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Bark has plenty of bite

Bark has plenty of bite

During this period of social distancing and online learning, there is an even more pressing need to ensure that teenage internet usage is being properly managed and monitored. Many kids are now home with unfettered access to screens and devices all day. Couple that with boredom, complex emotions resulting from the current pandemic and typical teenage behavior and you have a recipe for trouble. Enter Bark, a monitoring platform utilized by parents to strike the delicate balance of keeping their kids safe online without being overly invasive.

I first learned about Bark in the spring of 2019 while attending the Dad 2.0 Summit in San Antonio, Texas and was incredibly impressed by the team and their platform. I’ve subsequently become a Bark Ambassador. Some quick numbers about Bark’s coverage:

Bark helps protect more than 5 million kids across the U.S. and has alerted parents to tens of millions of potential issues. In 2019, we detected 7.3M+ instances of cyberbullying, 540,000+ instances of self-harm and/or suicidal ideation, and 450 child conversations with sexual predators. To date, Bark has also helped prevent 16 school shootings and offers free content monitoring for more than 1,900 schools and districts nationwide.

How does Bark monitor a child’s use of their phone and social platforms and trigger alerts for parents while preserving the child’s privacy? Instead of giving parents full access to their child’s accounts and messages, Bark leverages artificial intelligence to alert parents when concerning situations arise (ranging from troublesome language to cyberbullying and potential online predation).

During this social distancing period, we’ve recently ramped up our 11-year-old’s internet usage (more on that in an upcoming post) and I’ve turned on additional monitoring from Bark as a result. To date, I’ve been very pleasantly surprised that the only alert to be triggered resulted from the use of “LMAO” by one of his friends in a Google Hangouts chat. I’m not naive enough to think his web and social interactions will always be this innocent, but I’ll take it for now!

Bark employees have also done courageous work combatting online sexual predators, even working with law enforcement and having a 37-year-old mom pose as a teenager online. Bark produced a video documenting their undercover efforts which I encourage you to watch to educate yourself about the harsh realities of online predation (especially with respect for young girls) but caution you that it’s incredibly disturbing.

Jarring video, right? I was in attendance when it was screened at the Dad 2.o Summit in March and the room was silent. Everyone was horrified by what they had seen. My daughter is only 5 years old, but I immediately started contemplating keeping her off the internet until she’s 30. I walked away even more grateful for the work the Bark team and others like them are doing. I am glad that more tools are being made available for parents with children navigating the digital world.

Bark has just announced the launch of new screen time management and web filtering features, available this week to all users. Many parents were utilizing Bark for monitoring and alert purposes but relying on other platforms to limit screen time and web usage. Now both are available under one roof. If you sign up for Bark via this link you’ll receive a 20% discount on your subscription via my referral code. 

It’s worth noting that platforms like Bark aren’t sufficient working in isolation and shouldn’t be utilized in “set it and forget it” fashion. Absent proactive discussions with kids about the dangers of the internet and helping them to become responsible digital citizens, monitoring will likely alert parents to causes for concern either with increased frequency or severity. My kids are still relatively young, but I’ve found the published work of Devorah Heitner among others to be extremely helpful as I think about and begin navigating these issues.

Lastly, Bark for Schools is available completely free for K-12 schools. It was launched by Bark in response to the Parkland tragedy. The fact that it monitors G Suite has proven especially useful as kids have used their ingenuity to leverage Google Docs comments threats as a new chat platform (and to think we had to pass actual notes via scraps of paper, right?). I reached out to both my kids’ schools to inform them of this option.

What steps are you taking to monitor and protect your kids online? Please share with me below in the comments or on Twitter, where I’m @DadLifeStories. Thanks for reading!

Pushing the Limits with the Harlem Globetrotters

Pushing the Limits with the Harlem Globetrotters

The Harlem Globetrotters. You just smiled involuntarily, didn’t you? The mere mention of the Globetrotters conjures up nostalgia; childhood memories of watching one of the world’s most famous teams do things you’d never seen before on the basketball court, all while oohing and ahhing alongside your mom or dad with Sweet Georgia Brown playing in the background.

