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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!