If you’ve read Sloane Ryan’s Medium piece, you were probably shocked and disgusted by the prevalence of online predation that exists today. Since publishing her story, we’ve received thousands of messages from people asking how to help fight this epidemic, as well as what advice we can give on how to talk about online predators with their kids and help protect them from being targeted.

Bark’s Special Projects Team is uniquely positioned to provide families with firsthand knowledge of how online predation occurs. Below you’ll find real-life examples and lessons we’ve learned from our interactions with online predators so you can gain a better understanding of the issue. It’s our hope that this knowledge will help you start a conversation with your child. Productive and concrete discussions about how predators operate in the digital age can help keep them safe both online and in real life.

Predators Can Make Contact Almost Anywhere

Video game message boards, the comment sections on YouTube and TikTok videos, and Reddit threads are all places where predators have been known to lurk. But we also know that predators can be found in surprising places that many parents wouldn’t even imagine — like the FitBit community boards and chatrooms within Bible apps. It’s important that your kids understand there’s a possibility that bad people can talk to them in their apps and games, even if those platforms are not known for predation, and that they should always let you know if someone unfamiliar strikes up a conversation.

Abuse Can Happen Entirely Online

The emotional damage that predators inflict can happen from across your city, from another country, or even from the other side of the world. Kids can be subjected to graphic sexual content, overt manipulation, and sometimes even violent threats from people who are trying to intimidate them into doing what they say.

It’s easy to think that nothing bad can happen when your child is under your watch. The painful reality is that kids can be abused online, even when they’re just one room over. Make sure your child knows that anytime someone makes them feel uncomfortable online, they should tell you immediately. If they are exposed to something troubling, they might need help processing their feelings about what happened.

Talk About Online Predators and How They Operate

It can be hard to acknowledge the reality of online predators — and even harder to accept that your own child might be at risk. But avoiding the topic prevents kids from learning what they need to know to be prepared in case it happens. No matter how young your child is, it’s crucial to have ongoing conversations about their devices, how they use them, who they’re talking to, and the things they see online. Make check-ins commonplace so that they become a part of your family’s day-to-day life. These can become regular opportunities for your child to tell you if something is wrong.

Once you and your child have talked over the basics, you can start explaining how predators operate. Some want to receive explicit photos from kids — others want to send them. Some initiate relationships with innocent-sounding questions, taking their time to create a seemingly harmless bond. Some warn kids to watch out for “bad people” online before doing terrible things themselves. Some offer to guide their victims through difficult times and use that foundation of trust to manipulate them into incredibly abusive relationships.

Unfortunately, there is no shortage of horrible ways that predators can interact with kids, but giving them age-appropriate ideas of what methods predators use will help them recognize potentially abusive relationships as they develop.

Sexual Abuse is NEVER a Child’s Fault

Children are minors — legally, intellectually, emotionally, and physically — and can’t give consent to any sort of relationship with an adult. The worst predators are masters of manipulation, and they’re always the ones who are in control, no matter how the relationship is framed. Your child shouldn’t be ashamed of what they experience because of a predator. Even if a child initiates a conversation with an adult, they’re not at fault for where the conversation goes. Let them know that if an adult is communicating with them online — no matter what is being discussed — they are not responsible for what happens.

Tell Your Child You’ve Always Got Their Back

The single most important thing you can do to help your child is to make sure they know they can tell you absolutely anything — no matter how afraid, embarrassed, or upset they might be. When kids know they can come to you for help without fear of being judged or punished, they’re more likely to confide in you if they ever find themselves in a situation where they need your help.

If your child does tell you they’ve been communicating with an online predator, it’s extremely important to put their safety and comfort ahead of your own. This conversation will be emotional for both of you, but you need to show your child that you’re there for them and that they can trust you to help protect them.

Monitoring Can Provide a Digital Safety Net

Raising kids in the age of smartphones is uncharted territory for today’s parents. Even with open and ongoing conversations, strict parental controls and privacy settings, and all of the advice in the world on how to talk about online predators, kids are still at risk of encountering digital dangers. One more thing families can do to help keep their kids safe online is to monitor online activities for potential issues.

