iphone with enlarged bark alert in front

Content warning: discussion of sexual assault

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, a time set aside to bring to light how widespread sexual violence is across the world. It’s also a month dedicated to educating people about prevention and providing resources.

Although Bark is a parental control company, our service alerts parents to many of the most pressing issues in a child’s life — from bullying and online predators to depression and suicidal ideation. Sexual assault is no different, and parents need to know what’s going on in order to support their children in times of distress. 

What Bark Looks For

Content warning: discussion of activities that involve sexual assault

Our advanced technology scans a child’s online activities — like texts, emails, and social media posts — for potential dangers. When it comes to sexual assault, we look for keywords as well as context. Here are a few examples of messages that would be flagged:

Monitoring Can Pick Up Things Kids May Be Hesitant to Reveal

Kids use their phones for everything these days, and this includes talking about and processing emotions after sexual assault. These often lie hidden out of sight of a parent and can look like a text to a friend describing the encounter or a journal in a Google Doc detailing the feelings that are arising. Bark’s advanced technology scans these types of online activities for keywords and context, and sends parents alerts when a potential issue is detected. 

If you’re wondering why a kid wouldn’t want to immediately disclose an assault to their parent, the answer is it’s complicated. Some kids may feel like they’ll get in trouble.  Others might be getting manipulated by their abuser, who could be threatening their well-being or that of their family. Some kids — especially younger children — may not even know how to process what’s happened to them. 

Statistics about Sexual Assault

Tragically, sexual assault is not uncommon in the U.S. Here are some statistics gathered from the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), the nation's largest anti-sexual violence organization.

Warning Signs of Sexual Abuse

It isn’t easy to tell if your child has experienced sexual abuse, but watching out for some potential warning signs can help. Pay attention if your kid:

Online Resources That Can Help

If you believe your child is currently in danger or if you’d like to file a report with your local police station, you can call 911 at any time. You can also call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-4673 to talk to someone who is trained to help in situations like this.

The Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline is also available 24/7 via call or text message at 800-422-4453. Their trained volunteers can guide you through the reporting process.

You can learn about mandatory reporting laws in your state by visiting RAINN’s State Law Database.

girls in a school hallway, one separated from the rest

High school cliques are nothing new to kids nowadays. Most likely, we all have experiences with either being in or out of the “popular group”. And if not, we’ve all seen countless high school movies about cliques and the drama that comes with them. 

Navigating high school cliques — and friendships at this age, in general — can be difficult for any kid. That’s why it’s important for parents to teach their kids healthy and lasting social skills that will help them make smart decisions when it comes to cliques in school. 

But we know that can be equally difficult for parents, so that’s why we put together this quick and helpful guide to teach parents what they need to know about cliques and what they can teach their kids about them. We’ll go over how to talk to your kid about them, as well as topics like facing rejection and building confidence in your teen. 

What Are Cliques?

Before we discuss how to talk to your child about high school cliques, it’s probably a good idea to go over what a clique actually is. 

Cliques in schools are social circles of people who share similar interests or characteristics that set them apart from other students. In general, that’s just a normal friend group and it’s nothing to worry about. However, a friend group can become a clique when it starts to become exclusionary. When the members of the group don’t let anyone else join and they show rude behavior towards outsiders. 

Factors such as age, gender, race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status can all contribute to the formation of cliques in high schools. It can be helpful for parents to consider how these factors might impact their kids as they begin to form relationships with peers in high school. 

Step 1: Spot The Clique From Your Bird’s Eye View 

As a parent, you get to have somewhat of an outside perspective — or bird’s eye view — when it comes to your kid’s friend group. Your child may not be able to recognize signs of a clique (such as exclusionary behavior or manipulation from a group member) but chances are, you could spot it first. The older your kids get, the more you become an observer of their social life rather than an active participant. Use that to your advantage! 

Once you recognize a clique, don’t pull the eject button for your kid just yet. First, start an open dialogue with your kid and simply ask them questions about what you’ve observed. This will help you get a better understanding as well as make your child feel safe to talk about their experiences.

Step 2: Find Your Listening Cap 

As your child starts to navigate their friendships more independently, it becomes all the more important that home is still their safe place to process the things going on in their life. For parents, that means putting on your listening cap and putting away your problem-solving hat. Allow them to freely talk with no judgment or criticism, that way they’ll feel more comfortable sharing any worries or concerns they have. 

