As kids become more independent, we want to foster their sense of responsibility and give them room to prove themselves. But it can be difficult to navigate this natural separation, especially when kids are doing who-knows-what on their devices. There are constant questions: Where are they? Who’s contacting them? What are they doing online? Since tweens and teens are often tight-lipped about their lives, it can be tricky to get clear answers.
Though direct communication is always best, and the conversations around online safety and digital citizenship should start long before a kid becomes a teen, there are occasions when parents feel it’s necessary to monitor what kids are doing on their devices. Maybe they’ve broken your trust or you’re worried about their safety. Whatever the case, there are tools to track what your kid is up to. Be aware that spying on your kid can backfire and that kids can find a way around just about any type of tracking. But if you’re at the end of your rope or just need extra help managing your kid’s digital life, then one of these tools might work for you. To get more information, check out our advice about cell phone issues, including basic parental controls, and less invasive (and expensive) ways to limit access to content.
Bark: Similar to VISR (see below), kids and parents need to work together to hook up accounts to the service. It also analyzes all device activity and alerts parents when a problem is found. If they get an alert, parents will see the content in question and get suggestions on how to handle it ($9/month).
Circle Home and Go: This app manages the Circle with Disney device, which pairs with your home Wi-Fi and controls all Wi-Fi-enabled devices. Can create time limits on specific apps, filter content, set bedtimes, and restrict internet access for the whole house or for individuals. Circle Go will let parents filter, limit, and track on networks outside the home Wi-Fi (the Circle device is $99, the Circle Home app is free, and the Circle Go service will be $9.95/month).
Limitly: If screen time and specific app use are your concern, this system might work for you. It lets you track your kid’s app use and limit time using the device or certain apps (free, Android-only).
Pocket Guardian: Parents get alerts when sexting, bullying, or explicit images are detected on your kid’s device, though you won’t see the actual content or who it’s from. Instead, the alert can prompt a conversation, and the app offers resources to help ($9.99-$12.99/month).
SPY24 With this program, you don’t see specific content from your kid’s device, but you can track app installations and use, block browsers and apps, manage time in apps and on the device, block out device-free time, grant bonus time, track location, get an alert when your kid’s phone is turned off, and see your kid’s contacts. It also claims to detect cyberbullying by tracking when your kid’s device use drops dramatically, which can indicate avoidance. Setting up a geofence lets parents track a kid’s location and alerts them when a kid has gone outside the boundaries, and a kid can tap the power button to send an emergency message to parents (currently free, but will be $4.99).
VISR: For this one to work, a parent needs the kid’s usernames and passwords, so be aware that it’s easy for kids to set up dummy accounts. Once enabled, the tool analyzes posts and emails for bullying, profanity, nudity, violence, drugs, and late-night use and sends parents alerts when anything iffy is detected (currently free, but will be $5/month).
Internet Safety for Kids: Getting Your Child on Board with Bark
If you’ve tried talking about Bark with your kids and didn’t get very far, not to worry. We’ve got help! We totally get it — most kids probably aren’t thrilled to have a monitoring service put on their phones. But they might be surprised to learn that, at the end of the day, Bark actually gives them more privacy, not less. Also, because kids don’t always look at the big picture, you may have to explain some of the very real dangers that monitoring can help protect them from. Read on for tips to make internet safety for kids and the monitoring process a little easier for your family.
Internet Safety for Kids: How to Talk About Bark With Your Children
Explain that this is all uncharted territory
Leading with love, tell your kids that your family’s decision to monitor their online activities wasn’t one that was taken lightly. Explain that literally, no other generation of parents in human history has dealt with raising kids that have smartphones. So, there’s not exactly a guidebook! Many of the dangers facing kids are all brand-new, like cyberbullying and online predators. Right now, the best way to address the dangers from technology is actually with more technology — and that’s where Bark comes in.
Present the alternatives
In terms of privacy, Bark isn’t even in the top three most restrictive ways parents can keep tabs on their children’s devices. First, explain that some kids don’t even get smartphones at all — or have to wait until they’re a certain age. Second, some kids have to turn in their phones at the end of each day so their parents scan through all of their texts, posts, and photos. Finally, some families even resort to spying apps that give parents complete access to every single thing on their kid’s phone. The bark is definitely a happy medium in comparison, only alerting parents to potential issues and nothing else.
Highlight external threats
For many families, the main worry isn’t about their own child — it’s about everyone else on the internet. No matter how careful a kid is, there’s always a chance that someone else may lead them into a dangerous situation. This can include cyberbullying, which takes many forms and can cause children severe anxiety and depression. Online predators may also take advantage of a child’s trust and start abusing them through the grooming process. Another example is the recent trend of drug dealers soliciting children on Snapchat. It’s a dangerous world out there, and the internet has made it even more so — especially for kids.
Talk about the dangers
Kids may not believe it, but the number of dangers facing kids is actually pretty high, and they’re incredibly common among young people. Last year, Bark analyzed more than 2.1 billion messages across texts, email, and 30+ apps and social media platforms and found that:
- 76.7% of tweens and 82.0% of teens experienced bullying as a bully, victim, or witness.
- 45.5% of tweens and 66.3% of teens engaged in conversations about depression.
- 70.9% of tweens and 87.9% of teens encountered nudity or content of a sexual nature.
Watch Childhood 2.0 together
In this eye-opening documentary featuring Bark, actual teens and tweens talk about what it’s really like growing up in the digital age. The film also features experts in technology, pediatrics, and law enforcement who comment on dangers like online predation, anxiety, and more. You can stream Childhood 2.0 absolutely free. Note: This movie addresses serious issues and may not be appropriate for very young children.
Real-Life Examples of How Parents Have Explained Bark to Their Kids
“I explained Bark by comparing it to the alarm system in our home — we don’t even notice that it’s there, but it’s working in the background at all times, only alerting us when something bad is happening.”
“I let them know this isn’t a punishment and explained that I wanted to be transparent and build trust with them rather than snooping behind their backs, and Bark allows me to do that.”
“It’s 100% not because I don’t trust my daughter or that I want to spy on her. I let her know that I understand how she must feel and assure her I’m not going through every post, message, comment, etc. I didn’t make it out to be a big deal. I also put [Bark] in a folder so that she doesn’t notice it every time she scrolls through her apps.”
The Importance of Digital Citizenship
Along with monitoring your kid’s activities, it’s important to teach them how to be good digital citizens. Phones are tools that they’re going to use for the rest of their lives, so starting healthy habits early is key to helping them thrive. This includes creating family tech contracts, learning how to identify and choose trustworthy sources of information, and striving to act with compassion and empathy while online.
A Stranger Danger Video Made Just for Kids
Often, seeing is believing — especially for children as they learn about some of the dangers of using the internet. That’s why our team created a video to show just how easy it is for an adult to create a fake social media account and masquerade as a kid. In just a few short minutes, kids can learn exactly how people aren’t always who they say they are online. Bark helps parents protect their kids from predators like these. Alerts are sent when conversations may indicate a large age gap or potentially abusive behavior.
Internet safety for kids is a complicated subject, and it can be a challenge to get your children to understand just how important it is. One way to make the process of monitoring with Bark a little easier is to start as soon as possible. The earlier kids understand that having a phone also comes with having Bark, the more they’ll accept it as part of their routine. But no matter their age, hopefully, they’ll understand that you’re doing it out of love. And as always, when in doubt, talk it out. Discuss — and keep discussing! — their ideas, feelings, and perspectives on growing up in the digital age.