Bark’s award-winning service monitors texts, email, YouTube, and 30+ apps and social media platforms for signs of sexual predators, adult content, cyberbullying, depression, suicidal thoughts, drug use, threats of violence, and more. Sign up today for a free, one-week trial.

“Alexa, play ‘Bad Guy’ by Billie Eilish.”

“OK Google, tell me a knock-knock joke!”

If your family has a smart speaker, these are probably popular refrains heard around your house. Kids and adults alike have made these voice-activated speakers commonplace — some families even have multiple speakers placed throughout their homes.

The Alexas and Google Homes of the world have become de facto family members, and they probably bring your kids a lot of joy in the form of music, audiobooks, jokes, fun facts, and more. But are you aware of all the potential risks that come with having your kids interact with smart speakers on a daily basis? In this post, we explain some of the features that parents might not know about — you might be surprised by what these unassuming devices can do!

Instant Access Can Mean Explicit Access

Turning on music with just a quick verbal command is a key feature of smart speakers, and it’s probably one of the most common ways they’re used in your house. The music itself usually comes from popular streaming platforms like Amazon Music, Google Music, or Spotify, which means that kids have pretty much every song in the world at their fingertips.

This can be great for exploring the back catalog of classic artists, but it also means that kids may have access to songs that are well above their maturity level. It’s not just songs, either. Standup comedy, spoken word, lectures, and podcasts can be accessed just as easily. Fortunately, many speakers — including Amazon Echos and Google Homes — have explicit content filters that parents can enable to help protect their kids from unwanted exposure.

Smart Speakers Can Be Used Like Phones

In addition to listening to music and asking for fun facts about sharks, kids can use smart speakers to talk to friends and family. This functionality is tied to your phone (though some kids may have it tied to their own devices) and syncs with your contacts. But it can also be used to call public numbers — including those of strangers — as well as order services like Lyft and Uber. Just like the explicit filter mentioned above, the calling feature can be turned off within your smart speaker’s app as a protective measure.

In addition to making calls, Amazon’s “Drop In” and Google’s “Broadcast” features allow you to communicate directly from speaker to speaker. You can use these features to talk to another smart speaker in a different room of your home, or in some cases even in another house entirely! But unlike a regular phone call, people can contact you through Drop In even if you don’t want them to. As long as the feature is enabled on both devices, family, friends, or even strangers can make contact. This could lead to unwanted communication — and even harassment.

There Are Still Privacy Issues on Smart Speakers

While these devices seem generally safe, there are some privacy and security concerns that come with having a microphone always listening to what your family is saying. When you interact with a smart speaker, the companies behind them are tracking your activities, purchases, contacts, and more — and kids are no exception. While these companies assure users that all data is safely encrypted, there is always the chance that a third party could access it through hacking, a data breach, or another disruption.

Smart speakers are just one of the many ways children, tweens, and teens can access the internet, and it’s important to know some of the potential risks they may face while using them. In addition to setting parental controls, it’s important to use a monitoring service like Bark to help protect your kids online. Bark monitors text messages, email, YouTube, and 24+ social media platforms for these same issues. Sign up today for a free, one-week trial!

Throughout your child’s life, you’ve taught them how to be safe. You’ve explained that they shouldn’t microwave aluminum foil, play with matches, or bike down a huge hill without wearing their helmet. But human trafficking awareness might not be a part of your safety lessons. That makes sense, really. It’s almost too horrible to imagine that your child — or any child, for that matter — might be at risk of being in such a horrifying situation. But it happens far more often than you might think.

It can feel overwhelming to try to address such a scary issue, but with the right information and resources, you can be better equipped to help protect your child. Here’s what you need to know to help prevent children from being trafficked.

Human Trafficking Awareness: What You Should Know

Human trafficking is not a rare problem in the world. It’s not even a rare problem in the United States, where 10,000 children experience commercial sexual exploitation each year. On average, these victims are forced to perform sexual acts at least five times per day. And while you might assume that only strangers target children for trafficking purposes, family friends, extended family members, and even parents can be the perpetrators.

