Best Parental Control Router: Best-Kept Secrets Revealed

Parents that have a safe and secure home internet set up do two things very well:

First, they make sure they have a router set up that can work behind the scenes to track and block websites.

Second, they talk to their kids and help their family understand exactly what is appropriate, and what is not.

You can start by asking yourself a couple of questions:

  • Are you sure you know what your kids are up to on the internet?
  • Do you ever want to cut one of the kids devices off, but leave the rest of the household online?
  • Do you dread finding out your child has been looking at inappropriate material online?
Like you, I had all these problems and needed to sort things out.
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Actual real photo of some of my kids

I remember one time I arrived home from a busy workday, and set about making the dinner.

Our kids have a number of chores they are meant to do and they do a pretty good job most of the time.

This time however when I asked the oldest to take the dogs up to the park she told me she was desperately busy with some homework and there was no way in the world that she would be able to help.

Already I was trying to cook dinner and I doubted there was anything that important, I mean nothing that she couldn’t take a break from for five or ten minutes.

It gets worse:

I logged onto the router, in this case it had Gargoyle installed on it, and was able to see what she was so busy with – you guessed it! Nothing to do with homework she was trying to find a new dress.

I got mad, the dogs got exercised and the dinner got made, however it made me realize that a lot of parents out there don’t know what their kids are up to online.

Kids these days have a lot of internet connected devices, as do the parents.

In this article I look at three different solutions I have personally tried, and do a review on the Pandora’s Hope Clean Router that I have recently settled on.

Multi Device Households

Here is what our household has:

  • 3 ipads
  • 2 ipods
  • 3 iphones
  • 2 android phones
  • 3 laptops
  • 1 desktop
  • 1 TV with chromecast
  • 1 Internet TV
  • 1 XBOX live console

That’s 17 devices hitting the internet, plus whatever their friends bring over and plug in, luckily we have unlimited broadband!

My problem, like every other parent in a similar situation, is how do we keep our kids safe? How do we save their innocent little eyes from all the bad things out there on the internet?

First I tried the parental controls on my Cisco x3000 router. That was a fail mainly due to lack of options and you couldn’t actually see where the kids had been on the internet.

I did some research and found out about OpenDNS. This seemed like a great answer and I set it up as the DNS server on my router.

OpenDNS As An Internet Filtering Solution

OpenDNS does a pretty good job at filtering out categories however I found the following shortcomings.

  1. It struggled with apps
  2. It could not tell you which device on your network was blocked, or accessed a particular site
  3. If you have a dynamic IP address (as most home broadband users do) you needed a little program to run on one of the machines on your network phoning home to opendns.com to tell them who you were
  4. Easy to bypass

Hey, its better than nothing, but pretty easy to get around if your kids know how to Google.

Took me about 5 seconds to find this article, which explains to anyone how to change your DNS servers, therefore bypassing OpenDNS.

Gargoyle Router Solution

It was time to get clever. I did lots of research and was very impressed with what I read about Gargoyle. All I had to do was buy a compatible router, flash it with the Gargoyle firmware and there it was, all the monitoring, tracking I would ever need.

Plus of course it had bandwidth control which was of huge interest to me as at that point I was on a 80GB plan.

I figured I would give each kid a 10GB block of data, and then sell them more if they did their chores, extra jobs etc. The new currency right?

Wrong, it was too hard to keep track of. Often they would blow it all on YouTube and then complain that they couldn’t do their homework.

Pros of Gargoyle Routers

  • Bandwidth Control and Monitoring
  • Ability to blacklist sites
  • Time restrictions

Negatives of Gargoyle Routers

  • Need some technical skills to configure
  • Not the most user friendly interface
  • Doesn’t have an intelligent filtering system so need to use something like opendns as well

I used Gargoyle for around a year until my router fried itself, so I went on the lookout again. I wanted something more intuitive and that had better management over what and where our kids were going online.

I was no longer concerned about bandwidth as had moved to an unlimited plan.

Eventually I came across Pandora’s Hope – They offer a clean router that has some pretty handy features for keeping track of whats going on in regards to your home internet.

I have been using the router for a while now and this is what I have found.

Pandora’s Hope – Clean Router

One thing to take note of is that this is a router not a router/modem. This means you will need a modem (you probably already have one) and this is a seperate box that plugs into your modem, and all the devices connect via wireless (or wired) to the clean router.

Setup

When you first plugin the router you need to follow the simple instructions supplied, basically plug it in, power it up and then connect to the address given via your computer.

There is a simple wizard that you step through, basic details and password etc.

Once you have completed the initial set up and login to the router you are greeted with a screen like this.

Parental Controls

You can then have a look around at the different configurations and options that are available.

The first thing I noticed when I went to a website was that all the adverts were blocked and replaced with a clean router logo.

