Child under blanket

Children, especially teens, can be fiercely private and protective of their phones. This makes it tricky as a parent to make sure your child is behaving safely and appropriately online. It’s no secret that sexting is on the rise among young adults, but there is good news. With proper monitoring, good conversation, and behavioral clues, you can guide your teen through better decision making. So what do you do if your child is sexting?

Step one is to start an open-minded conversation about sexting and the dangers related to it. You should be able to gauge whether they know what it is or if they’ve taken part based their reaction and willingness to have a discussion.

You can watch for some clues that your child might be sexting. If they’re hiding their phone from you or deleting text messages and other notifications as soon as they are received, that is a potential sign. While these don’t confirm your child is sexting, they are good indicators that something may be wrong.

What To Do If Your Child Is Sexting: Confronting Your Child 

If you suspect your child has been sending or receiving explicit messages, try your best to not freak out. Parents often react with harsh comments and immediate confiscation of phones. But you may be better served by an understanding approach. Teens are generally already embarrassed about sex. If you approach them with hostility, they’ll likely shut down and not respond well.

Let your child know that you are there to support and guide them. But also make it clear that sexting is dangerous and can lead to unforeseen consequences. If your child is showing this behavior for the first time, they may just be trying to fit in with their peers.

You may feel inclined to take your child’s phone right away, but this could deteriorate trust between you. They may also stop coming to you with future issues. Instead, implement device time boundaries. This limits the amount of time they are on their phone unsupervised but keeps a level of trust in tact.

The Legal Ramifications of Sexting

Other than the social and moral implications of sexting at a young age, kids can become subject to a number of serious legal problems. It’s important to be aware of these risks so you can explain them in a way your child can understand.

First and foremost, sexual images of minors are illegal everywhere. This is true even if these pictures were taken by a minor. It is also illegal in many jurisdictions for a minor to distribute these images, even if they are the one in the image.

There are cases where minors have been charged with possession or distribution of child pornography after sharing and receiving pictures with other minors. This is a serious charge and can have ramifications following them through their lives and careers.

Use a tool like Bark to help you monitor online communication to flag inappropriate behavior.  When it comes to what to do if your child is sexting, it’s better to educate yourself about the dangers of sexting than to say nothing or assume your child wouldn’t participate. In fact, when confronted with potential legal ramifications, many teenagers are competent enough to understand sexting isn’t worth the risks.

Cropped man and woman using electronic device free image

As a parent, you feel compelled to protect your children 24/7/365 and when you can’t, it’s heartbreaking. From the moment they are born, you look out for your child’s best interests, and those now include digital interactions. Cyberbullying is becoming more prevalent among children of all ages, and the best protection involves teaching your children how to stay safe online. Here are eight things to tell your tweens and teens that will help protect your children from cyberbullying.

1. Learn More for Yourself

Before children can avoid being victimized, they need to understand what cyberbullying is and how it works. Cyberbullying takes many different shapes and forms. Cyberbullying can range from people impersonating others, to Photoshopping photos, to illicit embarrassment. Educate yourself and your children about cyberbullying so you can spot it if it happens.

2. Remember Password Protection

Some cyberbullies hack into accounts to post offensive statuses, photos, or videos to make it look like the account-holder posted them. The best way to prevent this is to create a strong password and never give it to anyone other than parents, ever, not even to maintain SnapChat streaks. (Parents should always be given access to children’s social media passwords.)

3. Don’t Send Racy/Inappropriate Photos

One of the best ways to protect kids from cyberbullying is to remind them that they should never send racy photos, or any other texts, images, or videos that aren’t rated at least PG. Sometimes even things that seem perfectly harmless to your child can be misconstrued. Remind them that once an image or text is sent, it is out of their control. Images that are supposed to “go away” or be deleted are always a screen shot and photoshop manipulation away. Digital footprints last forever.

4. Think Before You Post

Children can say things that are out of character due to emotions. They may say mean things about someone they know, or they even post a photo they find funny but others find offensive. Remind your children to think about how their post might make others feel before they make it visible, and wait until they are out of the emotion of the moment so they can think clearly about the ramifications of the post.