You probably associate human trafficking with forced labor or sex work. But modern-day slavery includes domestic servitude, sex trafficking, forced labor, bonded labor, child labor, and forced marriage. Being aware of the kinds of situations children are forced into can help you recognize when something might not be right with a child in your community.

How Traffickers Can Target Your Child

Before the rise of the internet, a predator might approach a kid at the mall and then convince or force them to go to a secondary location. But social media has opened up many more possibilities. Today, a predator can strike up what seems like a harmless conversation online, but over weeks (or even months) of careful grooming, they’re able to manipulate a kid into exchanging personal information or even meeting up in person. They might also try to entice them by asking if they want to make some extra money through a modeling job.

Some traffickers specifically target vulnerable children, such as those who have a caregiver with a substance use problem, have a drug or alcohol problem themselves, or who are facing poverty. Kids who identify as LGBTQ+ are more likely to be targeted by traffickers, too, especially if they don’t have a supportive community. In fact, a startling 58.7% of homeless LGBT youth have been sexually victimized, and 1 in 3 teen runaways is recruited by a sex trafficker within just 48 hours of leaving home.

How to Talk About Human Trafficking

Have candid, age-appropriate discussions with your child about what human trafficking is. For an 8-year-old, this might mean talking about the importance of not having relationships — online or in real life — with strangers. But if you’re raising a 16-year-old kid, you can probably go more in-depth and help them understand the dangers they face.

Explain that it’s important for your child to carefully consider what information they put online. This includes the name of their school and their home address, but it might also include less obvious material such as tweets or posts about negative emotions, as traffickers often assume that a child who frequently vents online is an easy target. Remind them that they can come to you or another trusted adult if they’re feeling threatened or need emotional support.

How to Help Keep Your Child Safe

As your child’s parent or guardian, you probably know them better than anyone else, so you will likely be the first to notice changes in their behavior that might indicate that they’re communicating with a trafficker. If your kid suddenly has unexplained income, spends more time online than usual, or has a significant personality change, this probably warrants a conversation about what’s going on.

While having a family discussion about human trafficking is important, you can put additional safeguards in place to help protect your child. Take advantage of parental controls for video games and consoles — which predators can use to begin inappropriate relationships with kids — and learn about your options for disabling chat functions on platforms like Discord. You can also use Bark to monitor your child’s online activities across texts, chat, email, YouTube, and 24+ social media platforms for signs of digital dangers.

Getting Involved

If you suspect that someone you know might be at risk of human trafficking, you can call 888-373-7888 to reach the National Human Trafficking Hotline, which is available 24 hours a day in more than 200 languages. You can also report an incident to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s CyberTipline.

Providing monetary or volunteer support to organizations like Polaris or END IT Movement can also help remove children from trafficking situations. But no matter how you choose to participate in this cause, taking just a few moments to spread human trafficking awareness by sharing this guide with the parents in your community can make a huge difference in a child’s life.

Suicide is currently the second-leading cause of death for ages 10–24, which means that it’s an issue that has the potential to touch all of our lives at some point. Whether it’s a friend, a co-worker, or even someone in your own family, it’s important for you to know how to talk about it and where to turn for help when it’s needed. And while September is Suicide Awareness and Prevention Month — and also a good time to educate yourself and others on the reality of this issue — these 10 suicide prevention resources below can provide you with guidance and support year-round.

1. American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP)

Website: https://afsp.org/find-support/resources/

The AFSP website has a long list of resources including crisis hotlines, advice for finding mental health care, substance misuse treatment, and resources for issues such as self-harm, borderline personality disorder, schizophrenia, and other issues that often overlap with suicide. In September 2020, Bark will be donating $10 for every referral signup to help support those in need.

2. National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)

Website: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/suicide-prevention/index.shtml

This website has information about mental illness and suicide prevention, including statistics, symptoms, treatment options, and risk factors. It also provides resources that can help people understand the connection between suicide and other mental health issues such as depression, bipolar disorder, and more.

3. Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide (SPTS)

Website: http://www.sptsusa.org/

Teen suicide is a growing problem in America and many other countries. SPTS is a nonprofit organization created by parents whose teen children died by suicide. It’s dedicated to helping to reduce the problem of teen suicide by providing resources for teens, parents, and educators. SPTS also pushes for legislation requiring teachers to undergo training in suicide prevention.

4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Website: https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/suicide/resources.html

The CDC views overall mental health and suicide as important public health issues, and as such, it’s dedicated extensive time and research to them. On this site, you’ll find nationwide statistics, helpful resources, factsheets, and more.

5. Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention

Website: http://actionallianceforsuicideprevention.org/resources

This is a public and private alliance of organizations dedicated to preventing suicide. The Action Alliance works with many groups, including government agencies, religious groups, schools, and mental health organizations to help people understand and prevent suicide.

6. Suicide Prevention Resource Center (SPRC)

Website: http://www.sprc.org/

Crisis Line: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

Chat: http://chat.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/GetHelp/LifelineChat.aspx

SPRC is one of the most comprehensive resources for suicide prevention. In addition to information and training, they offer a hotline to help anyone who’s experiencing suicidal ideation: 1-800-273-TALK. Their website has links to resources in different states and a video providing advice on how to help support those considering suicide.

7. Crisis Text Line

Website: https://www.crisistextline.org/

Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741-741

Teens are often more comfortable texting than talking on the telephone, which is why Crisis Text Line provides an alternative option for those less comfortable with — or unable to — voice call. Specially trained crisis counselors will help de-escalate individuals who are considering suicide or dealing with severe mental health issues.

8. #Bethe1to

Website: https://www.bethe1to.com/ 

#BeThe1To is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s message for National Suicide Prevention Month and beyond, and its aim is to spread the word about actions people can take to prevent suicide. This site provides information on the 5 steps to help prevent suicide, ways to participate, and current resources.

9. Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE)

Website: https://save.org/

Crisis line: 1-800-273-8255

Founded by a mother who lost her daughter to suicide in 1979, SAVE’s mission is to help prevent suicide through public awareness and education, reduce the stigma of suicidal ideation, and serve as a resource to those touched by suicide. The website provides resources, training kits, ways to get involved and donate, and more.

10. The Trevor Project

Website: www.thetrevorproject.org/

Founded in 1998 by the creators of the Academy Award-winning short film TREVOR, The Trevor Project is the leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ+ young people under 25.

Is your 8-year-old more into giving their dog a makeover than Snapchatting their friends? Are they more likely to read a book about dinosaurs than look at stegosaurus hashtags on Instagram? When your child is still too young to have a cellphone or open up a social media account, you might assume that it’s too early to start teaching internet safety. But even before they’re fully plugged-in, it’s important to start laying the groundwork for their understanding of digital safety.

Having regular conversations now can strengthen your relationship and pave the way for healthy tech use in the future. Plus, there are plenty of ways that your child can practice the safe use of technology now.

Consider the Pros and Cons of Technology

When you begin to have conversations about online safety with your kids, you might be tempted to focus on just the potential dangers of technology. But make sure you take a balanced approach so your kid develops a healthy relationship with being online. Use relatable examples of the benefits of technology from your child’s own life. For example, talk about how they like to listen to Disney music from your phone or show them how you can use a weather app to see what the temperature will be like outside. Say, “We can send Aunt Debbie messages on my phone, and that’s great! But bad people can also try to send us messages, and we never answer those.”

Talk About Existing Limits

Even if your child isn’t quite ready for their own phone or social media account, they probably already use technology for at least some activities. They might watch Peppa Pig on a tablet or use your cellphone to take selfies to send to Grandma. Prepare them for when they’ll get more tech privileges by talking about how important it is to stick to your family rules now. Say something like, “You know how you aren’t allowed to download apps on my phone? That’s important because some apps are not safe for kids.”

