Content Warning: This article discusses multiple forms of trauma, including sexual assault.

I can’t say what brought you to this resource today. Maybe your child has recently revealed that they’ve experienced sexual violence. Maybe you’re looking for ways to help your kid support a friend who’s gone through it. Maybe you’d just like to be prepared should anything so terrible happen to your own kid. Or perhaps you just happened across this post and aren’t yet sure how it applies to you. Whatever your situation, I’m here to raise your awareness about sexual assault and share resources that can equip you to support the people around you. Whether you’re a parent, a guardian, or just a caring person with a child in your life, this information can help you protect the kids in your community.

Before we get into the intricacies of helping a child heal, please know that while this is a scary topic, learning about ways to support them can help you both feel less powerless in a situation like this. As a survivor of sexual violence myself, I’d like to encourage you to approach this with an open heart. It’s one of the very best things you can do to help.

What You Should Know About Sexual Assault

It’s tempting to assume that your own child will never experience sexual abuse, but the issue is actually far more common than you might think. I know that’s probably not something you want to think about, but I want to encourage you to do so because taking some time to learn about what kids are experiencing could make a big difference in someone’s life.

Facts About Child Abuse

It’s not always easy to tell if your child has experienced sexual abuse, but keeping an eye out for some potential warning signs can help. If your kid has regressed to wetting the bed again, tries to avoid getting undressed, begins having excessive nightmares, or has sudden knowledge about sexual topics that aren’t typical to their age, it might be a good idea to open up a conversation.

How to Help If Your Kid Has Experienced Sexual Assault

If your child reveals that they have experienced sexual violence — whether through explicit online messages or through in-person interactions — the way you react can really affect how they feel about the experience they’ve had. I know it can be hard to choose your words carefully when you’re in the middle of such a difficult conversation. To give you somewhere to begin, here are some ways you can validate, support, and guide them through their experience so that you can start helping your child as soon as they need you.

Say, “I love you.” 

It’s of utmost importance that you help your child feel loved. They might be worried that you’ll be angry with them about what they’ve experienced, or fear that you’ll view them differently once you know what they’ve been through. Be sure to let them know that you love them just as much as ever.

Tell them it’s not their fault.

People of all ages can feel guilty after becoming victims of sexual assault (even though nothing a person does can make them at fault for experiencing sexual violence), so be sure to assuage this concern early on.

Listen to how they are feeling.

There’s no one “right” reaction to experiencing sexual assault, so take the time to let your child explain in their own words how they’re processing it. This is also a good reminder to pay attention to the ways your child might be communicating non-verbally. For example, if they aren’t ready to talk, they might complain of a headache when you ask them questions. If they need emotional support, they might be more physically affectionate than usual. Keeping an eye out for these subtle signs can help you be sensitive to their needs at any given time.

Say, “I believe you.”

Survivors of sexual violence — especially children — can worry that they won’t be believed when they speak up about what they’ve been through. It takes a tremendous amount of courage and vulnerability to open up about something so upsetting, and dismissing their account can make them feel even more isolated and distressed. Take care to let your kid know that you aren’t questioning whether or not they experienced what they say they did.

Explain that you can help keep them safe.

One tactic perpetrators of sexual violence can use to dissuade children from speaking up is to threaten them. They might say they’ll hurt the child’s family members, share photos or videos from the assault, or even repeat the violence if the child reveals what has happened. Make sure to let your child know that — despite any threats they’ve received — you’re committed to protecting them both physically and emotionally.

Let them open up at their own pace.

Even though you probably have a number of questions about what happened to your child, be sure not to push them to recount each detail unless they’re ready to do so. Let your child feel in control of what they share and when.

How to Raise Your Child’s Awareness About Sexual Assault

Even if your child hasn’t opened up about experiencing sexual violence, it might be a good idea to have a conversation with them about what sexual assault is and what they should know should they ever go through something like this. How much detail you go into depends on your child’s emotional state, their age, and their maturity level, so be sure not to give them too much information if you don’t feel that they’re ready.

I know talking about anything sexual with your child can feel daunting. However, opening a line of communication can not only give them important knowledge, but it can also help them feel comfortable coming to you with any future issues. Begin having conversations about consent at an early age, even if that means talking about something as simple as asking before giving a friend a hug. You can also explain that your child is under no obligation to let someone see or touch them inappropriately — even if that person is a cousin, a coach, or someone else they know very well.

