“2.3K Activities Analyzed”
That was the notification I received from the Bark app moments after I installed it on my daughter’s phone. 2.3 THOUSAND activities? How did I ever think I would be able to monitor her phone use and social media presence by myself?
My 13-year-old got her first cell phone about 2 months ago. She had already started to establish an online presence over the past year with a Gmail account and Instagram. When she got the phone I allowed her to add Snapchat, and I knew she would be doing a lot of texting (So. Much. Texting). These privileges were granted with the understanding that I would have all passwords and full access to review her on-line activities at any time. How hard could that be?
Then I realized just how MANY online activities there were. When I took her phone for random check-ins, where should I begin? Which app should I open? Which text thread to follow? And why hadn’t I thought about group chat threads? It seems like my daughter has a group chat going with every circle of friends on every platform. This means even when she isn’t on her phone, some friend, somewhere, is probably adding a message to a long text chain. Trying to be the ever-vigilant-and-responsible parent, I attempted to skim through these hundreds…no thousands…of activities, and I soon realized that monitoring my kid's phone was definitely NOT easy.
Then, as if a gift from the guardian angel of parenting, I had the opportunity to try and review Bark, an app that monitors your child’s texts, chats, emails, and 24+ social media platforms for serious issues like cyberbullying, adult content, sexual predators, profanity, suicidal ideation, and more.
Bark would do the monitoring FOR me? I’m in!
I told my daughter we were going to try something new to ensure safe and responsible phone use, and she was on board with it. I downloaded and installed the app on both of our Android phones, and connected all of her social media accounts (those passwords came in handy). That’s when I learned that my daughter’s device had already logged 2.3 thousand activities. I’m pretty sure I personally monitored only about 50. Bark scanned these activities for keywords and contexts that could signify concerns, and found…7 issues. My heart sank. What could they possibly be? I pulled up my Bark dashboard asked my daughter to review the issues with me, gearing up for possible difficult conversations.
We did talk, but the conversation wasn't difficult at all. In fact, we even giggled. Since this was the first time we had used Bark, all of the monitoring settings were set to the most sensitive, and Bark caught all of the potentially problematic buzzwords. One of my favorite things about Bark, I soon learned, is that it provides context for the situations it flags. This allows parents to analyze exactly how these words are being used. So far, in our experience, the issues have been very benign, but we may not have known that without the context. Here are some examples:
- Violence and Cyberbullying: There was a text comment about how a teacher was trying to “kill them” with homework. Another exchange popped up that could have been troublesome without context, but it turned out to be a comment from one of my daughter's friends containing the word "abuse" (which my daughter assured me was hyperbole and not at all literal). There was also evidence from this snippet of conversation that the girls were making smart decisions about blocking the person being discussed, which was encouraging.
- Profanity: In addition to some casual use of the b-word by certain friends, there was a digital misreading of print on a t-shirt image that suggested a profanity so obscure that my daughter had no idea what it was.
- Drug/Alcohol-Related Content: This was text from a YouTube ad about vitamin supplements.
- Sexual Content: Also text from a YouTube ad, this one offering “50% off of Lingerie & Bras.”
Each one of these items sparked a conversation (and some giggling) with my daughter. I felt at once relieved that the issues were nothing to be concerned about, and grateful to Bark for doing the heavy-lifting to identify these potential concerns. Parenting is hard work, and it is great to know that Bark can help with one of the challenges of parenting in the digital age. Never again will I try to sift through 2.3 thousand texts and photos and emails on my own. Bark has my back!
Thinking about Bark for your Child's Devices? Here are 5 Things You Should Know:
- Set up takes a little time, but if you have access to your child’s devices and their passwords, it is not hard to walk through the steps and get everything connected.
- On Android devices, Bark monitors numerous apps that are popular with kids and teens: Instagram, Snapchat, Tik Tok, VSCO, YouTube, Spotify, email accounts, texting, and many more. It also alerts you to recently installed apps. Here is a helpful list of what Bark monitors and on which platforms.
- You can add accounts for multiple children. I also set up an account for my 10-year-old, even though her only online presence right now is her school-sanctioned Gmail account. She will be getting a Chromebook for Christmas, though, and Bark will be able to monitor her web browsing, Google drive use, and more.
- You can change the sensitivity settings for various monitoring activities and for individual children. You may want settings more strict for younger kids, or you may want to relax a setting in a typical area (for example sexual content, which picks up on anatomical words) if you know your child is going to be doing health or biology homework on their device.
- Getting my child on board right at the outset was vital to making Bark truly work for our family. I didn't want it to feel like an intrusion, but rather something we're doing together to ensure her safety. Bark says that kids are usually very receptive, as my daughter was. Here are some tips for talking to your child about Bark.
Visit Bark.us for more information.
For a free 1-month trial of Bark, use promo code MKFREEMONTH.
I received compensation and products for the purposes of this review. All of the opinions are my own.