Discuss Their Friends’ Usage

You might assume that your child doesn’t have access to a phone unless you give them one, but that isn’t necessarily true. Their friends’ families might have different technology rules than you do, so it’s important to talk about what your child should do if they see something inappropriate on someone else’s device. Ask them if they ever use a phone, tablet, or computer when they’re at someone else’s house, and set rules for what they should do if they’d like to use the internet during a playdate. Should they call you and ask? Do they need to check in with their friends’ parents?

Discuss What Privacy Means

Your kid already understands what privacy means in real life, so point familiar examples when you’re talking about privacy online. Say something like, “You know how we’ve talked about only sharing our home address with people you know? You might want to think about when it’s OK to have your picture taken, too.” You can practice this now by asking for their approval before you post a video from their school play to Facebook or Instagram. When it’s time for them to have more access to the internet, it’s important for them to think about how they’re presenting themselves. Let them know that they don’t need to share their every thought or moment online.

Keep Teaching Internet Safety by Example

One of the best ways to teach your kid about healthy tech use before they’re old enough to have a phone themselves is to lead by example. Kids have a tendency to copy the adults in their lives — both the good and the bad parts. So let them see you setting aside dedicated tech-free time to unplug. Say, “It’s time for me to put away my electronics.” Or, “I’m not sure who sent me this Twitter message, so I’m going to ignore it.” As you continue to model this behavior, you’ll be teaching internet safety without having to always walk them through every lesson.

Explain What to Do If Something Goes Wrong

Even if you don’t think your kid has access to texting or TikTok, now is the time to start talking about what your child should do if they experience something negative online. Tell them that they can always come to you if they see something that upsets them or if a stranger sends them a message — you’ll help them through the situation without getting angry.

Raising digital natives isn’t easy, but instilling into your kids the importance of digital citizenship will better prepare them for the future. Bark can help you with teaching internet safety as well as help keep your child safe online. Our award-winning monitoring service alerts parents and guardians when there’s a potential issue they need to know about — including cyberbullying, sexting, online predators, depression, suicidal ideation, threats of violence, and more. Sign up today to monitor texts, chat, email, YouTube, and 24+ social media platforms for signs of digital dangers and get one week of our service completely free!

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On December 4, 2019, a computer-generated persona named Kenna began a product development internship at the popular makeup brand Essence Cosmetics. A photo of herself, along with the caption “First day at work, yay,” was uploaded to her personal Instagram account. It’s a relatable experience for millions of young people today. But there’s one major difference in this story: Kenna didn’t have this experience. In fact, Kenna isn’t even a person. She’s a “CGI influencer” (created with computer-generated imagery) designed to help Essence Cosmetics market their products.

The online presence of a computer-generated millennial doesn’t differ much from any other popular young person’s. They get bored and decide to dye their hair in the middle of the night. They take cheesy kissing pictures with their significant others. They drop links to their (usually bad) new singles. But they’re also markedly different in a number of troubling ways — especially for kids who are just learning to navigate the online world.

What Are CGI Influencers?

Real-life kids overwhelmingly want to become “influencers,” which are social media personalities with huge followings who are paid to promote brands or products — usually things like cosmetics, travel, food, fitness, and fashion. According to a 2019 survey, 86% of members of both Generation Y and Z said they would be willing to post sponsored content to their social media profiles for money. The majority also said they would like to become influencers themselves one day.

While it might seem extreme to create an entire virtual person (it takes hours of 3D modeling work to create one CGI post), it’s really just taking popular Instagram techniques one step further. The platform already has a reputation for being the place where people broadcast their most flattering and touched-up selfies. Creating even more “perfect” profiles using CGI is simply a response to that pressure to have a curated online persona.

When you get into the nitty-gritty of the influencer world, the increasing popularity of CGI influencers makes even more sense. The rules around posting promotions on social media are strict, and influencers can charge thousands of dollars for a single post. Naturally, brands — or even virtual influencer talent agencies — are starting to create personas over which they have total control without needing them to sign a single contract.