Come up with a plan for what your child should do if they ever find themselves in an uncomfortable situation, and let them know that it’s OK to tell someone “no” in response to a sexual request, even if they’re worried about offending them.

Resources That Can Help

If you’ve recently learned that your child has experienced sexual violence, it’s important to know what resources are at your disposal. Here are some ways you can report the crime:

In addition to ensuring their physical safety, it’s important to support your child’s emotional well-being during this time. Speak with their pediatrician to get a referral for a mental health professional who can help them through the healing process. Please know that your child’s sexual abuse can also be traumatic for you as a parent or guardian, so be sure to seek professional help for yourself if you need it. 

Even though simply thinking about child sex abuse can be upsetting (much less dealing with your own child’s experience), I hope that by raising your awareness about sexual assault, you feel better equipped to help the young people in your life. Take a deep breath, reach out to the people and organizations around you when you need help, and show yourself and your child some extra kindness.

If there’s a child with autism in your life, you already know that they have some pretty cool talents. They might be a skillful basketball player, make the best pancakes around, or be great at learning new songs. In honor of Autism Awareness Month, we’re celebrating all the incredible strengths kids with autism can have, as well as suggesting some ways you can encourage their gifts.

People often talk about the challenges that kids with autism can face. They can be more at risk of predation and cyberbullying, for example. But instead of presenting you with a list of challenges, we want to focus on the incredible abilities that can accompany being neurodivergent. Living with autism can mean having distinct skills in a number of areas, and we’re here to celebrate those with you and your family. Here are some helpful suggestions for encouraging your child’s interests and talents.

Play Memory Games Together

You might sometimes find it hard enough to remember what you ate for breakfast this morning, much less something that happened five years ago. But kids with autism can be especially gifted at recalling information from the past. They might remember specific details from a trip your family took a couple of summers ago, or be able to tell you facts from history that you’ve long forgotten. If they’re a Jeopardy! fan, chances are they’re an expert.

Encourage this talent of theirs by playing memory games like Concentration or Clue. Besides just being really fun, playing games that require focus and recall can help your child use their strengths and feel empowered in their own abilities. Being good at something is encouraging, so be proactive about giving your kid the opportunity to flaunt their excellent memory.

Give Them Opportunities to Problem Solve

Coming up with unique ways to address a problem is an incredibly useful skill, and children with autism can be especially gifted in this area! Encourage this talent by asking your kid for help with household tasks. You might find that you’re having trouble fitting your new grocery haul neatly into the refrigerator, for example. Or maybe rain from your gutters is forming a small pool in your garden. Your child might have great ideas for solutions nobody else in your family has thought of yet! 

While it might take a little longer to walk through the problem with your child rather than just trying to do it yourself, taking the time to let them excel can really encourage them to use this skill again in the future.

Let Them Express Their Creativity

Does your child love to fingerpaint? Are they content to be molding clay for hours? Maybe they love nothing more than sticking their hands deep into a bucket of Orbeez? Many kids with autism are incredibly creative and find sensory activities helpful, so be sure to lean into that if you have a budding little Cassatt or Pollock in the family.

Don’t put too much pressure on completing a perfect-looking project, though. Letting your kid direct the playtime will help them feel in charge of what they’re creating. Whether they emerge from a watercolor project with a beautiful work of art or just end up spending their artistic time making a big old bucket of slime, it’s safe to say that the time spent getting their hands dirty — literally gloopy and sticky — is sure to be valuable.

Play a “Spot-the-Difference” Game

“Spot-the-difference” online games or books are pretty fun no matter who you are, but children with autism can be especially great at spotting oh-so-tiny variations between two almost identical images because they’re often experts at visual search tasks and visual learning. If this is true for your own child, take this into consideration when you’re helping them learn life skills or complete homework assignments. Instead of creating flashcards that only include words, for example, they might find it helpful to include small icons or drawings to help them remember a concept.

Set aside some time to cuddle up on the couch with your child and flip through some brain teasers together. They’re sure to appreciate the one-on-one time together, and the fun activity will help them continue to strengthen their keen eye.