Last week I took my 3 sons to see the Globetrotters for the first time in Lowell, MA. As the boys and I told people about our plans or recapped our experience, we repeatedly encountered similar responses. Almost without fail, the person would tell us that they had gone to see the Globetrotters as a kid and loved it. I recounted for them my memories of seeing the Globetrotters as a kid in Rhode Island. My wife did the same from her childhood in Tennessee and our parents let them know that they too had seen the Globetrotters (back in the “olden days” as my kids call it) in Chicago, New York City and Cincinnati, respectively.

As I learned last week, Globetrotters games are still good, clean fun. However, rest assured that these are not your father’s (let alone grandfather’s) Globetrotters. We saw the team perform at one of the stops on their aptly named “Pushing the Limits” tour. While I recognized and delighted in seeing the trademark weave being performed by the team and the skits involving the refs and audience members, the high-flying acrobatics were on a level I couldn’t have imagined as a kid. Limits were most certainly being pushed.

We arrived early for the game to attend a “Magic Pass” pre-show event during which kids can learn tricks, meet the players, get autographs and take advantage of the opportunity to dribble and shoot on the game floor. I highly recommend this experience for kids seeing the Globetrotters for the first time. My boys were very excited to see the players up-close and get their autographs on the new Globetrotters balls I bought them (a seemingly unavoidable purchase most parents happily made at the event). All three kids got a chance to spin the ball on their finger. The also met “Globie” and a handful of Globetrotters players, all of whom signed their balls and posed for pictures.

When the pre-game festivities ended, we got some food, found our seats and settled in for 90 minutes of quality entertainment. The kids were awed by the athleticism and tickled by the theatrics. As for me, there were enough familiar themes from the Globetrotters of old to tap into my childhood nostalgia with plenty of new elements and dazzling dunks to keep me engaged. Most of all, I loved seeing the game through my kids’ eyes for the first time.

The boys and I had a blast and I chuckled to myself witnessing the reactions to them telling coaches and teachers about the game when vacation ended. “The Globetrotters? That’s awesome! I saw them when I was a kid too. What kinds of tricks did they do?’

For those of you that are fellow Boston-area parents, you have two upcoming opportunities to see the team play locally. Here are the details:

Sat. March 21 at 2 pm & 7 pm
SNHU Arena, Manchester, NH

Sun. March 22 at 2 pm
DCU Center, Worcester, MA

Do you have a Globetrotters memory either from parenthood or childhood? Please share it with me below in the comments or on Twitter, where I’m @DadLifeStories. Thanks for reading!

Truly embarrassed

Truly embarrassed

Neither my wife nor I drink very much alcohol these days. We both enjoy a glass of wine or a beer every now and then but often go months at a time without consuming a drop of alcohol and rarely keep any in the house. I tell you this not as a judgment on those who drink on a regular basis nor to tout our clean living. The fact is, although we don’t spend much time in bars, we have a soft spot for bar food. The reason for me detailing our drinking habits is because it serves as helpful context for the following story.

A friend was visiting us this summer with his girlfriend and on the way to pick up dinner for the adults, we stopped at the liquor store to pick up drinks to enjoy during dinner and over the weekend. As I helped my friend pack the car to head home at the end of the weekend, I tried to give him the remaining handful of alcohol. He insisted we keep it. I responded by letting him know that while we’d be happy to drink the remaining few TRULY hard seltzers over time, they’d likely last at least 6 months in our fridge. He chuckled and told me to enjoy them.

Fast forward to yesterday, roughly 4 months later. I received a call from my son’s school around lunchtime. The guidance counselor was calling to inform me that my son had brought a TRULY hard seltzer to school as part of his lunch. She said it was apparent that he wasn’t aware of the adult nature of the drink and merely thought he had snuck a seltzer into his lunch (we never send the kids to school with anything to drink other than a water bottle). She couldn’t help but chuckle and assured me that there wouldn’t be any ramifications but wanted me to be aware of what had happened. Nonetheless, I was mortified.

I immediately texted my friend and reminded him of my comment about how long the drinks would last. I then wrote, “here we are four months later and you’ll never guess where one of the drinks wound up today!”

As for the remaining two cans of TRULY, last night seemed like a good time for me to tackle their disposal after getting the kids to bed.

In case any of you fellow dads out there thought you might still be in the running for father of the year, consider this notice that the award is all but locked up. Best of luck to those in contention for second place!

Do you have a nomination for bigger dad oops of the year? Please share it with me below in the comments or on Twitter, where I’m @DadLifeStories. Thanks for reading!