One case-in-point is Lil Miquela. This computer-generated person was named one of TIME’s 25 most influential people on the internet. In one Instagram post, she thanked the popular hair-care brand Ouai for “keeping [her] strands silky smooth.” Lil Miquela does not have real hair, so her testimony is misleading. But she’s able to recommend the product anyway because her managers are free to speak for her. As a result, her followers can be manipulated into buying products that will never live up to their marketing.

How Can They Affect Your Kid?

So, why does this all matter? The problem is that children can’t always distinguish between a CGI Instagram star and a real one. While influencers like @noonoouri look more like anime characters than people, others like @shudu.gram are eerily human-like. Still others, like @nickillian, are rumored to be CGI but refuse to clarify one way or another. It can become even more confusing when computer-generated influencers pose side-by-side for a photoshoot with human models. Pixel-perfect by nature, they’re even more glamorous than the people who are actually on-set, putting the unrealistic beauty standards promoted on social media even further out of reach.

Clearly identifying these users as “not real” is key. “If I kept her a secret, the majority of people might think she’s a real person,” Cameron-James Wilson, the creator of @shudu.gram, told USA Today about his influencer’s identity. “There needs to be a level of awareness about that with technology. I think that has the potential to be abused.” But Wilson added that both types of influencers can coexist — as long as they’re each marketed as exactly what they are.

Human influencers have one thing over their CGI counterparts, however. They can be more compelling precisely because they do have flaws, which make them more endearing than a computer-generated persona. Most people identify more with someone who’s being vulnerable, whether they’re going through a public scandal, opening up about a difficult situation, or just complaining about a bad hair day. And although the social media accounts of real people are still highly curated, being your authentic self online is becoming increasingly popular.

While this new wave of influencers can mimic life’s “messiness” by complaining about a rough breakup or getting emotional about being hacked, it’s just not the same as a real person going through real-life experiences.

What Should You Do?

Talking about CGI Instagram accounts is a great way to teach your kid that not everything you see online is exactly what it looks like. Someone’s “highlight reel” on VSCO isn’t necessarily representative of their actual life. An adult can pretend to be a child online in an attempt to build an inappropriate relationship. A viral video of a public figure saying something shocking might simply be a “deep fake.” An Instagram star isn’t always who they seem to be — that perfectly curated feed might just be the result of hours of work on a computer.

Conversations about CGI influencers and putting in place good digital habits are key parts of your child’s developing relationship with technology. It’s also important to help keep them safe online by monitoring their online activity. Bark monitors for potential issues on more than 24 social media platforms, as well as texts, chat, email, and YouTube. Sign up today for a free, one-week trial of our award-winning monitoring service.

While we don’t have the hoverboards or flying cars we were promised in Back to the Future, we are definitely living in the future. Technology is now a part of every childhood, and although it may seem like your kid mainly uses their phone to watch YouTube or make silly TikTok videos, there are important things they need to learn right now that will help them throughout their entire life. These tips will allow you to start conversations that will empower them to grow into responsible digital citizens.

1. Using Search Engines the Smart Way

Thanks to smartphones, we all have instant access to the entirety of human knowledge in our pockets. But not every piece of online information is created equal. Give your kids a lesson in spotting the difference between reputable content and advertisements — it can be as easy as showing them the sponsored results versus the actual results when you google “pizza near me.” You can also teach them how to conduct internet research so that they’re only relying on trustworthy sources instead of personal blogs or sketchy websites.

2. Knowing Your Digital Audience

As kids grow into adults, they’ll need to know the difference between texting their best friend “hey wut you doin?” and emailing their teacher about an assignment. Online communication might have led to a general decrease in formality in our society, but there are still situations in which it’s warranted. It can even be the difference between getting a job and getting passed over! Teach your kids about tailoring their tone to the audience and — this might be extra hard — knowing when it’s necessary to just pick up the phone and make a real-life phone call.

3. Managing Your Online Presence

From social media profiles and email accounts to YouTube channels and personal websites, there are countless ways that the world can find out about you online. Teach your child about the importance of being careful with how they present themselves to the outside world — it may follow them for years to come. This isn’t to say that they can’t be themselves or have fun. They just may need to make their personal social media profiles private, for instance. A conversation on email addresses may be in order, as well: “Fortnite_freak05@acme.com” is fine when they’re 11, but it’s probably not appropriate on their college applications.