Encourage Them Through Difficult Tasks

It takes a lot of resolve for a kid to keep trying to improve in an area that doesn’t come naturally to them. While your child might struggle with certain skills, they just might have a huge advantage on their side: One strength that often accompanies autism is perseverance. Whenever you notice that your child refuses to give up even if something is difficult for them, be sure to share words of encouragement.

Giving your child tasks they aren’t so great at yet can help them grow, and going through a struggle side-by-side can encourage them to persevere — whether they’re good at something or not. If they have trouble making phone calls, for example, start off small by pretending to call one another while you’re just sitting side-by-side on the couch. Then, you might progress to calling a grandparent together. As your child takes small steps to grow in an area that’s challenging, their tenacity is sure to serve them well.

Support Their Specific Interests

While some kids can lose interest in a new hobby quickly, children with autism usually devote a good deal of time and attention to the subjects they love most, which means they can become an authority on anything that interests them! Do your best to support your kid’s passions so they can continue to learn more about what they love.

Are they really into sharks? Load up on shark library books, watch all the documentaries you can find (Shark Week, anyone?), and maybe even take a trip to your local aquarium. Neurotypical kids aren’t always so eager to take a deep dive into a topic, so this is one beautiful aspect of your child’s personality to cherish and nurture.

Recognize Autism Awareness Month

Maybe you’ve had lengthy conversations with your child about their autism. Or maybe it’s not a topic that comes up much in your day-to-day life. But taking some time to recognize Autism Awareness Month can give them a chance to appreciate the great ways that autism is a part of who they are. Celebrating their powerful mind and courageous heart can help your child realize just how incredible they are by simply being themselves.

Have your kids been talking about selling turnips for a profit? Are they going fossil hunting with frogs and picking fruit with talking bears? If so, they’re probably spending a lot of time in the immersive world of Animal Crossing on Switch. And they’re not alone — many adults are also getting in on the fun. This game, subtitled New Horizons, is the latest entry in the successful Animal Crossing franchise, which originally debuted in 2001. In this blog post, we’ll explain everything you need to know about this world and why kids and adults alike are drawn to it.

What Happens in Animal Crossing?

The game begins with customizing your character’s look and feel — hair color, clothing, facial features, and more. From there, you move to a deserted island to make it a home and build a community. The game then unfolds in real-time and even mirrors the seasons of whatever hemisphere you’ve chosen!

On your island, there are countless things to do — so many, in fact, that the game was built to be playable for years. There are weeds to pull, fruit to pick from trees, and fish to catch from rivers. Performing these activities earns you currency called “bells” and “Nook miles” that you can spend on upgrades to your clothing, tools, furniture, and house.

You can also make friends with the adorable anthropomorphic creatures that are your neighbors. Animal Crossing is what’s called an “open-world” game, which means that there’s no set course of what you have to do or where you must go. If you want to spend time farming, you can. And if you want to concentrate on just talking to characters and making friends, you can do that too! It’s entirely up to you.

Why is Animal Crossing So Popular?

You may be wondering how a game about pulling weeds could possibly appeal to so many people — especially when they may not want to get their hands dirty in real life. But much of the appeal of Animal Crossing comes from just how relaxing the game is. The animation style is beautifully rendered, and the background music is a constant chill, gentle tune that perfectly mirrors the light that dapples the ground through the tree branches.

Unlike more aggressive video games like Call of Duty or Fortnite, there’s no timer, no violence, and no sense of impending doom. You can watch the sunset after a long day of harvesting your crops. In the winter, you can build a snowman. It’s constructive, not destructive (unless you count breaking apart rocks and digging for fossils) which sets it apart from many games.

Positive Aspects of Playing

There are several positive benefits of playing Animal Crossing. Firstly, the game’s entire mechanics revolve around text exchanges, so even though your child is playing a video game, they’re doing a lot of reading — more so than in most titles. They also get to flex their creative muscle by customizing their wardrobes, landscaping, and even how they arrange the items in their house. Lastly, the game’s primary message revolves around the importance of building your community. You not only help other characters make decisions, but you also have to consider how your own decisions (like building a store) can help benefit the community as a whole. The best part? When you reach a big milestone, all of your animal neighbors gather to celebrate your achievement!

Is Animal Crossing Safe?