5. Make People Aware of Cyberbullying

Raise awareness about cyberbullying, this can also protect your children, especially if you get them involved. When there’s a negative social stigma associated with being a bully, children are more likely to think their actions through and treat their peers with kindness.

6. Check Privacy Settings

Most social media providers offer a variety of privacy settings that allow you and your children to control who sees the things they post. Take the time to read about these settings and what they do, then decide together which are the most appropriate for your tweens and teens.

7. Don’t Open Messages from Strangers

Cyberbullying isn’t always carried out by people your children know. In fact, strangers may bully your children online while hiding behind the veil of anonymity. Teach your children to never open messages or accept “friend requests” from strangers. This compromises their privacy and opens them up to being bullied online.

8. Don’t Log Into Accounts on Public Computers

Finally, remind your children that public computers are not safe when it comes to social media. Even if they log out after their sessions, things like keystroke loggers can remember passwords and status updates which can compromise privacy and security.

Although you may not always be there to stop cyberbullying before it happens, there are some things you and your children can do to lessen the chances and keep them safe when they’re online. These eight tips are a great start, so make sure to talk about them with your children sooner than later. Like, this weekend. Sign up with Bark today and we can help you keep your children safer online is by monitoring their phones, social media accounts, and emails. It’s what we do, and we can’t think of a more rewarding way to use technology for good.

history of cyberbullying

Traditional bullying forced its way onto the web in the 1990s with the advent of affordable personal computers. Since then, classmates (and even strangers) have subjected children and teens to cyberbullying in public chatrooms or on private messaging platforms. The web’s anonymity provided the perfect cover for a user to harass or intimidate others without many repercussions.

It’s easy to assume that online teasing isn’t as harmful as in-person bullying, but that certainly isn’t the case. And although several US states have enacted laws in recent years to regulate teen cyberbullying, the wider-reaching effects can be harmful or even deadly. In this post, we trace the history of cyberbullying and how the issue has evolved so that you can be better prepared to help protect your kids from being bullied online. 

Cyberbullying On the Books

In response to the 1999 Columbine school shooting, states began to pass anti-bullying laws. Some of these laws included cyberbullying as an offense, but many did not. Cyberbullying was brought to the mainstream after online harassment resulted in multiple teen suicides. One of the earliest cases occurred in 2007 when 13-year-old Megan Meier died by suicide after neighbors created a fake Myspace profile under the name “Josh Evans” to harass her. A federal grand jury found the perpetrators guilty of conspiracy and unauthorized computer use, but they were later acquitted. Meier’s case spurred her home state of Missouri to pass an anti-harassment law encompassing acts of cyberbullying.

The Internet Gets Mobile

Cyberbullying hit its stride in the mid-2000s when smartphones became the newest must-have piece of technology. Teens could now share text messages and photos with unprecedented ease. An 18-year-old named Jessica Logan killed herself after her boyfriend sent nude photos of her to teenagers in at least seven Ohio high schools. Logan was then relentlessly cyberbullied through Myspace and text messages. A year later, in a nearly identical case, a 13-year-old named Hope Sitwell killed herself after her boyfriend sent a nude photo of her to students in six high schools in Florida. Both deaths resulted in lawsuits against the schools as well as new state cyberbullying laws.

Going Viral

Today, we’re past the history of cyberbullying, but cyberbullying occurs on countless social media platforms and apps. A 10-second Snapchat post can jump platforms and then go viral on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter in a matter of hours. Anyone in the world can view and comment on public videos posted on YouTube. In 2010, a Rutgers University student named Tyler Clementi jumped off the George Washington Bridge after his roommate live-streamed a video of Clementi kissing another man on Twitter. A federal cyberbullying law passed in 2012 bears his name.

That same year, a Canadian teenager named Amanda Todd killed herself a month after posting a video entitled, “My story: Struggling, bullying, suicide, self-harm” to YouTube. Todd’s video, viewed more than 17 million times, explained how a stranger convinced her to show her breasts on camera and then blackmailed her with these photos. The stranger posted the picture on social media and used it as the profile pictures for fake accounts he used to befriend Todd. A week after her death, Canada began drafting national anti-bullying legislation.