In terms of problem-solving, try not to give them a step-by-step solution but encourage them to consider some solutions on their own. As parents, this can be the hardest thing in the world because we’ve spent their whole lives fixing their problems! But now is the time to let them explore their own ideas and support them, no matter what happens.

Step 3: Share Your Stories 

Never underestimate the power of examples! Parents, you’ve lived a lot longer than your kids which means you have years of experience navigating cliques, friends, and just people in general. So don’t be afraid to share! Whether it’s stories from your childhood or even recent stories from work, your kids can learn a lot from how you talk about those experiences. And they don’t all have to be “do as I did” lessons. Sometimes the more impactful stories are the “don’t do as I did!”

For cliques specifically, share any stories you have where you had to go against the grain or whatever was popular at the time. Share how you approached it, how you came out of it, and maybe what you would’ve done differently. Not only can kids learn from your experience, but it can also show them that they’re not alone in what they’re going through. 

These honest conversations will be a big part of creating a safe environment for your kid to open up about their thoughts and feelings. Additionally, it will help teach your kids strong interpersonal relationship skills, which they’ll need well beyond high school!

Step 4: Teach Them The Practicals 

Now for some practicality. While listening and sharing your personal experiences are important, there’s going to be a time when they need some actionable advice. Of course, the advice you give is dependent on the situation, but there are a few tools you can put in their toolbelt that will likely be helpful in most clique situations.

Active listening

One fact about humans is that we aren’t always good at saying what we actually mean. Active listening is simply taking what a person says and figuring out what they actually mean. This is difficult for everyone — adults included — but the teenage years are a great time to start building that skill. This will help them to first have empathy for their friends or peers and then patiently try to get to the bottom of the problem. 

Self-advocacy 

Here’s another skill that even adults have a hard time with — self-advocacy and knowing when to walk away. Sometimes, cliques can become unhealthy to the point where your child may be faced with standing up for themselves at the risk of losing some friends. Maybe your child is feeling peer pressured or even bullied by a certain clique in school. In that case, there’s no better time to teach your kid that they are worthy and deserving of good friends, and sometimes to find those friends you have to walk away from the clique. While this is a difficult thing to navigate as a kid (not to mention a difficult thing to watch as their parent), it can have lasting effects on your child having respect for themselves and for their relationships. 

Keeping healthy boundaries 

Teaching your child to set healthy boundaries is key to helping them navigate high school cliques. Encourage them to be honest about their feelings, wants, and needs in any situation. And if needed, remind them that it’s always okay to say ‘no’ when they feel uncomfortable. This is where those skills of active listening and problem solving can be super helpful if they have to have tough conversations with peers or teachers.

Positive role models 

Giving your children positive role models can help shape their outlook on relationships and social interactions in high school. If they have mature older siblings, cousins, or friends, they can be great examples to point your kids in the right direction. Especially if you’ve seen them be inclusive, kind, and compassionate — those are awesome qualities to point out and encourage. 

Facing rejection 

It’s natural for everyone at some point, especially in high school, to experience rejection from time to time. This is part of growing up! While there’s not much you can do to avoid it, there are a lot of great ways to teach through it and help your child grow as a result. First, you’ll want to build up their confidence again and remind them they are awesome no matter what anyone says! And they don’t need a certain friend or clique to be validated. 

Then, offer some constructive advice to help your child move on in a healthy way from the rejection. Providing resources, such as books or articles, that discuss issues related specifically to navigating cliques could help open up meaningful dialogue. 

Step 5: Remind Them What’s Really Cool

It’s only natural to want to fit in with your peers, but it’s important to remember that being “in” isn't necessary for a great high school experience. The key is understanding what makes you unique and celebrating those qualities rather than trying to change yourself to conform.

One way of doing this is by encouraging your kids to find activities and interests outside of school or cliques that make them happy. This could include anything from joining a club to getting involved in the community to starting up hobbies like photography, painting, or writing — the possibilities are endless! The important part is that they know that doing what you enjoy is what’s really cool, not fitting in with the popular clique at school. 

Step 6: Monitor With Bark

There’s a lot to teach kids as they enter their high school years. And all of it is important — self-respect, healthy boundaries, active listening, and facing rejection are all super valuable lessons. But that doesn’t mean they have to learn it all at once! As their parent, you’ll know how best to guide them in all of these things when the time comes.

