This post is sponsored by Bark
As expectant first-time moms and dads, we sought out as much information as possible about milestones at every age and stage. Fast forward to the present and there’s no handbook guiding us through the tween and teen years when it comes to our kids, mobile devices, and social media. This is uncharted territory for those of us who grew up in the age of yellow Walkmans as the must-have digital devices of our day. Even though we can’t turn back time, we can rely on smart technology created by fellow parents who make the safety of our kids their top priority.
One huge milestone for today’s kids is getting smartphone and if your child has a smartphone, they’re likely to be using social media. Social media is not just Instagram, Snapchat, Discord, YouTube, and other tools your kids are talking about today. It’s any website or app that connects users with other people. Even though the hot platforms shift, the need to keep our kids safe in the online and real worlds remains constant.
Social media is a lifeline for kids because it’s their social world outside of school but like any technology, it comes with risks and rewards. As parents, we’re well aware risks associated with social media. While we may trust our kids on their devices, it can be a scary world out there so technology tools like Bark are here to help.
Bark is technology that keeps children safer online and in real life. It works like a monitoring tool to help you stay on top of your kids’ online activity and communication without invading their privacy thanks to artificial intelligence that monitors over 25 social media platforms, texting, and email accounts for problematic issues such as cyberbullying, sexting, potential drug use, acts of violence, profanity, online predators, thoughts of suicide and depression, and SO much more! To know what is monitored on Android, iOS, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, WhatsApp, YouTube, and more, read What Bark Monitors on the Different Platforms.
If you’re thinking Bark sounds like a way to helicopter parent, it’s not. Just like it’s an invasion of privacy to read your child’s diary, reading every single text, DM, and social media post is too. Bark preserves the autonomy your tween and teen crave by providing alerts via text and email when an issue is detected but doesn’t reveal every sordid detail.
The alerts I get provide my kids with more privacy than traditional spot checking their accounts does and also empower me as a parent to have the tough conversation with my kids about these very important issues. Bark alerts come with recommended next steps for how to address and deal with these issues, enabling us to have critical conversations with our tweens and teens about these very tough topics, fostering trust and open communication.
Instead of just relying on keyword analysis, Bark uses advanced machine learning and statistical analysis to recognize potential problems as it reviews texts, photos, videos, etc. Their sophisticated analysis engine helps keep kids safe online and in real life by extracting potential issues from connected accounts but it also helps to preserve the trust you’ve built with your kids. Kids appreciate that Bark gives them appropriate privacy and their parents can’t read everything they’re doing.
Sound like a dream come true? It is and it’s also a dream to set up. In just three quick steps, you can have Bark’s watchdog engine up and running by doing the following:
- Sign up for an account using your email address
- Sit down with your child to connect their social media accounts, text messages, and email
- Wait for Bark’s watchdog engine to analyze activity on your child’s accounts
Bark monitors activity on your child’s accounts constantly and you’ll receive an email or text alerts if potential issues like cyberbullying, sexting, grooming, potential drug use, acts of violence, etc. are detected. As scary as is to think about these topics, it’s much scarier to be unaware.
Putting Bark to the Test
This summer my kids have spent more nights away from home than in it, enjoying unplugged adventures at camps where they’ve ditched their devices. Since my test subjects’ smartphones are switched off and gathering dust at home, I decided to connect my social accounts, email, and texts messages to Bark to see what kinds of content the watchdog engine might pick up.
Almost immediately I started getting alerts of potential issues both via email and text. It notified me that my Twitter account had been disconnected (the first sign of my Twitter hack!) and other issues regarding content. Note: You can change notification settings to get alerts about potential issues on email and/or text.
Clicking on the Review Potential Issues button took me to my Parental Dashboard where 16 issues waited for my review. These issues were flagged across my accounts and included items that came in through texts on my Android phone, Instagram DMs, Twitter, email, and even photos that I had snapped with my phone’s camera.
Clicking on the top issue gave me a peek into the content Bark had flagged on Instagram. It was a DM between me and a friend where we were talking about our vacations, including the adult beverage that she was consuming.