What You Can Do After Learning About the History of Cyberbullying

These cases illustrate how cyberbullying continuously evolves with new technology. It’s imperative for families and friends to recognize the signs of cyberbullying and self-harm and give much-needed support to victims. The first step parents can take is to have an open and honest line of communication with your children. Talk through the history of cyberbullying and what it looks like now. The technology conversation is ongoing and constantly evolving, and speaking regularly about important issues like cyberbullying, sexting, and online predation is important.

lego man taking key off keyboard

Today’s guest post comes to us by the team at thebestvpn.com, an avid team of VPN users and internet security enthusiasts. As part of their enthusiasm for internet safety they have shared with Bark 10 ways to protect your kids online now. 

As a parent today, it’s becoming harder and harder to protect your kids online. Not only do they have their own devices, but they’re online constantly, which means monitoring their activity to ensure they’re safe is next to impossible. But just because you can’t personally monitor their activity at every turn doesn’t mean you can’t take precautions to protect your children. Start with these 10 tips.

1. Enable Youtube’s Security Features

Children and teens consume a lot of video content on Youtube. While there are tons of educational and entertaining videos on the platform, they’re not all family-friendly. If you head to settings in their account, you can enabled “Restricted Mode,” which hides videos that have been flagged as inappropriate.

2. Set Social Media Privacy Controls

When your children set up their social media accounts for the first time, help them set privacy controls to their accounts so that only friends and family can see what they’re posting. If your children already have social media accounts, educate them on the importance of online privacy, and help them check and change their privacy settings.

3. Install Anti-Virus Software

Your children are just as likely as you are to click malicious links. Sometimes they’re more susceptible because they haven’t learned yet what’s suspicious and what isn’t. As a parent, you can support your children’s online safety by purchasing and installing anti-virus software onto your family’s computers and your children’s mobile devices. If you don’t want to spend the extra money, consider a free anti-virus program like Avast.

4. Set Up Child Accounts on Your Computer

If your children frequent your computer or tablet, it helps to set up a user account for each child. They can customize their own desktop and store their own files, but you’ll be able to set different privacy settings for them. On your tablet, you can limit which apps your children can use from their account. It also keeps your personal or work files secure and limits their ability to manipulate your apps and programs if they don’t have administrative permissions.

5. Secure Your Gaming Systems

When thinking about parental controls and online safety, don’t forget that your computers, phones, and tablets aren’t the only devices that can connect to the Internet. Your children can use your gaming consoles to surf the web and make purchases. Your device should feature child safety options that limit their web browsing and purchase options.

6. Use Child-Safe Browsers and Search Engines

If you want your children to browse the Internet safely, consider a child-friendly browser. Browsers like Zoodles create a child-friendly environment and feature options like time limits and ad blocking. If you’re already using Chrome, you can set up a “supervised profile” to restrict certain websites and search results and see which sites your children have visited.

7. Lock Your Apps

Locking your apps can be useful whether you want to keep your personal data out of your children’s hands or you want to prevent little ones from clicking on important apps. On Android devices, you can set up “screen pinning,” which you can find under your security settings. This allows you to create a PIN that’s required for your child to exit an app. For Apple devices, you can use “guided access” found in your general settings under accessibility. Once you set up guided access, you can triple click the home button to configure your settings before handing your phone over to your child.

8. Limit Time Online

When you want to keep your children from spending too much time online, there’s an app for that. Apps like ScreenTime—available on Apple, Android, and Amazon devices—allow you to set limits on when your child can access the Internet. You’ll be able to block certain apps or device usage during certain hours, such as when your child is in school or after they go to bed. The app also lets you monitor your child’s device and web history remotely.

9. Vet Chat Rooms Before Allowing Your Children to Use Them

In some cases, chat rooms can be safe and educational. There are some child-friendly platforms that allow your children to chat with other children online. Research and check out these chat rooms before allowing your children to use them. It also helps to educate your children about what’s okay and not okay to share online. That increases your child’s security on sites that you’ve already considered safe.