Generally speaking, Animal Crossing is a safe and very positive game — one of the most common words players use to describe it is “wholesome.” You can play on your own island by yourself the entire time, or you can choose to interact with others through the multiplayer option. You’ll need a Nintendo Switch Online membership to access multiplayer features, however.

Once the multiplayer option is set up, there are a number of safeguards in place to prevent interactions with strangers. Part of the fun of Animal Crossing is visiting other people’s islands to explore, chat, and work together. You have to approve friend requests, though, and someone can only visit your island if you give them permission via a code.

Despite these safeguards, it’s important to remember that people may not be who they say they are online. Make sure your child knows who they’re communicating with and instruct them not to give out their island code to just anyone or post it on their social media. Strangers have been known to lure other players with promises of in-game gifts. Once they’re on the island, they can begin chatting, opening kids up to common dangers like online predation, inappropriate content, and more.

Animal Crossing on Switch provides players with an escapist dreamland that’s at once comforting, relaxing, and heartwarming. Whether it’s laughing with a koala friend, listening to the waves lapping on the shore, or wishing on a shooting star, the game provides moments of peace and little bursts of connection — and that’s something special in the video game world.

For our generation, competitive video gaming meant battling your siblings in Mortal Kombat or Street Fighter II in the living room — and the prize was bragging rights and the ability to keep your turn on the controller. Today, competitive video gaming — known collectively as esports — is a billion-dollar industry with professional athletes, corporate sponsorships, and televised broadcasts. For those less familiar with the world and culture of video gaming, this may come as a surprise. But don’t worry. In this post, we break down exactly what esports is, why fans are drawn to it, and what parents need to know about it if their kids are interested.

What is Esports?

Esports refers to the playing of video games competitively for money and prestige — not unlike professional basketball or football leagues. Talented players are recruited and drafted for their skills (among which reaction time is incredibly important) and regularly compete in tournaments and championships — both from home and in front of audiences. 

The games played in esports are popular titles also played by casual gamers, including Fortnite, League of Legends, Overwatch, Call of Duty, and more. They tend to be first-person shooters and battle games, which are more exciting to watch than role-playing games that usually put less emphasis on tension and competitive elements.

The Success of Esports Today

High-profile esport tournaments regularly fill arenas (including notable venues like the Staples Center in L.A.) as fans flock to support their favorite teams and players. And just like at traditional sporting events, there can be tailgating beforehand, a carnival atmosphere, and lines to buy merch like jerseys, hats, and more.

Esports are also starting to be televised. In March of 2020, the inaugural eNASCAR Pro Invitational iRacing Series event drew the largest TV audience in esport history — nearly a million people tuned in to watch the virtual racing event.

If you’re curious why people turn out in droves to watch other people playing video games, look no further than the success of Twitch. Twitch is an online streaming platform where more than 100,000 users broadcast themselves playing video games live, along with a running video and audio commentary, to more than 2 million viewers. Many professional gamers get their start on Twitch and build loyal followings thanks to their skills, integrity, and personality.

How Kids Can Participate in Esports

Esports as an extracurricular activity isn’t just casually playing video games. According to NPR, “Kids perfect their skills alongside teammates with the help of a high school coach. They run drills, develop strategy, review game footage and compete against other teams across their state.” Their practices are supervised and structured, and they also hold scrimmages — just as other kids would on their high school soccer or tennis teams. The High School Esports League works with over 3,000 schools, providing high school students the chance to participate in competitive esports. 

For talented and dedicated players, esports can lead to academic scholarships. 170 colleges and universities have accredited esports programs — including big schools like the University of Missouri, Miami University, and Ohio State University — and more than $16 million in scholarship money is up for grabs.

The success of professional esports has even led to a school-to-pro pipeline that’s very similar to the ones in the regular sports world, with the most skilled players bypassing college — or even high school in some cases.

The Benefits and Downsides to Esports

While it can be easy to view esports as unimportant or illegitimate when compared with other sports, it has many benefits. Success in esports depends on conceptual thinking, real-time strategy, and hand-eye coordination. Players are also always competing as a team, so collaboration and being a good sport is integral.

That said, you should be aware of the potential issues that may come with your child playing esports. Though the physical risks are not as serious as those for football or basketball, for instance, there are still some unpleasant side effects. Players face conditions like eye strain, back pain, fatigue, and carpal tunnel syndrome. In extreme cases, the stress of competition can also lead to anxiety, depression, and even burnout. If practices involve Discord, a common chat client for gaming, there’s the threat of cyberbullying and online predation — though these may be rare if players are only communicating with their own teammates.

