In a world full of technology for kids where teens, tweens and sometimes even younger children have smartphones, and communicating through three-second pictures is the norm, parenting today’s tech-savvy kids can seem overwhelming. 

Having conversations during key moments can help you become a better digital parent. Here are six conversations about online safety you should not miss:

1. Technology for kids: Smart rules for your kid’s first smartphone

Experts recommend involving your child in this discussion and creating a technology contract for the family.

For instance, your child’s responsibilities could include knowing what to do if they receive an inappropriate text, photo or video. Other good rules include not answering unknown numbers, not sharing or posting inappropriate materials and not participating in cyberbullying. Let them know that Bark will be monitoring their online interactions and alerting you to any issues they are having, put it in the technology contract along with consequences for not following family rules.

This talk could take place as early as elementary and middle school age. About 78% of teens ages 12-17 are cell phone owners, according to a Pew Research Center study.

Establishing guidelines early on for their digital communication will simultaneously give you as the parent the ultimate authority while allowing the child to take ownership of the rules.

2. Your child’s first social media account

Similar to smartphone ownership, many children can have a social media account as early as 12, according to Pew Research Center. This tween age group is encountering multiple forms of technology seemingly all at once.

A key factor in discussing social media safety with a child is not treating social media like it is completely off limits, according to tips from the University of Texas at Austin Center of Identity. Instead, one approach is to walk them through your own social media profiles and create an account with your child. Go over privacy and blocking settings to show them that these settings allow some control in helping to keep them safe online. Make the learning experience fun as well as simple and concise.

Kids should also understand the importance of keeping their online gaming accounts secure. This means choosing not to give login information even to a close friend.

Parents also need to establish boundaries with their child about communicating via video chat or texting, and explain to kids which kind of communication in the gaming world is acceptable. It’s also important for parents to have a grasp of what conduct certain gaming systems allow, in order to keep their kids accountable.

3. Define inappropriate vs. appropriate

Kids need to understand that what they post online creates a digital footprint — meaning anything they write, like or comment on is creating their long-lasting persona.

Not only is it important to discuss your child’s actions online, but also the actions of those they follow. If you follow your child on social media, and something questionable comes up from another user, ask them about it and gauge their reaction. Do they know it’s over the line?

According to the Family Online Safety Institute, understanding the dangers online can feel a lot like heading toward a multi-lane highway on a tricycle. It seems impossible to know all the possible dangers ahead.

We offer technology that help parents work with their kids to keep them safe online and protect against cyberbullying, sexting, and signs of depression and self-harm. Bark’s services are structured in a way that parents are notified of suspicious activity, while allowing their child to have independence.

While many parental monitoring companies offer protection, the method is usually to block suspicious activity on social media, text messaging, and email, which teens will find a way around, said Carrie Goldman, an advisor with Bark and author of “Bullied: What Every Parent, Teacher, and Kid Needs to Know About Ending the Cycle of Fear.”

“The (teens) may not be flat out accessing apps that they know will be banned, but they have other ways of getting around it,” she said. “Bark can help parents find out when kids are sneaking around the system.”

4. Acknowledge kids will make mistakes

Any discussion about online behavior should center on cautioning your child, but also letting them know you are always there to help them if anything happens.

Telling your kids that they will make mistakes in life, such as sending an inappropriate text, is the most important discussion to have with them, Goldman said. Kids need to know they can come to you.

“I think that when parents only say to their kids, ‘Don’t do this. Don’t do that,’ what happens is that when the kids do something, they’re afraid to come tell us because we’ve only told them what not to do,” she said.

5. When your teen gets a driver’s license

Entering into this stage of parenting can be a little unsettling, especially knowing the risks involved. One of your biggest defenses as a parent is to model good driving practices to your child while they are still young.

More than eight people a day die in traffic accidents that involve distracted driving in the United States, which makes having the discussion around car safety even more vital. Distracted driving includes activities such as talking on a cell phone, texting and eating.

Dennis and Barbara Rainey, co-founders of FamilyLife, a non-profit corporation, suggest having clear consequences in place if irresponsible driving occurs. For example, a child may be responsible to pay the price of their ticket. Know what you will do before these situations occur and communicate this with your kids from the beginning.

6. What to do about cyberbullies

About 34.4 percent of students between the ages of 11 and 15 admitted to being cyberbullied, according to a 2015 survey. Of that percentage, 21 percent said it happened one or more times in the past month.

It is crucial for kids to know that saving the evidence is the first action that needs to be taken, Goldman said. Let your kids know they need to inform a trusted adult when it happens.

Sometimes kids need to step away from the computer and cool off, and as the parent, help them understand what next steps should be. It could be helping them know the right situations to block someone or remove them from your friend list. Sign up for Bark and monitor your kids’ online interactions for potential risky behaviors.

With these six conversations, parents can feel less overwhelmed about technology for kids, better navigate this stage of life with their kids and keep them safe in today’s digital world.

*Updated November 21, 2018*

Today’s technological advances benefit the world in innumerable ways. However, with these benefits also come some risks. Sexting and sextortion — particularly among teens and even preteens — is one that’s on the rise. Understanding what this means and how to talk to teenagers about sexting is very important. Additionally, monitoring their text messages and social media using Bark can help you know whether or not this is happening.

What Is Sexting?

“Sexting,” a slang term that combines sex and texting, is used to describe the taking and sending of sexually explicit photos and videos via text message. It may also be limited to verbal communication, which consists of suggestive and overtly sexual messages or descriptions of sexual acts.

