We all want to keep our kids safe on the internet and on social media, and one of the most helpful tools for that is to be able to monitor your kids online. That’s why I want to offer you this Bark review.
Between cyberbullying, adult content, and even child predators, kids receive an onslaught of attacks when they’re online. And while we want to be right there with them, watching, eventually that becomes impossible.
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How kids relate to each other now is completely different from when we were in school. In fact, 60% of kids report being cyberbullied at some point, and many of them have suffered from it.
Results of cyberbullying range from developing social anxiety, skipping school to avoid abusers, or even developing an eating disorder. It’s vital that we protect kids from this threat.
In addition, the average child is exposed to inappropriate sexual content on the internet by 11 years old. Even if it was an accident at first, these images can become addictive, literally altering behaviors and brain structure.
Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links. You can read my full policy here.
These threats are why I really appreciate the work done by Bark Across America to protect kids. In fact, their technology has alerted parents to 31 thousand self-harm threats, and 16 school shootings have been prevented by Bark.
Check out this review of Bark Across America and see if it’s right for your family.
What is Bark Across America?
Bark is a monitoring service that can check your child’s internet use, Google docs, social media (including DMs and PMs), and texts. It monitors 24 different platforms, more than any other parental monitoring service, for:
- Sexual content
- Violence and weapons, including self-harm and suicidal content
- Drug and alcohol related content
- Depression and mental health issues.
While Bark doesn’t give you direct access to everything you kids say to one another, it alerts you through text if there’s a problem. I like this set-up because you can protect your kids while still giving them some autonomy and privacy.
Parents receive a text if their child is being cyberbullied or is involved in sexting, whether through email, text, or direct messaging. Parents are also alerted if their child is looking at explicit content or showing signs of depression or a threat of suicide based on their internet searches and messages.
How does Bark work?
Like I said before, Bark doesn’t require you to review every single text your kid sends and receives (big time and sanity saver!). Instead, you receive an alert if something needs attention.
And Bark can look into several apps, not just texts. For example, you can monitor Reddit, Instagram, Spotify, and Facebook across all devices. Snapchat, TikTok, VSCO, and more can all be monitored on Android (more on using Bark with Apple vs Android below).
Bonus: Bark can look through your kids’ Google Docs too. Older kids (middle school and high school) use the Google Suite for group projects at school (it’s really great for real-time updates across multiple users). But the downside is it’s also possible to say damaging things to each other across Docs.
You can set the alerts to relaxed, moderate, or strict. The stricter controls you set, the more notifications you’ll receive, but you can set it to work best for you.
Bark is smart. It catches inappropriate acronyms, uses of emojis that might be related to questionable activities, and more.
Even better, if you get an alert, you’re not just left with an issue dropped in your lap with no guidance. You’re given recommendations from child psychologists about how to handle the situation in a positive way so you can help your kids and strengthen your relationship.
At what age should you start using Bark for your kids?
I personally recommend setting up Bark as soon as your child begins using the internet unsupervised in any capacity. Whether your child has access to messaging or text so they can talk to family and friends online, or even if they surf YouTube for their screen time, Bark can protect them.
If your child is involved on social media platforms at all, you definitely need a tool like Bark to keep them safe. The video below shows just how young a child can be and still receive messages from child predators.
WARNING: The video below has some very disturbing parts with very explicit messages sent to a (pretend) child. While this video is scary, it’s important to know just what children can face online. Watch with caution.
Even if your child seems way too young to attract attention of this nature, there are still terrible people out there who may try. It’s important to keep your kids safe from monsters like this.
Bark or Bark Jr
Bark has recently come up with a program called Bark Jr that’s a little different from the original. Bark Jr is only $5/month (or $49 annually), but it has fewer features.
Bark Jr allows you to set up screen time limits on a device, filter which websites your kids can visit, and keep up with where your kid is by using location check-ins.
The full Bark program does all this, plus it monitors texts, emails, and apps as well as sending you alerts for potentially dangerous content and messages.
So which should you get: Bark or Bark Jr? My recommendation is that if you have a very young child (up to 7 or 8, perhaps) who doesn’t have any social media yet, Bark Jr is enough to set screen time limits for you (no arguing for “five more minutes!”). As soon as your child starts getting into apps, any messaging tools, or social media, upgrade to Bark.
How to use Bark effectively as a parenting tool
While this might not be your first thought, remember this: Bark can’t parent for you. It’s up to you to use Bark as a tool in your parenting.
When you receive an alert, don’t just freak out and demand to know what’s going on with your kid! That will likely lead to him or her just shutting you out. Instead, you’ll need to stay calm.
Here are some tips to help you protect your kids – whether you’re talking about a specific alert from Bark or just discussing safety in general.
Keep lines of communication open
Make sure your kids know you’re on their side! If you’re talking daily about other facets of life, it will be easier to discuss safety on the internet.
In addition, be honest and open with your kids. If you choose to use Bark, be honest about it (don’t just install it and monitor all their social media without telling them). Let your kids know you are monitoring their internet use to protect them while giving them privacy.
A responsive parenting style – where you’re neither permissive nor authoritarian – will keep trust and respect flowing.
RELATED: Positive parenting vs. authoritarian parenting – the effects on your kids
In addition, kids who are raised with respectful parenting are simply less vulnerable to child predators. They are less likely to be manipulated by blame and shame, and more likely to come to their parent if something is wrong (BTW, I’m not implying that you’ve done something wrong if your child becomes a victim. You’ve done nothing wrong, and I’m so sorry you’ve been through this).
Make it clear you don’t blame your child
Child predators are masters of manipulation. They flatter, cajole, and even threaten to get kids to concede to their demands.
Predators also are masters of getting kids to stay silent. They choose and groom victims who are willing to keep secrets.
(Side note: That’s why it’s important that one of your family rules is “We don’t keep secrets.” If you train your kids that someone who wants to keep secrets can be dangerous, they’ll develop a Spidey-sense about people trying to manipulate them.)
RELATED: The only three family rules you need
If your child has been pushed into actions she (or he) wasn’t comfortable with by a predator, she will likely experience guilt, shame, or fear. The predator may say not to tell and threaten to hurt her family, or may tell her that the experience was her own fault.
Obviously none of this is true. It’s important, no matter what happens, to let your child know that she did nothing to make someone abuse her.
RELATED: Teaching assertiveness – Why “nice” isn’t enough
Use the specific tips suggested by Bark
When you receive an alert, Bark provides expert recommendations from child psychologists. Use those as springboards for how to have a conversation with your child and/or choose what actions to take.
What’s missing from Bark
While Bark is the best Parental Online Monitoring app available, it does have a few holes. Some platforms have not opened up keys to allow Bark access, leaving some means of communication unmonitored.
It’s gotten better, but Apple makes their products a bit more difficult to monitor (for all services, not just Bark). That means that a few apps, like TikTok, SnapChat, and VSCO, can’t be monitored on iPhone (although they can on Android).
Regardless, Bark has the best reach of any parental monitoring service out there. In fact, they cover four times the platforms of any other monitoring service.
Is Bark Across America right for your family?
I hope this review has helped you see how important it is to protect your child on the internet. I also hope it has helped you decide if Bark is right for you.