It seems like a never-ending game of “keep away” when it comes to kids, their smartphones, and other devices. Parents worry every time they read a cyberbullying story that ends in tragedy — and kids remain vulnerable to disturbing content like pornography when surfing online.
“I take my kid’s phone and read his texts and I’m not embarrassed about it,” one Brooklyn, New York, mother of one teen told LifeZette. “The problem is that the kids switch apps to communicate, and they have passwords on everything now. Honestly, most parents I really believe at least start to investigate — but just end up giving up because it’s so hard to get inside their kids’ digital world.”
Keeping an open and honest conversation with your kids about online safety is paramount.
There are several apps such as Net Nanny and STOPit that help parents manage online risks like cyberbullying, online predators, and pornography. One app, Bark, has worked to simplify managing a child’s online experience, and, most importantly — keep kids surfing safely.
It’s not easy, with the emergence of social platforms such as Kik, which lets kids swap picture and messages. These Kik messages do not show up under a parent’s wireless plan (as traditional text messages do). Messages on Kik may include sexting, inappropriate comments, and bullying.
Bark’s website reveals that its “watchdog engine” uses advanced algorithms to look for a variety of issues: cyberbullying, sexting, drug-related content — even signs of depression. If a potential issue is detected in online activity, a text or email alert is sent to the parent to review the issue, along with recommended actions on how to handle the situation.
In a revealing interview, LifeZette talked to Bark CEO Brian Bason about cybersecurity and kids.
Question: How can parents stay on top of ever-changing apps, hidden features, and today’s web climate? It’s critical — but seems impossible.
Answer: It seems challenging, yes, but there are some controls parents can put in place to help guide children as they navigate their digital lives. We built Bark to help keep kids safe online by providing alerts about potential issues like cyberbullying, predators, sexting, and even depression and suicidal ideation. Bark will also alert a parent if a risky app is installed on your child’s phone. Ultimately, keeping an open and honest conversation with your children about online safety is paramount. As issues arise, both in the digital space and in their personal lives, you’ll want to be the first person … they look to for support, and to model what it means to be a good digital citizen.
Q: How do safeguards for computers and phones work? Do you find them effective?
A: These safeguards are an effective tool at a parent’s disposal to help stay on top of digital issues that children face each day. At Bark we use the latest, most advanced machine-learning algorithms and conversational analysis to help alert parents when there is a potential issue. Monitoring software is not meant to be a substitute for engaged, positive parenting — but many parents find that implementing Bark opens the door to conversations around internet dangers that may show up in a child’s online life, even when their kids are doing nothing wrong.
We created our app to work as a technological tool that provides an extra layer of safety for the frequent moments when a child is driving their digital car without a parent in the passenger seat.
Q: What are some pitfalls parents need to look out for when it comes to protecting kids online?
A: Having an open line of communication with your child is the first step toward ensuring safety on the internet, as well as ensuring kids are using technology responsibly.
Additionally, parents should turn off location services on their children’s social media apps and phones. This helps protect children from inadvertently providing strangers with sensitive information. Parents should also check the privacy settings of their children’s social media accounts. By default, many accounts are publicly viewable, but are generally changeable in the account’s privacy settings.
To provide ongoing protection, we built Bark.us to proactively alert parents to potential issues, allowing them to have constructive conversations with their kids about safe and appropriate online behaviors.
Q: How do parents use apps like Bark to their advantage? How can a parent download and use Bark?
A: Parents can use Bark for increased awareness about issues their children might be experiencing online, without having to spend hours manually reading all of their children’s messages and posts. Our alerts come with recommended actions and discussion points to have with your children about online safety around that particular issue. Parents can sign up for Bark at www.bark.us, or download the parent management app on their smartphone.
Parents can then set up a profile for each child and work with their children to connect their social media accounts, email, and text messaging. Bark’s algorithms work behind the scenes — analyzing the child’s messages and alerting parents to any possible issues.