Do you need help navigating the world of high school cliques now that your child is transitioning into high school? Bark can help you monitor what your kids are doing online through text messages and protect them from bullies and other online predators. You can even get advice from expert psychologists using our Bark products. Start your free trial today! 

profile pictures of TikTokers on green background

Ever hear the phrase if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em? Well, if you can’t get your teen to stop scrolling TikTok, it might be worth making some follow suggestions that’ll make the most of their time. While there are plenty of adorable dogs, hilarious comedians, and amazing dancers to go around, we’d like to submit one more category for your consideration—educational TikTok

We aren’t here to suck the fun out of anything or suggest that educational content on TikTok takes over, but if every tenth or even twentieth video is engaging, funny and useful educational content, your teen might just pick up on something outside of the latest dance craze. Today, many educators and experts are using the app to share content specifically geared toward helping your teen succeed in school and beyond. In this blog, we'll highlight the top 10 educational accounts you might subtly suggest next time you’re talking TikTok with your teen.

Top 10 Educational TikTok Accounts

@thephysicsgirl 

As the name suggests, this account focuses on physics and has over 176,000 followers. The Physics Girl shares cool experiments and teaches complex concepts in an easy-to-understand way that’s engaging and entertaining. Her videos also cover topics like astronomy, engineering and more.

@history

From quick snippets on Blackbeard’s background to the story behind iconic female writers and VanGogh, The HISTORY Channel’s TikTok is full of bite-sized nuggets that cover a wide variety of historical events, people and myths. The timely and trendy videos also provide fun historical context on current events like past pie-day champions and legendary Academy Award winners.

@benjaminthebaker

With a little bit of science and a dash of creativity, almost one million people follow Benjamin The Baker for tips on how to turn their next bake into a success. Ben shares science-based hacks that’ll make your bakes better, from the ideal temperature for your cake’s ingredients to how long you should mix your icing.

@hankgreen1

Hank Green shares his eye-opening insights on the latest scientific research, the workings of the human brain and more with his over 7.4 million followers. Some of his most popular videos inspire interesting and open conversations about various topics from AI to aliens. 

@gardenmarcus

Marcus Bridgewater believes when you nurture your garden, you nurture yourself. From those struggling to get started to garden gurus, Bridgewater’s easy-to-understand videos can teach you the skills you’ll need to get your flora flourishing in no time. 

@spanishteacher_madrid

If your teen is looking to explore new horizons and learn another language, the Spanish Teacher Madrid makes picking up on short Spanish phrases and words easy and fun. Instead of outdated textbooks or out-of-touch language apps, the Madrid resident shares the real phrases and vocabulary you need to know when talking to native Spanish speakers.

@storybookmaze

Araba Maze has made it her mission to bring reading to Baltimore’s “book deserts” by creating free book vending machines and libraries in high-traffic areas. On her TikTok @storybookmaze the radical street librarian shares her expert recommendations on the next book you or your teen should pick up and why. From Mother’s Day tomes to must-have reads for back to school—there’s a book for every type of reader here.

@discovery 

Lions, tigers and bears, oh my! The Discovery Channel brings the wonders of the natural world to the small screen so your teen can learn about queen bees, sea turtles and more. Plus, Discovery also features interesting videos on some not-so-natural wonders, like an up-close look at how rubber basketballs are made.

@amoderntherapist

Beyond the typical math, science and language learning, it’s also important that your teen learn a thing or two about taking care of their mental health. Dr. Jason Puder is a licensed therapist who shares mental health tips and strategies for emotional regulation and reducing anxiety that are perfect for teens. 

10. @billnye

You can’t close out this list without the original cool-kid educator! Beloved early 2000s science star Bill Nye has transitioned over from VHS to TikTok. While he doesn’t post as much as some of the other accounts listed here, his wacky and endearing humor make his videos on climate change, conservation and more just as impactful as ever.

By following these educational TikTok accounts, teens can access informative and engaging content that is specifically tailored to their needs. TikTok has become an incredibly valuable tool for learning, and these accounts provide a great way for teens to supplement their education and explore new things.

Ask Titania logo and search engine "is roblox safe for my kid?"

Dear Titania,

My 9-year-old has learned about Roblox from his friends at school and can’t wait to download it on his tablet. I don’t know much about the game (I’m from the old-school Mario Kart generation) but it seems fairly harmless. A few of my parent friends have mentioned that it has some dangers — like chat, which definitely scares me — but I’d like to know what you think about it. Bonus points if you can give me the rundown on why kids love it so much. Thanks!