Sexting between two consenting adults is perfectly legal. However, when children under the age of 18 are involved, child pornography and sexual exploitation laws are easily broken. Adults are prosecuted for sending sexually explicit messages to children under 18. But there’s a bit of a gray area in the law regarding teenagers. Children under 18 who send graphic images to their peers may be prosecuted under child pornography laws, though some states have Romeo and Juliet statutes in effect as an exception. The legal repercussions can be serious. It’s up to educated and engaged parents to monitor and safeguard their children.

What Is Sextortion?

“Sextortion” is another slang term, which refers to the crime of extortion as it applies to sex-related photographs sent via the internet or text messaging. It’s also a form of blackmail. If two people are sexting one another, and one of those people threatens the other with distribution of the explicit content, this is sextortion.

People fall victim to sextortion every day. The transgressor may demand money, sex, property, or some type of service from the victim in exchange for keeping the photos confidential. It’s a violation of trust, and, according to psychologists, one of the most traumatic forms of emotional abuse. While it is common among adults (as is evident by the release of celebrity sex tapes), it is also growing even more common among teens — and even preteens — who find themselves in unhealthy relationships or relationships that have disintegrated.

How to Handle Sexting and Sextortion

The right way to handle sexting and sextortion depends on the victim’s age. For aggravated sexting, which is the act of either sending sexually explicit photos to others without their consent or after the victim has asked the perpetrator to stop, there are protective laws. Cases may be filed as harassment, stalking, sexual harassment, or even under extortion statutes.

The laws on underage sexting have not always kept up with technology. They also vary by state, and they’re often prosecuted under child pornography statutes. While some states have Romeo and Juliet exceptions to general child pornography, many of them do not. This means that if a child sends, receives, or stores explicit material of underage peers, they can be charged with child pornography violations that come with heavy penalties. It’s important for parents to teach their kids about the laws in their state, and to have those difficult discussions around navigating the digital world.

8 Tips for Talking to Your Teen About Sexting

Additional Resources

Thankfully there are resources that can help you talk to your child about sexting and sextortion, and how to handle any issues that your child faces. There are also programs to help prevent the bullying and emotional abuse that can happen because of sexting. Sign up for Bark monitoring, which helps keep your child safe online by alerting you to potential issues like sexting and sextortion. This can help you support your children in a positive way as they explore the digital world.

Resources:

Common Sense Media

Megan Meier Foundation

Bark

WeAreThorn

KidsHealth

Info on Fake Calculator Apps

NSPCC

Common Emojis used in Sexting

October is National Substance Abuse Prevention month. Awareness months can be excellent way to bring up tough topics with your kids. According to statistics from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, most people use drugs for the first time when they are teenagers. While there has been a decline overall in some substance abuse by teenagers in 2015, they are still reporting use of alcohol, marijuana, and tobacco. Below is some information that can help you discuss and educate your child on substance abuse prevention.

What is Substance Abuse?

Substance abuse is the harmful use of psychoactive substances, this includes alcohol, tobacco, and illicit drugs. Use of these substances can lead to dependency, difficulties controlling use, and a higher priority to the substance than to other activities. The toll for substance abuse is not only to the individual, but to those around them and their communities. Hospitals and emergency rooms are affected by the physical trauma of the negative decisions of those who abuse substances, and jails and prisons deal with the fallout of impaired decisions because of this issue.

Warning Signs

Some of the physical signs to be aware of if you suspect your child may be abusing substances are:

Behavior signs that may indicate substance abuse are:

Psychological warning signs of substance abuse include:

A lot of these warning signs will seem familiar, because they are also often linked to warning signs of mental health conditions. That is because drug use in adolescents frequently intersects with other mental health issues. Some children may begin taking drugs to deal with depression or anxiety, some children develop mental health conditions because they are abusing substances. Effective treatment requires addressing the substance abuse and mental health conditions at the same time.

Prevention and Education

Studies have shown that education and prevention aimed at children and teenagers is the best course to curb substance abuse in general. Explaining to your kids the risks involved when drinking or consuming a substance that impairs judgement provides them with the best possible information to make informed decisions. Remind them how addictive substances can become, and that this dependency has a huge impact on people’s lives, their families and communities. Impaired judgement can lead to car accidents, consumption of tobacco can cause certain types of cancer, and alcohol poisoning can cause death.

Share your state and local laws with them, remind them that there are criminal penalties for underage consumption of substances. For example, even if marijuana is legal in your state, that is only for people 21 and older; furthermore, it is still illegal on the federal level. Additionally, the consumption of illegal substances has a negative impact on a developing brain. Cannabis use by teens has been linked to abnormal changes in brain structure related to memory and the earlier a teen starts smoking the worse the effects on the brain.

How to Say No

But it is not always easy to just say no. Unfortunately in our culture, the word no is not always readily accepted or respected. And some kids have a hard time saying a hard no, they don’t want to come off as uncool or judgmental. Even as adults, we struggle with this. Tweens and teens are in need of more phrases at the ready, and actionable responses for when the need arises. For example, if they are at a party that has alcohol and they can’t get a ride home immediately, they can find a cup and fill it up with water, stemming peer pressure before it can begin. Below are some suggestions on how to say no, let your child know that you are willing to be the “bad guy” and they can always blame you for why they are saying no.

Suggestions for how to say no include:

Remind your kid that you expect them to find ways to say no and to not abuse substances, but that you will always be there for them if and when they mess up. Explain that you do not condone such behavior, but that you are willing to  come and rescue them from any uncomfortable situation they find themselves in. Discussing and educating your kids on how abusing substances can make a negative impact on their lives is the best way to prevent substance abuse in the first place. Bark can help by monitoring your child’s social media accounts and alerting you to any messages about drug content.

Resources:

National Institute on Drug Abuse

Common Sense Media