I found that pretty annoying, plus figured it might slow things down a bit constantly filtering out all the adverts out there, so the first thing I did was turn that feature off.

To do that I went into Categories and turned off the switch as in the screen shot below.

pandoraadvertssetting

Internet Filtering

The clean router uses it’s own unique content filtering system.

There is a section where you can add key words and the filter will take note of them. keywords

Internet Logging

Every site visited is logged, along with the time and the ip address of the device that is doing the visiting.

I can think of better ways that it could be presented, however it does the job and if you are using chrome you can export it to csv.

You also get a report emailed to you every night, showing which devices went where and whom got blocked etc.

Time Restrictions

You can set up blocks of time by the hour, and day of week. For example little johnny may be given two hours of internet a night on week nights, and 4 hours on weekends.

Here is an example

time restrictions

Note: Several people have asked us whether you can use chromecast with the pandoras hope clean router, and the answer is yes you can, it is compatible.

White and Black List

Any sites that may get blocked, yet you are happy with your household accessing them, you can whitelist.

Alternatively any sites that you don’t want allowed, you can put on the blacklist.

Performance

Performance is acceptable, we may have noticed a slight drop in browsing speed, however it’s important to bear in mind with any kind of content filtering system this will be the case.

Cost And Purchase of the Clean Router

Currently the routers are on sale for $149.99 USD, this is from the Clean Router Website. That is an affiliate link and if you buy one I will get a small commission (Thankyou).

They only ship to the US, Canada and Mexico, however I got one to NZ by getting a US address with the NZ post office, and having it forwarded on.

In NZ, or Australia we need a power adapter as have different plug sockets (These are easy enough to buy from the local electronics store).

I would never recommend anything I wasn’t actually using myself, I think this is a brilliant solution, it’s not as polished as it could be however it’s definitely on the right track and I did considerable research before deciding on this model.

There is also a yearly subscription to continue to get filter updates and this is $29.99 USD a year, the first six months or so is free when you purchase the router.

Support

There is a support phone line based in the US. I have emailed their support desk a couple of times prior to purchasing the router and they always got back to me.

Summary

It’s important to remember that no solution is going to be the complete answer. If someone really wants to look at dodgy pictures or websites they will find a way.

By implementing a solution such as opendns (minimum) or the clean router you are putting a layer of protection out there, and it also helps that your kids know you are interested in and keeping an eye on what they are looking at online.

Make sure your kids are comfortable with you having a look on their device at any time, if they are not then the chances are they have something to hide.

Although we still use the Pandora router, due to a massive increase in the subscription cost, we now recommend this Parental Controls Router – the pcWRT.

Rob StGeorge

Senior SQL Server Database Administrator residing in Auckland, NZ

17 Comments

  1. This router is superb, but I am afraid I was asked to subscribe in the amount of $15/month after having paid for the unit at the cost of $250.00 including tax.
    I quickly canceled the purchase as an additional expense of $200/year is not what I was looking for. Very disappointed.

  2. Wow, $20 a month? That is crazy expensive when you can do most if not all for free through other services like open DNS and other software /hardware combinations. Look at the new Kickstarter torch.

  3. There are two things that I like: enforced SafeSearch (for kids only), and (call me paranoid) the blocking of bypassing techniques.

    I think SafeSearch is often not emphasized enough, but it’s really needed to get rid of the nasty pictures in search results.

    I know the Clean Router does keywords filtering. But with a lot of sites going HTTPS, all that does is slowing things down. SafeSearch is a better guard against landing on a bad site in the first place.

  4. I want a router where I can turn off the internet completely, including ethernet connection. I don’t have an inaccessable location to put it and they can plug in a cable to access. Also need to be able to disable the password and username on the bottom of the router and/or connect by pushing the button.

  5. So here I am browsing the internet for a technical solution to a thorny family network problem and who’s article do I come across!? Rob St. George! What a small world. How are things going!? Going to check out the pcWRT solution you mentioned at the end of the article here. Cheers m8! 😉

  6. Thanks for this really helpful blog post. I’m in a similar family situation and looking for a router for better parental controls. I was just wondering if you would still recommend the pcWRT router, or have switched to something better since then. I’m a Software Developer living in the UK.

    1. Hi Lyndsay currently (my kids are getting older now) I am using a netgear router. It gives me an easy way to disallow access on the device level so I pretty much give them free reign, and completely disconnect them if they get aggro or don’t do their chores. I am not so concerned with monitoring what sites they are going to now. It really depends on how much you want to lock them down and how much time you want to spend your on it. Let me know what you end up deciding on. Cheers rob

          1. Hi, Rob, how about trying to use BelleFox WiFi, we developed 3 main features : LiveView, checking what kids are up to do anytime, anywhere; Schedule Internet at Bedtime or your own DIY time; Faster speed for good internet skills
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            We appreciate your interest about BelleFox and want to talk more about it.
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