10. Use Bark

Bark allows you to keep an eye on your children’s activities without shuffling through messages and social media posts you don’t want to see. Bark will alert you when your child experiences signs of sexting, cyberbullying, drug-related content, and depression so you can address important issues and protect them online.

Keeping your children safe online doesn’t mean you have to spy on them and watch their every move. Enabling parental controls and following the other tips above, especially for young children still learning the ins and outs of online safety, can help minimize the risk of dangerous online activity.

Suspicious mother spying a daughter looking phone

When your child ventures into the digital world, it’s natural to want to know what they’re doing so that you can protect them from questionable content and potentially dangerous situations. But should you monitor your child’s messages without them knowing?

Know the Difference Between a Mobile Spy and a Responsible Digital Parent

Monitoring and spying differ in both method and intent. Spying on your kids means hovering over their activities without them knowing it, waiting to call them out on improper actions. Monitoring is about safety, paying attention to what kids do on the computer and their mobile devices with their knowledge of your supervision. Not only is monitoring more fruitful, but it also avoids potential legal problems with tracking older kids.  Every relationship, particularly with your children, should have an underlying theme of comfort with an understanding that your goal is to protect them. Spying does not often convey that theme, and can actually have the opposite intended effect if your goal is to build a trusted relationship with your tween or teen.

Monitoring Your Child’s Messages? Be Open with Your Reasons

Children, especially teens, value their growing independence and might not understand your concern regarding their digital lives. Before implementing a monitoring system, discuss what you’ll be watching and why. It’s not that you care to know about every single conversation that takes place between them and their peers, and it’s not that you don’t trust them. What it is, however, is a way to keep them safe and ensure they don’t encounter situations that can harm them or their futures. Emphasize the use of monitoring as a form of protection, not as a way to restrict their freedom or try to catch them doing something “bad.” Explaining you trust your child to behave well in the digital realm and want to use monitoring to prevent potential threats from others establishes a positive foundation.

Take Time to Teach

Whether your child is starting out with their first device or is a seasoned consumer of digital media, it’s important to be clear about the responsibilities involved. Children need to know the difference between appropriate and inappropriate communications, and understand how to disengage from a situation before it gets out of hand. Work together to set up a safety plan, including your own monitoring activities, and let them know they can come to you if something they encounter doesn’t seem right, no matter what.

Make Friends with Apps

Not all monitoring apps are created equal. Some go overboard by allowing parents to read every word and see every action. These apps can stray into the territory of “helicopter parenting” and undermine the trust necessary for successful monitoring. These apps also put a huge time burden on parents to read through all of that data, extra time that none of us have. A better solution is to use an app like Bark to look for specific communication “red flags.” With this type of app, you can watch for signs of:

Choosing an app designed to send alerts when these or other situations of concern occur gives you the tools you need to keep your children safe online without prying into every aspect of their blossoming digital lives with a secretive mobile spy approach.

So should you monitor your child’s messages without them knowing? Games, social platforms, websites, email, texting, and streaming media can all expose kids to people and content you don’t want in their lives. With Bark, you have the information necessary to keep your children safer in their digital lives. Taking an upfront, honest approach to monitoring keeps communication open between you and your tweens and teens. Therefore, if something does happen, you can address the issue before it escalates without a critical breakdown of trust.

children and friends

When children feel the stress of a tough issue, whether that issue is cyberbullying, unwanted sexual advances, or perhaps even problems at home, they often rely on peers for support. Although this practice is crucial to a child’s social development, there is still cause for concern – especially when that support only takes place online with peers. Here’s what you need to know about children and friends online.

Children and Friends in Today’s Digital World

It used to be that a child’s peer group consisted of people in their classroom or neighborhood – people they saw in person and physically interacted with daily. Tweens and teens interacted with people their parents also saw and met with in person. In today’s digital world, things have changed. Children now have peers they’ve never even met in real life. Ever. In fact, a report from the Pew Research Center showed the following:

As you can see, children are now starting to heavily rely on their online interactions with their peers.

