This post is one I have been excited to write for awhile. Since I started the series The Parenting Tech Toolbox, I have been highlighting the devices and services we use to manage technology with our children, tweens and teens.
We use the tool I’m writing about today on the daily, and it has been a GAME CHANGER! It is called Bark, and it has revolutionized how I monitor technology in our family.
Here’s how it works. You connect your child’s device to Bark so that it can backup text messages, and then you connect every single online account your child owns – school email, personal email, social media, Google, etc. Bark then continually monitors all of your child’s online activity for concerning content. It scans their text messages, web searches, social media activity, YouTube videos and anything stored in Google Drive. Then, if the Bark algorithm flags an activity, it sends you an email or text, depending on your self-selected settings.
Bark flags activity that contains or indicates depression, self-harm, sexual content, profanity, alcohol/drugs, and violence among other things. Their algorithm is so impressive! It even flags intent within texts. For instance, it will flag a text that says “I just can’t do this anymore” or “I’m so lonely” as depression. It also flags questions like “How old are you?” as a potential Risky Contact. The longer we use Bark, the more impressed I am with their technology!
One of the awesome things about Bark is that because it is account based, it follows your child wherever they go online, no matter what device they are on. This has been great for us this year because our kids have received school-issued Chromebooks that they use during the day. The district doesn’t allow parents to install monitoring software on the computer itself, however, we connected our children’s school email accounts to Bark, which allows Bark to monitor their Google searches, email, YouTube activity and Google Hangout chats.
We have layers of parental controls set up on all of our devices, so the majority of the really bad stuff never gets through to our kids. However, there is still plenty of opportunity for indiscretion online, even if it isn’t involving material considered explicit.
Examples of how Bark has protected our people over the last year.
– A flagged text alerted us to a bullying situation
– A flagged email alerted us that one of our teens had created a new account
– A flagged Google search alerted us to a situation that was going on at school
– Flagged content on Pinterest alerted us about an issue a teen was researching
Some of these situations led to consequences, but most of them just led to really good conversations and teaching opportunities.
Depending on the ages of your kiddos, the goal of managing technology is different. When they are young, the goal is straight protection, and everything just needs to be locked down for their own safety. As your children move to their teen years, the goal shifts to teaching them how to manage technology for themselves. As they earn trust, certain restrictions can be loosened, and they can be given more freedom. A couple that has influenced our parenting a great deal advises parents to, “Train your kids, don’t chain them.” This is a balance we continually work to achieve. With some kids, it has gone well, and they have earned more freedom. With others, their freedom continues to remain sparse, and their lives look a bit more “chained.”
Bark has been an extraordinary tool for helping us keep a pulse on our tweens and teen’s online activity. It has made the task of managing technology in our home exceedingly easier, and it has provided us with peace of mind knowing that while I can’t read every text, view every search or scan every Pinterest page, Bark is!
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