Signed,

Worried About Roblox

Dear Worried About Roblox, 

I’m glad you asked! Roblox is the most popular video game in the U.S. for children 5 –12, and it seems like it’s everywhere these days. But despite its wild popularity, it can still be a little hard to understand what exactly kids are doing while they’re playing it — don’t feel bad! And even though lots of kids play it, Roblox definitely has its fair share of dangers. Many adults play the game as well, which can sometimes introduce inappropriate activity, unfortunately. Let’s start with exactly what playing Roblox means. 

How Roblox Works

Roblox isn’t just one game like Mario or Tetris — it’s a platform that hosts literally millions of games. Roblox users create and publish these games, and they all take place in the Roblox world and are designed in the Roblox animation style, which resembles the chunky characters you’ll recognize from Lego or Minecraft.

Games in Roblox are 3-D, open-world experiences, which means that you can go anywhere, in any direction, at any time you like. (Contrast this to the old-school video games like Super Mario Bros, which only allowed you to move in one direction — always scrolling right.)

When it comes to deciding what kind of game you want to play, the sky’s the limit! Many of the games on Roblox are free or cheaper versions of other popular video games, like Fortnite and Animal Crossing. You can often find games with characters and settings from pop culture — worlds kids like to spend time in.

Why Do Kids Love Roblox?

Not only can you play and explore in a fun open world, you can build your own game with Roblox Studio. Kids can get super creative and dream up any location they can imagine  — from Ancient Greece to the Marvel Cinematic Universe — and make it come to life. Bonus: When they’re building out these worlds, they’re learning the basics of coding!

Plus, on Roblox, there’s never a shortage of brand-new and exciting games to play, and they often come out faster than traditional game studios can publish. There are also so many different ways to play games on Roblox, including on iOS, Android, Mac, PC, tablets, and gaming consoles like Xbox and Oculus Rift.

Roblox Dangers: It’s Not All Fun and Games 

Condo games

Roblox isn’t just fun action and adventure games. There’s a whole subculture of users who make “games” that revolve around sex referred to as condo games. You’ll see naked avatars (the images of players) interacting in sexually suggestive ways. In other words, it’s basically interactive pornography, and it’s definitely not for children. 

Roblox Discord servers 

In addition to actually playing Roblox, many fans will also want to talk about it with others — and they often head to chat app Discord for that. If you search Google for “Roblox Discord servers” you’ll find links to countless groups to join. This presents a huge risk for kids, as any time there’s a huge public chat room, there’s a near certainty that online predators will be lurking in it. On top of that, many folks use these groups to share links to inappropriate content — both on Roblox and elsewhere. 

Inappropriate Roblox YouTube videos

If you think Roblox isn’t right for your kid and end up blocking it — beware. Even if you can’t play the game, you can watch tons of videos of Roblox on YouTube and other video streaming apps like Twitch. And yep, you guessed it: You can also watch videos of the condo games we mentioned earlier. 

Bypassed audio clips that definitely aren’t appropriate

Roblox allows users to upload audio files, but there are rules governing them. You can’t use copyrighted content, and you can’t upload sounds that would violate community guidelines. When audio somehow gets past moderation, it’s referred to as “bypassed audio” since it bypassed the rules. These clips could include profanity, violence, sex sounds, and even screeching chaotic noise. 

Scams

Robux, the in-game currency players use to buy upgrades and avatar accessories, can be obtained in a few different ways. You can buy Robux with real money, earn them through Roblox Premium, or receive them through designing games. Make sure your child knows to ignore players who are offering free Robux — they’re phishing scams.

How to Help Protect Your Child When They Play Roblox

When it comes to parental controls and dedication to helping protect younger players, Roblox really walks the walk. Here are just a few of the ways the company safeguards kids. (Check out our step-by-step Roblox tech guide to learn all the ways you can use their parental controls.)

Chat filters

Roblox automatically filters all chats to help prevent inappropriate content and personally identifiable information from being displayed. They even employ human moderators to help review content that gets flagged by the filter’s AI. Things may slip through the cracks occasionally — no filter is perfect — but it’s definitely a good effort. 

Parent PINs

This really sets Roblox apart from other games and social media platforms. When you set parental controls, you can lock them in place with a PIN code. Most apps, like TikTok for example, will allow you to toggle on safety settings, but they can be turned off by the child at any time. You know what that means — it’s essentially useless.