Reasons for Concern

Although we want to encourage our children to make new friends, as having several close friends is a good sign of healthy emotional and social development, here are a few points of concern when emotional support is only provided by online interactions with peers.

Whether your child is the one reaching out for help or the one helping others online, it’s important to monitor your child’s online behavior for warning signs. The internet often offers a false sense of security to children and friends of all ages, so talking to your children about safety and letting them know it’s okay to come to you or another trusted adult with concerns is the best way to keep them safe. Sign up with Bark today and we can help you keep your children safer online is by monitoring their phones, social media accounts, and emails.

teenagers using their phones

One of the greatest – and relatively newest – challenges facing parents today is how to ensure our children’s online safety. With so many internet-connected devices available to them, it’s increasingly difficult to know what they’re seeing, who they’re meeting, and what they’re sharing.

With a teenager, gone are the days of keeping the family computer in a communal family room and peeking over their shoulders. Now, they have their own devices and are (somewhat) free to roam the wild, wild internet … alone.

Children left to their own devices – literally and figuratively – without parental supervision have historically not proven themselves to be of sound judgment. (Lord of the Flies, anyone?)

So teaching online safety can feel overwhelming but take heart – it doesn’t have to be! Armed with these five tips – and the added protection of an online safety watchdog like Bark – the internet can be a safe and fun place for children of all ages.

1. Talk About Online Safety

Once your children are old enough to establish some internet autonomy, you’ll want to teach them how to protect their own privacy. A great way to find out how your children are practicing – or not practicing – online safety is to talk to them about it. Ask them about their social media accounts, which YouTube channels they watch, what games they play, which apps they like – and why. Open, proactive dialogue can present you with otherwise missed opportunities to discuss internet safety, and will help encourage them to come to you about anything they see online that doesn’t feel right or concerns them.

Also, be sure your children know to never:

  1. Use their real name as their screen name
  2. Give their name, phone number, email address, password, postal address, school, or picture without your permission
  3. Open email from people they don’t know
  4. Respond to hurtful or disturbing messages.
  5. Get together with anyone they ‘meet’ online

2. Offer Space, but With Boundaries

Once you decide how much time you’re comfortable allowing your children to spend on their devices and have established the do’s and don’ts together, you can take a step back and see how they handle the responsibility of personal reputation management, personal safety and time management.

Posting your rules for internet usage – and the consequences for breaking those rules – can serve as a top-of-mind reminder of your expectations as your children establish their internet independence without you nagging them about it.

3. Observe Physical Behavior

Copilot your children as they explore the internet. It’s the best way to make sure they know how to navigate it – and its pitfalls – safely. Pay attention to their physical and emotional responses more than usual as you offer space and independence. Do they seem sad? Are they secluding themselves? Do they still hang out with others as they would normally? How attached to their devices are they?

Their physical behavior can help cue you to dig a little deeper into their online and social spaces.

4. Monitor Digital Behavior

Monitor your kids’ texts, browser history, emails and social media. Many data and internet service providers offer parental-control options to block certain material, add time constraints or data limits. Your browser – Internet Explorer, Safari, Chrome, etc. – also offers parental control filtering.

Additionally, you can enlist the help of a service like Bark to monitor your children’s activity on all connected social media accounts, texts, and emails for potential issues – and to then notify you only when issues are detected.

5. Talk Some More

And when you think you’ve talked enough, keep talking. This can be as simple as asking your child to show you how to use an app they love to gently – and subtly – initiate a conversation about what’s going on in their online world. By establishing early on that you are open, receptive and engaged, you encourage your children to come to you should they encounter a problem – rather than hide it out of fear.

Don’t allow the internet to be a scary and uncertain place – it really doesn’t have to be. The internet opens an infinite world of knowledge and information that, when coupled with open communication, boundaries, observation, and engagement – can be fun, entertaining and educational.

As with anything, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Bark helps to empower and encourage parents to be involved in promoting their child’s safety without compromising their privacy or independence.

Try Bark now and get your first month free. Simply sign up and work with your child to connect their email, text, and social media accounts. And just like that, you’re well on your way to helping your children enjoy the internet safely.