Now that my son has a phone, as do all his friends, it’s a whole new world of parenting. For now, he is content texting his friends yo, bruh, what’s up and watching sports clips, but there will soon be a time when social networks come more predominantly into play. And when it does, I’ll be relying on a new service called Bark to keep an eye on activity.
We have covered parental monitoring apps, services, and routers (like Circle by Disney, for example) in the past, but it’s about time there’s a much more all-encompassing, efficient, and streamlined way than having to track each network or word search manually. And that’s really what sets Bark apart. Instead of reading through every text chain, looking through your kid’s Facebook page daily, checking email and so on, Bark monitors it all at once, and does all the dirty work for you.
When you log in and create a profile, you link all your kid’s social networks (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Vine, Flickr, Tumblr, Google+, YouTube and GroupMe, as well as email accounts hosted on Gmail, Hotmail or Yahoo) and SMS/MMS messages on iOS and Android. It uses really sophisticated technologies to monitor the whole conversation, which means it can differentiate between a comment like you suck, made in jest about your kid getting a brand new iPhone vs. an unsolicited message from a cyberbully.
I also really appreciate the fact that it can analyze images and videos. Especially crucial for parents whose kids are checking out cringe-worthy apps likes Whisper. Not only does it keep track of outgoing communication, but it also monitors incoming and can alert you to suspicious activity from an online predator. It even alerts you to the possibility of depressive or suicidal thoughts that are conveyed digitally.
Bark can be accessed from any device (PC or mobile) and can monitor both iOS and Android phones. It also offers an iOS app for parents (Android is in the works) that is more of a convenience for monitoring accounts, since the website/mobile site provides the same information. As a security freak, I’m also glad about their assurances that all data that’s analyzed is stored within an encrypted database. When it comes to kids and their data, that’s an absolute requirement.
There is a fee involved (after the first free month) of $9/month or $99 annually. But considering it lets you monitor an unlimited number of kids’ devices, it’s a really good investment for keeping them safe (or safer), especially if you’ve got multiple kids on multiple devices.
Bottom Line: We’re all still figuring out how to parent in this digital age. But as we all navigate together, keeping the lines of communication open is essential. And being informed about what apps they’re using and how they’re using them, is essential. Bark gives you the ability to entrust your child a little more, giving them (and you) the space needed to explore without hovering while they’re texting or chatting with Facebook friends. Often times, it’s not necessarily about not trusting your kids; it’s not knowing situations their friends might be putting them in.
It’s not necessarily about letting them do whatever they want because now you can see everything they’re doing. But rather, it’s about allowing them room to explore within limits, as they mature. Then, they’ll truly learn how to make the right decisions online and evolve into the responsible digital citizens we hope they’ll all become.
More information on Bark can be found on their website.