Privacy

From the settings menu, you can select who can chat and message with your child, along with who can invite them to join them in private servers. 

Restricted mode

The account restrictions feature makes it so that absolutely no one can send your child messages or chat with them. These restrictions also limit the games kids can play to a pre-approved, age-appropriate list.

Need More Help?

As you can tell, there’s *a lot* to learn about Roblox, but if you think your kid is ready to take the plunge, I recommend sitting down with them and playing together the first few times. This way, you can see for yourself what your kid will experience, and it’s also a good way to bond over an activity they’re excited about. 

Bark can also help. With our screen time scheduling tools, you can decide when they can play the game. This could look like no Roblox until after school — and you can also block during the school day and after lights out. If it ever gets to be too much, you could also block it altogether to give your kid a breather. Good luck!

illustrated bookshelf with multiple multicolored books on it, along with a house plant

Nowadays, it’s easy to forget the joy of reading when our free time is more often filled with TV shows, social media, video games, and other visual entertainment. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t tons of great books and even more kids willing to read them! Ironically, all you have to do is look up #BookTok on TikTok and you’ll find literally billions of users posting about their favorite books and encouraging others to read with them. 

If you’re reading this, you’re probably looking for some good books for tweens that will spark their love of reading (and keep the screen time down, of course). So we put together this handy guide that will not only go over the benefits of reading but also get your preteen started with a Bark-approved book list they’re sure to enjoy!

Why is reading important for tweens?

Besides the fact that reading is fun (yes, just as fun as video games and TikTok) there are loads of benefits that come with consistent reading. 

Here are just a few: 

What makes a good book for a tween? 

There are a few things to consider as you pick out books for your preteen, but remember to involve them in the book-picking process as much as you can. This could help foster their interest in reading if they get to take some ownership of what they read. 

Consider their reading level

Big kids and tweens aged 9-12 typically have a level of reading comprehension where they can identify basic figurative language and understand more complex themes. This opens them up to a variety of genres and book types that will really grasp their attention. 

Here are some things to consider when choosing books for the preteen reading level:

There are still some books that may be a bit complex or mature for tween readers. But the good news is you’ll find no shortage of books written for kids this age. 

Prioritize their interests

Not every child is born a bookworm. If your child doesn’t come by reading naturally, don’t fret – it’s totally normal! But choosing books that match their interests can go a long way in helping them choose to read. Not every book may be a hit — sometimes they might have to read some bad books to figure out what they like. 

12 Good Books for Tweens

And now for what you’ve been waiting for… Bark’s official book list for tweens! We’ve pulled together a range of books, both timeless classics and modern masterpieces, that will be great additions to your preteen’s bookshelf (or Kindle, Audiobook, and anything in between). 

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Written by Lewis Carroll

You’re likely no stranger to this beloved classic. Published in 1865, the story follows Alice, a young girl who takes a tumble down a rabbit hole. Then finds herself in a whole new world filled with intriguing yet bizarre characters. From the smiling Cheshire Cat and the eccentric Mad Hatter to the crazy Queen of Hearts, readers will meet some of the most famed storybook characters in history.

Reading level: Suitable for children reading at a 5-6th grade level.

Perfect for: The child who loves exploring whimsical themes and eccentric characters. It’s guaranteed to give anyone a boost of imagination.

Anne Frank: Diary Of A Young Girl

Written by Anne Frank

This piece of non-fiction is often included as required reading in many middle-school curriculums. The book is a collection of real journal entries from Anne Frank, a Jewish girl who hid from the Nazis in World War II. Taking place in Amsterdam, this book gives the reader an intimate and in-depth look into the lives of Jewish children and families during a dark period in history.

The Diary of Anne Frank was preserved by her father and published after World War II. While difficult to read at times, the unique first-hand account of the Holocaust offers a perspective of World War II that can’t be found otherwise.

If you ever travel through Amsterdam, you can still explore the home where Anne Frank and her family hid. The Anne Frank Museum allows you to walk in her footsteps almost a century later, painting an even clearer picture of the diary entries from the book.

Reading level: Suitable for children reading at a 7-8th grade level. It’s best suited to children who can handle some emotional and mature subject matter.

Perfect for: Tweens who are history buffs or currently learning about the Holocaust.

Anne Of Green Gables

Written by Lucy Maud Montgomery

Anne Shirley is an orphan who is full of life and imagination. Spending most of her life bouncing between family members, with no real home, she finds herself in Avonlea – A fictional town in the real east coast province of Prince Edward Island in Canada. The Cuthberst were expecting to adopt a boy, but Anne is mistakenly sent instead to live with them on their farm.

