I used to say I had a young family, but recently I’ve noticed that, with each passing year, not only do I get older but so do my children. My “young family” now consists of two teenagers and one pre-teen, so after years of stumbling around with Windows’ family settings and various third-party offerings, I decided to invest in a mesh router with family protection built in: the TP-Link Deco M5. This review has one clear focus: the TP-Link Deco parental controls.
Naturally, as editor of a technology magazine, I’d done my due diligence. I knew the BT Home Wi-Fi was better value, the Google Wifi easier to use and the Linksys Velop faster – but it was TP-Link that offered the most for families. Or so the hype and reviews intimated. Time to put it to the test.
TP-Link Deco parental controls: set up and what you can do
I like the TP-Link’s simple approach to parental controls. Via the Deco app, you enter your child’s name and then select the relevant filter level: child, pre-teen, teen or adult. For a pre-teen, all adult content, gambling and social networking sites are blocked.
Switch to teen, and social networking is on the cards but gambling and adult content remain no-go areas. You can customise it, too, by swapping categories in and out, and naming specific websites and apps you don’t want them to use.
You can set time limits for weekdays and weekends too, from a minimum of zero to a maximum of 12.5 hours. Similarly, you can set a bed time – say, 10pm to 7am – to make sure there are no sneaky YouTube sessions late at night.
The final step is to add which devices are your child’s. The deco automatically detects any device that accesses the network, whether it’s a phone, games console, laptop or Nintendo 3DS. Work out which one belongs to your child and you’re done.
TP-Link Deco parental controls: the limitations
There are a couple of problems with TP-Link’s approach. The first is that it’s based on blacklists compiled by the company itself, and you may decide that its definition of adult content is too draconian – but you can’t whitelist sites yourself, which means the only way to grant access is to unblock all adult content.
The other is no fault of TP-Link’s, but that – unlike other systems such as Qustudio – you can’t install anything on your child’s phone to stop them accessing unsuitable content if they’re connecting via mobile data. Still, it’s possible to contact your mobile operator and ask them to mark the SIM as used by an under 18.
TP-Link Deco parental controls: in practice
Weirdly, my children aren’t fans of parental controls. They criticised Qustudio for being innacurate and blocking odd domains, and they definitely had a point. I sold the deco to them as being more accurate than Qustudio, and with the added bonus of a better Wi-Fi signal. They weren’t convinced, but I pressed ahead anyway. Heck, I am the parent, after all.
On the first day of limited hours, my middle son soon used up his five-hour weekend allowance by lunchtime. The deco seems to count hours concurrently, so with his three internet-connected devices he racked up five hours in about half that time. I relented and gave him more time, but with the caveat that this was the exception not the rule.
On the second day, he’d grown wise. Whenever he could get away with no internet connection – programming in Fuze BASIC, for instance – he’d switch it off. Using this cunning method, he’s managed to eke out his five-hour quota wisely.
So far, I’ve received no complaints about over-fussy website blocking, but it’s early days yet. What I can say is that the reporting facility isn’t accurate. If you’re able to decipher the screenshot below then you’re a better person than me. Which I accept is probably true.
Another negative is that the Android app has an annoying bug that declares “your device isn’t connected to the internet” if you switch focus to a different app, which probably relates to how it behaves when Android cuts its memory. You can get round it by going back a screen, but it’s a pain.
TP-link Deco parental options: Verdict
Is the TP-Link deco the answer to every problem for parents? Absolutely not. But it ticks my most vital boxes: control access to the internet by time, across all devices; instantly switch off connection during meal times; tough enough controls that the kids can’t get round them; simple to set up and use.
It’s also good value at £190 for three discs, which is plenty for a typical home. That’s enough to give it a Big Tech Question recommendation.
Now read this: How long should children use technology each day?
Ease of use
Value for money
As TP-Link promises, the Deco’s parental controls are easy to set up and effective – just what most families need.
Kind of crazy the bedtime setup doesn’t allow school night settings. M-F vs Weekend is not useful. Sunday is a school night. Friday isn’t.
except the approach for parental controls assumes “stupid” Teenagers, that don’t know how to switch Mac adress, or to use the random mac feature on most mobile phones.. That will completely bypass parental controls working in black-list mode (the only one deco seems to support). You need to run in whitelist, where you explict allow certain devices to work – being 24 bit numbers, they are hard to guess, and then you can make sure they cannot by-pass the filter.
The children can bypass the parental control by using a number of free VPN services available. I am looking into NextDNS along with of Deco to block VPN bypass.
Education and trust is the most effective parental control.