apps. Allow them on Facebook, but keep them off of Kik and Snapchat. Worried about them finding inappropriate content? KoalaSafe blocks adult content, and enforces Google and YouTube safe searches on the child's accounts as well.
The only drawback we can see is that if you've got older kids, or kids who are used to unrestricted Internet access, there's a good chance you'll get some guff from them about this new device. This isn't the fault of the device, but we urge you to take the time to explain what, why, and how you're planning on using the KoalaSafe. Again, though, we do think that this is a device that is designed to sort of add "training wheels" to the Internet, and is geared toward the under-14 crowd of Internet users.
The KoalaSafe is probably one of the best products we've come across for parents so far. It's simple to set up, hard to bypass, and we believe that it will genuinely help foster a healthy relationship with Internet and technology. It comes in at a fairly pricey $100, but we think that it's worth it. If you're interested, you can grab your KoalaSafe from the developer's website, and we'd like to remind you that it's got administrator apps for both the iPhone as well as Android devices.