That time I tried to Venmo the babysitter

That time I tried to Venmo the babysitter

Parent interactions with teenage babysitters are inherently awkward, all the more so when it’s a dad returning home to a young woman he’s never met before. This was exactly the scenario that occurred on the evening in question. My wife, at the time a college professor, had hired a student from her University to man the fort while we both had evening work commitments. I went directly from my office to my meeting and therefore hadn’t met the babysitter prior to coming home before my wife that night.

I walked in the house, quickly introduced myself and quickly followed up with “can I Venmo you?” Like most folks these days, I rarely have cash on me. I also assumed a college student would not be interested in being paid by check and, most importantly, would be familiar with the increasingly ubiquitous Venmo payment app such that it could be utilized as a verb.

Boy was I mistaken. The horrified look on the babysitter’s face made it abundantly clear that she was both unfamiliar with the app and extremely concerned about the meaning of the “verb” I had used.

I explained about the app in a panicked fashion, but the damage was done. I think I wound up paying her double her fee, apologizing profusely as I wrote her a check. When my wife came home, I informed her that there was a 0% percent chance the student would ever babysit for us again before telling her what had happened. My complete and utter embarrassment made the story very amusing to her.

As I recounted the story shortly thereafter to a friend, he told me I had dodged a bullet because it could have gone even worse. Confused, I asked him what he meant and he said, just imagine how much more awkward it would have been had she responded by saying something to the effect of “sounds exciting, let’s do it before your wife gets home.” I think I would have just turned around and walked back out of the house until my wife came home.

Fast forward a few weeks to the next time we hired a babysitter. This time my wife and I returned home from dinner together but, nonetheless, I was determined to avoid any semblance of a repeat occurrence. I pulled up a chair and sat down across from the babysitter before asking her in a very formal manner if she was familiar with the peer-to-peer payment app called Venmo and if I could utilize it to compensate her for her babysitting services. She looked at me like I was crazy and said “so you want to Venmo me? Sure.” Awkwardness begets awkwardness but I felt somewhat vindicated by her response, despite the fact that she was looking at me like I had four heads.

I now take the less dangerous and (hopefully) less awkward approach by asking babysitters if they use Venmo before inquiring about paying them via the app. If nothing else, I’ve gotten many laughs out of friends and family by recounting the story.

Do you have an embarrassing but funny parenting story? Please share it with me below in the comments or on Twitter, where I’m @DadLifeStories. Thanks for reading!

Behind the scenes at Oliver!

Behind the scenes at Oliver!

The folks at New Rep Theatre in nearby Watertown recently extended an invitation to attend a rehearsal of their new production of Oliver! and we gladly accepted. My two older sons and I had the pleasure of watching the cast and crew work on their performance of Oliver!, a musical based on the novel by Charles Dickens.

Photo via New Rep Theatre

Director Michael Bobbitt was a very gracious host, offering us a behind-the-scenes tour of the set, some information on the show’s inspirations (Lemony Snicket & Tim Burton) and checking in on us during breaks in the action to explain what was happening. The rehearsal we saw occurred during their “tech week” which meant we had a chance to see some of the technical components involved in making a play happen. A sound engineer adjusted the levels for various speakers and even showed us how he added a delay for some based on the time it takes for sound to travel from the stage to certain spots in the audience. That was one of many cool peeks behind the curtain (so to speak) we experienced. Unsurprisingly though, the highlight for my boys was the appearance of a fight choreographer who helped the cast members work through a scene that involved some grappling between actors while the Director gave us some context and demonstrated a few tricks of the trade.

We decided to head home around 9 PM but left intrigued about the performance and look forward to returning to see the show in its entirety with the rest of the family. My sons marveled that the kids in the performance were staying up so late (rehearsal was slated to run until roughly 11 PM) and asked a series of questions about their schedule, if they could sleep late, etc. I was more focused on the impressively disciplined behavior of the young actors at such a late hour but somehow that went unnoticed by my boys. Either way, their interest in theatre was piqued, which is great timing as they’re headed to see a performance of Tuck Everlasting later this month in Concord, MA.

Click here for more info and to purchase tickets if you’re local and interested. Note: This was not a sponsored post but the theatre did allow us to attend their rehearsal.

Have you taken your kids to see a play recently that they enjoyed? Please share it with me below in the comments or on Twitter, where I’m @DadLifeStories. Thanks for reading!