4. Learning to Spot Scams and Bad Actors

Just like in the real world, malicious folks looking to take advantage of people set traps online that can be easy to fall into. Warn your kids about messages that seem sketchy or too good to be true. While our generation all knew to ignore the foreign princes asking for our Social Security numbers, today’s generation has to deal with incredibly sophisticated levels of trickery — even tech experts sometimes fall victim to scams. Teach your kids about spoofing, which is when someone disguises themselves online as a trusted party (like using a Bank of America email address, logo, and font) to get your password.

5. Deciding When to Not Use Technology

The technological world we live in can be amazing, but it’s also important to know when to put your phone down and live in the moment. This can be hard for everyone (including parents!) as apps, texts, and videos vie for our attention throughout the day. Setting aside specific digital detox hours can be a good way to get your kids in the habit of not relying on devices 24/7, and it can help them become more mindful of the amazing world around them. The earlier you start, the more likely it is to stick.

Raising digital natives isn’t easy, but instilling into your kids the importance of responsibility and digital citizenship will better prepare them for the future. Bark can help with both of these — as well as help keep your child safe online. Our award-winning monitoring service alerts parents and guardians when there’s a potential issue they need to know about — including cyberbullying, sexting, online predators, depression, suicidal ideation, threats of violence, and more. Sign up today to monitor texts, chat, email, YouTube, and 24+ social media platforms for signs of digital dangers and get one week of our service completely free!

Was your 2019 full of cookies, sunny days outside, and sweet memories with your kids? All the little behind-the-scenes moments from the past year might be the ones you treasure most. At Bark, our team has had some pretty great (and even a little silly) milestones of our own. From the office foliage we’ve acquired to the silly dad jokes we’ve told, we’ve counted up some of our favorite memories from Bark’s year in 2019.

4: Stand-up comedy sets performed by Bark employees

Four brave comedians climbed onstage to see if our funnybones were working. No problems there, but everyone’s sides were in stitches!

81: Word puzzles at the end of our team meetings

At the end of every meeting, we try to solve a tricky word puzzle concocted by one of our engineers. For the most part, we succeeded — but sometimes we were out-smarted.

0: Escape rooms that have contained Bark employees

From volcanic islands to haunted mansions, our team managed to break out of every escape room we encountered. We’re thinking about maybe moving on to some heists!

21: New full-time employees added

Another year and Bark has grown by leaps and bounds. We’re grateful to all of our new colleagues, and we can’t wait to meet more of them this year!

12: Succulents in the office

Some are prickly, some are soft, but nothing adds ambiance (and oxygen!) like these little green bundles of cactus-y goodness.

2,074: Hours of Spotify listened to while answering customer emails

Whistle while you work? Who needs that when there’s an endless number of Spotify playlists to put us in the groove? Little known fact: We’ve got some sax-forward eighties playlists that make the workweek more fun.

1: Bark employee that became a Jeopardy! champion

You read that right. One of our copywriters achieved the pinnacle of brainy showmanship by crushing it on Jeopardy! It may be a game of trivia, but this victory was far from trivial.

42: Dad jokes the Bark team traded at the Dad 2.0 conference

Bark sent a team down to San Antonio to hang with the coolest dads around. There we debuted our much-beloved Ye Olde Teenspeake guides to modern slang — and lots of retro-inspired technology throwbacks!

3: Employees named Brian

By far the most common name on the team, the brain power of the Brians is responsible for much of our success. One of them is even our CEO. Coincidence? You decide!

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If you’re a current Bark customer, we thank you for the opportunity to help keep your kids safe online and in real life this past year. And if you’ve been wanting to try us out, now’s the perfect time! We encourage you to sign up today for a free one-week trial. Our award-winning service monitors texts, chat, email, YouTube, and 24+ social media platforms for signs of potential issues like cyberbullying, adult content, self-harm, suicidal ideation, and more.