As its popularity spreads into the mainstream, it’s possible that soon people will be asking not “What is esports?” but rather “Where can I watch them?” Experts believe this field will only continue to grow. One estimate predicts the global esports industry will be a $1.5 billion market this year. If your child is interested in esports, see if their school has a program they can get involved with. Nonprofits like Varsity Esports Foundation can even help provide funding for students and schools looking to start their own programs. While online gaming doesn’t have the history or tradition of sports like baseball or football, one thing is for sure: video games aren’t just for living room Street Fighter II sessions anymore.

As schools have transitioned to online learning to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, Chromebooks have become the go-to tech device for students across the U.S. We recently polled parents and education professionals about some of their top concerns around how their kids are accessing the technology they need for remote learning, and of all school-issued devices, Chromebook safety topped the list.

To help support parents and schools, the Bark team has put together this guide to the settings on Chromebooks — so every student can benefit from the learning opportunities their technology makes possible.

Chromebooks: FAQs for Parents

When introducing a Chromebook into your home for the first time — whether it’s yours or from your child’s school — it’s helpful to think of it like a laptop that only gives access to the internet. Chromebooks are very useful when it comes to learning, researching, writing, and collaborating with other students, but they can also come with risks. Read on to learn more about what parents need to know.

How do I get started?

When you open up a Chromebook for the first time, you’ll be guided through selecting your language and keyboard layout. You’ll then be asked to connect to a Wi-Fi network. Once you’re successfully connected, you’ll need to log in.

Do I need any passwords?

During the set-up process, you’re going to need your child’s school-issued student email address and password. If you or your child don’t know this information, contact your school’s IT department for assistance.

Is there anything I should worry about with my child having Chromebook access?

Like any other computer, there are a number of risks that come with having access to the internet. For many kids, it may be the first time they’ve been given email access, chat clients, and electronic file storage. We’ve created the following guides to help you understand the technology your child now has access to via their Chromebook.

If your child’s school uses Bark for Schools to monitor content, administration is already being alerted if anything inappropriate or potentially harmful occurs on your child’s student accounts. Because monitoring happens at the account level, this coverage will also extend to your child’s activities on their Chromebook.

What can I do if I see _____ happening on my child’s account?

Many parents have questions about how to handle the numerous issues facing their kids today. To help support families, we’ve created articles that outline some recommended actions you can take to help guide your kids through issues like cyberbullying, sexual content, depression, and more. These helpful guides are great starting points for parents in need of additional resources.

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Setting Up Your Child’s Chromebook 

While Chromebooks serve many of the same functions as Macs or PCs, they’re not exactly the same. They use a unique operating system created by Google to manage apps and settings. If you’re not familiar with Chromebooks, you may experience a bit of a learning curve. To help you get your bearings, we’ve put together this crash course in using a Chromebook, which includes how to navigate the operating system, where to find settings, and more.

Read our setup guide

More general set-up advice is also available. For example, the first person who logs on to a new Chromebook can set special privileges that control what other users can and can’t do, making that person the “owner” of the device. Protect Young Eyes recommends that you make yourself the owner of your child’s Chromebook so that they can’t simply disable the controls you’ve put in place to help protect them. Then set up your child’s account as a second user and their school account as a third user.

You can also check out our guide to parental controls for Chrome browsing with the Barkomatic. The Barkomatic is your one-stop-shop for setting parental controls on all the apps, platforms, devices, and more that your kids can access, which you might find helpful while your kids are spending more time on their devices than usual.

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Chromebook Tools and Resources for Schools

The past few months have seen Chromebooks being distributed to students in record numbers. But whether your school has been using them for a while or you’re brand new to them, we’re here to help you get the most out of these handy devices. We’ve compiled a list of resources to help you manage student safety in today’s remote learning environment, as well as links and tools to help your parents better understand their child’s Chromebook and G Suite features.

Download the PDF

Helpful tools to use with Bark for Schools

Google resources

Google for Education COVID-19 Support: This frequently updated site helps educators and IT administrators affected by school closures.

Google Teach from Home: This is a temporary hub of information and tools to help teachers with online learning.