Bark also flagged a photo that was sent via text that included a drink menu because of references to alcohol. Can we just pause for a moment to appreciate that Bark scans text in images?!? That’s pretty amazing!
As an adult over the age of 21, the text I got from my friend with a photo of the drink menu and the fact that she was feeling a bit drunk wasn’t so concerning because I knew she was being responsible and in a safe place however, if Bark had alerted me to these things appearing on one of my kids’ accounts, that’s a different story. I would use these notifications as an opportunity to have a teachable moment and have a conversation about underage drinking.
In scrolling through the rest of the issues that needed to be reviewed, Bark notified me about drug/alcohol-related content and profanity including:
- Instagram comments about a new taco restaurant that has tequila as part of its name
- My retweeting of content from @AskListenLearn about how parents are the number one influence on their kids’ decision to drink or not drink alcohol
- A recommendation of a brewery to a friend vacationing in the same place where we were earlier this summer via Instagram DMs
- An invitation to a neighbor’s happy hour that came via text
- A new video posted by the tech site, Engadget, featuring a Weed Panini Press
It also flagged this as profanity even though in the context “hard on” was said, it was anything but.
Could this language have meant something more if it had been on one of my kids’ accounts? Absolutely. Such language could be indicative of sexting or grooming and falls is definitely something I’d want to know as a parent.
Bark constantly runs in the background to monitor connected accounts. Notifications are only sent if there’s an issue and you can always log into your parent dashboard to see how many messages Bark has analyzed. Every Sunday a recap email will appear in your inbox that will summarize the number of potential issues and topics to be aware of.
The email I received last Sunday looked like this:
Ideally, your child’s account will have an entire column of uninterrupted green checkmarks!
Bark works. Rather than sensationalize tragic stories, they collect and examine hard data from children nationwide (ages 8-17) across social media, texting, and email and the analysis is compelling. Bark has detected:
- 3,662 grooming occurences
- 493,001 cyberbullying incidences
- 152,102 mental health issues
- 336,136 sexual content occurences
- 53,322 self-harm/suicide incidents
- 566,084 drug/alcohol-related conversations
You may be shocked at these numbers and think “not my kid” but yes- your kid, your neighbor’s kid, and possibly every other kid you know. Bark just isn’t for problem kids. As parents we know that even the best kids can have momentary lapses in judgement, regardless if they’re honor roll students, athletes, gamers, or artistic theater types. Bark is for all kids!
After a month of testing Bark, I am confident in their mission to keep children safe online and in real life. Their cutting-edge technology analyzes content in a way that I haven’t ever seen a monitoring application do in the 10 years I’ve been writing about technology and digital parenting. Is it perfect? No, but then again, it’s designed to provide an overview about topics of concern and guide you in having important conversations with your tween or teen. It is not supposed to parent for you and replace the talks you should be having with your kids about these topics.
Bark is easy to set up, connect to your child’s many accounts, and the ability to watchdog multiple kids and their myriad of accounts makes it must-have for every parent who has given their child a smartphone.
Bark is $99/year (or $9 per month) and is worth every penny! Even though you can’t put a price on your kid’s safety, if you sign up using this link you’ll get a nice 20% discount for life on Bark for your family.
For more information,
- Visit the Bark website
- Like them on Facebook
- Follow them on Twitter and Instagram
- Subscribe to their YouTube channel
In addition to my experience, you can read what other parenting influencers had to say about using Bark with their kids:
- Making the Summer Safer, No Helicopter Parenting Required by Jeff Bogle on Making the Summer Safer, No Helicopter Parenting Required
- 5 Ways to be a Trans Friendly Parent by Casey Carey Brown on 5 Ways to be a Trans Friendly Parent
- Bark and Byte: Protecting Kids on Social Media by Whit Honea on Bark and Byte: Protecting Kids on Social Media
Bark compensated me for this post and covered the cost of service for a year but all opinions are my own and based on personal experience.