If you’re a parent or guardian, you’ve probably worried about your child getting kidnapped by a predator at a playground or in a mall. But predators can also approach your child without ever being in the same room with them. All they have to do is send a simple message on the internet. 

A study conducted by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) found that 46% of 10- to 17-year-olds admitted to giving out their personal information to someone they did not know – a sobering statistic that indicates many children could be communicating with adults who may want to abuse them. Knowing the signs of online grooming can help you protect the children in your care and give them appropriate support should they experience something so horrific themselves.

Recognizing the Signs of Online Grooming

Online grooming occurs when a predator initiates and cultivates a relationship with a child through the internet, culminating in sexual abuse that can include:

The process of grooming is a purposefully slow one, as predators methodically take steps to build relationships with children and gain their trust. Predators are masters at manipulation and can appear kind and helpful to hide their ulterior motives, taking advantage of a child’s naivete.

The steps below outline the general pattern of behavior consistent with online grooming. However, every situation is unique, so variations are always possible. Do your best to always be aware of any adult who begins to take an interest in your child, and be sure to check in with your child regularly so they know they can come to you if they ever experience something negative online.

Targeting

Predators often set their sights on vulnerable children, such as those who are emotionally fragile or have less parental oversight. Their first interactions with the child are generally pleasant and include light conversation to lower defenses and make their target feel important. Many predators initiate conversations on public chat apps or in the chat section of games for kids, pretending to be younger than they really are.

Engaging

Many times, the predator will try to fill some sort of need the child has, such as a desire for attention. The adult might also try to connect with their victim by paying them compliments, listening to them, or buying gifts. Be aware of any presents your child may receive from other adults, especially electronic devices, as these may be given for the purpose of becoming a way for the predator to communicate directly with your child.

Boundary Testing

At this point, the predator will attempt to deepen the relationship and gauge the level of threat he’s facing from the parents. He might ask questions to see how closely the child’s devices are monitored and try to figure out whether the child would be believed if they tell their parents about the relationship. During this time, kids may become more secretive about their online activity, so pay attention if their attitude changes when discussing what they do while they’re on their devices.

Isolating

Here, the predator might try to separate the child from their family by establishing himself as the most important person to them. He will try to gain the trust of the child completely, convincing them that they share a special bond. A predator will also look for opportunities to create emotional distance between the child and their family, often using sly tactics to create situations to reinforce the idea of a “special relationship.” Trust your instincts when something isn’t right when it comes to how your child is acting.

Sexualizing

This stage culminates in sexual activity. While some perpetrators might attempt to meet their victims in person, others carry out their sexual abuse entirely online. Predators will begin to discuss sex explicitly, mentioning sexual activities with the child to desensitize them. Some predators have been known to show children pictures of other minors without their clothing in order to make it appear more normal. This influx of sexual information will make the child know far more about sexual activity than is age-appropriate. At this point, the predator may also begin to request sexual videos of their victim and/or send their own.

Controlling

When a predator starts to abuse a child, they will go to great lengths to maintain control and ensure the child is emotionally dependent on them. In most cases, the offender uses secrecy, blame, and even threats of retribution to keep children from saying anything. Let your kids know they can come to you when anyone asks them to do something they are not comfortable with, even if that person is an adult.

What You Can Do

Children of any gender, family situation, and socioeconomic status can be targeted as victims of grooming – no one is immune. To help protect your child from online predators, there are a number of steps you can take, including:

Grooming signs can be difficult to spot because sexual predators are adept at coercing their victims into keeping quiet. Predators can even befriend parents and caregivers, which makes it even harder to recognize when something is going on. Maintaining an open line of communication with your child and paying extra attention to the amount of time they spend with other adults, as well as monitoring and managing their online activity, can help protect your child from predators.

Above all, make sure your child knows they are not at fault for anything inappropriate an adult says or does to them. You’re there to help and protect them — not punish them for a predator’s actions. When parents know the signs to look for, they’re in a better position to help keep their kids safe both online and in real life.