Resources to share with families

Google Classroom and Your Child’s Google Account: Share these resources for the families in your community who are using Family Link to manage their children’s Google accounts.

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G Suite Remote Readiness for School Administrators

Managing your students’ G Suite accounts can be a challenge even when the country isn’t in the middle of a pandemic, so making sure your students are better protected and prepared for productive online learning sessions is especially important right now. To support your team, Bark for Schools has gathered helpful resources and FAQs so you can optimize your G Suite settings for remote learning.

Download the PDF

Settings and Vulnerabilities

While EdTech has advanced student learning to places it was hard to imagine just a decade ago, there are still plenty of ways kids can get around the safeguards that have been put in place to protect them. Here are a few things to plan for while your students are using their Chromebooks at home:

G Suite Administrator FAQs

How do I turn a service (like Hangouts, Gmail, or Drive) on or off for users?

Enable or disable services for your entire domain or for specific Organizational Units.

Can I restrict student emails to only send/receive emails under an authorized domain?

Limit student accounts so they can only send and receive emails to classmates and school staff.

I’ve recently enabled a G Suite service (Hangouts, Gmail, or Drive) for monitoring student activities. Where are the alerts?

Please contact us at schools@bark.us so we can sync these accounts.

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Whether you’re a parent or an education professional, we hope this guide has helped you understand and learn to manage settings on Chromebooks a little bit better. The recent shift to online learning has brought these devices to the forefront of many families’ minds, and it’s important that students are better protected while using them. If you have any other questions about helping make technology safer for kids to use, please don’t hesitate to reach out to our customer success team — we’re always here to help in any way we can.

Guide to Chromebook setup illustrated by a Chromebook against a bright background

While Chromebooks serve many of the same functions as Macs or PCs, they’re not exactly the same. They use a unique operating system (like Windows or iOS) created by Google to manage all the device’s apps and settings. If you’re not familiar with Chromebooks, you may experience a bit of a learning curve. To help you get your bearings, we’ve put together this crash course in using a Chromebook, which includes how to navigate the operating system, how to connect to Wi-Fi, and more.

View apps

  1. Click the Launcher (O) button on the bottom left of the screen.
  2. Click the Up arrow (^) to see all installed apps.

Edit settings

You can view and adjust settings by clicking the “time” display on the bottom right.

Connect to Wi-Fi

  1. Open the laptop and look to the bottom right. Click the time. 
  2. Click on the Wi-Fi symbol.  
  3. Locate your network from the list and select it.
  4. Type in your password and wait for confirmation that the Chromebook is now connected to the internet.

Manage privacy controls

  1. From the bottom right, select the time.
  2. Select Settings (gear icon).
  3. From the People section, select Manage other people.
  4. Turn off Enable Guest browsing. This will make it so your child has to be logged in to use the Chromebook, which means that Bark for Schools can monitor their activities.

NOTE: If you’re using a Chromebook issued by a school, you likely can’t turn guest browsing on or off. This is because the school has already set these permissions. You’ll have to contact them if you have questions about guest browsing.

5. Turn on Restrict sign-in to the following users. You’ll see a list of all the Google Accounts on the Chromebook. You can add or remove accounts from this list.

The Bark Team is thrilled to announce the launch of two brand new features — screen time management and web filtering! Over the last few years, families have expressed the need for an all-in-one solution to help protect their kids online. And while there are multiple digital safety products on the market, Bark is now the only one that empowers families to monitor content, manage screen time, and filter the web — all with a single service.

How It Works

Our new features give families a digital safety net for their kids by helping protect their online worlds — where they play, where they surf, and where they connect. The features will work on iOS (iPhones, iPads, and iPods) and Android devices.

With our screen time management, web filtering, and content monitoring features now offered as one package, parents and guardians can more fully customize their children’s online experiences, giving them an even greater level of confidence when it comes to parenting in a digital world.

Two Ways to Use Bark

All Bark subscribers have access to these features — just head to your dashboard to get started! New customers have two options when signing up for our service:

It’s our sincere hope that your family will benefit from these new offerings, and we’re so excited for you to try them out! If you’re interested in our new screen time management and web filtering features, you can sign up today for a free one-week trial for Bark or Bark Jr. Have any questions? Reach out to our amazing Customer Success team or visit our FAQs page for more information!