With her bright red hair trailing behind her, Anne embarks on a journey of adapting to her new surroundings and finding community. Her talkative personality gets her into a bit of trouble along the way, but her fiery spirit helps her transition to life with her new family.

Reading level: Suitable for children reading at a 6-7th grade level.

Perfect for: Children who are trying to find their place in the world. A true coming-of-age story, Anne of Green Gables is a heart-warming story that displays resilience and shows readers how they can adapt.

A Series Of Unfortunate Events

Written by Lemony Snicket

A Series of Unfortunate Events features a whopping 13 books. The first book, The Bad Beginning, follows the Baudelaire siblings as they navigate life without their parents after a fire. Violet, Klaus, and Sunny are sent to live with Count Olaf. Determined to get his hands on the Baudelaire fortune, Count Olaf is sneaky and cruel. With each sibling being creative and intelligent in their own way, they work together to try and escape from Count Olaf’s grasp.

As readers progress through the series, you’ll join the Baudelaire children as they navigate unexpected (and unusual) circumstances and eventually unravel the truth about their parents.

Reading level: Suitable for children reading at a 5-6th grade level. Expect the books to get a bit more complex and challenging to read as the series progresses.

Perfect for: Someone who loves mystery and adventure. While humorous and endearing, the subject matter can get a bit dark at times. It’s ideal for a child who loves a bit of suspense and thrill.

A Wrinkle In Time

Written by Madeleine L’Engle.

Travel through time and space with Meg as she tries to rescue her father, who has been captured. Along with her brother Charles, and friend Calvin, they embark on a journey – with the help of some strange and mysterious beings.

Working together, they battle evil forces to eventually save her father. A Wrinkle In Time was also recently adapted into a movie featuring a star-studded cast. Perfect for a post-read movie night with the entire family.

Reading level: Suitable for children reading at a 5-6th grade level.

Perfect for: The sci-fi, fantasy lover. A Wrinkle In Time will help children unleash their creativity and really challenge what they know about the world around them.

Bridge to Terabithia

Written by Katherine Paterson

Leslie and Jesse become unexpected friends when Leslie moves to town. As their friendship grows, they build the imaginary magical kingdom of Terabithia. Filled with creatures like trolls and fairies, Terabithia is a world built on creativity and imagination.

But when the worst tragedy strikes, Jesse learns how to navigate life without Leslie. Readers follow along as Jesse discovers the role of imagination and friendship, even in times of grief.

Reading level: Suitable for children reading at a 5-6th grade level. It does contain some more emotional and mature themes.

Perfect for: Learning about themes of friendship, loss, and grief. As well as understanding the power of imagination.

Little Women

Written by Louisa May Alcott

Another classic, Little Woman, follows four sisters, Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy. They all have different aspirations in life, but they’re tied together as the March sisters.

Set during the American Civil War, the reader watches the four sisters grow up and learn that life isn’t always what we expect when we’re young. They navigate personal and familial relationships, as well as societal expectations for women during the late 1800s.

Reading level: Suitable for children reading at a 7-8th grade level.

Perfect for: Readers who love period books. Taking place during the American Civil War, the book ties in elements of history while building themes of love and family that are still very much relatable to kids today.

Harry Potter

Written by J.K. Rowling

Arguably one of the most famous book series in the world, the seven-book fantasy series follows Harry Potter and his friends as they explore the world of wizards. In the first book, we follow Harry and how he unexpectedly finds himself at Hogwarts. We meet his friends, Ron and Hermione, as they uncover villains and battle threats to the wizarding and muggle worlds. As the books progress, readers get to join as the three friends come of age and build on their lives as wizards.

Reading level: Suitable for children reading at a 6-7th grade level. It’s worth noting that the series follows the characters as they get older, so books later in the series are a bit more complex and increase in reading level.

Perfect for: Readers who love fantasy and want to immerse themselves in a whole new world.

The Adventures Of Tom Sawyer

Written by Mark Twain

Tom Sawyer lives in a fictional town in Missouri, on the bank of the Mississippi River. The classic storybook follows Tom and his best friend, Huckleberry Finn, as they adventure through their little town. They’re both mischievous and enjoy playing pranks, and tend to get into trouble. But when they witness a murder, they must use their antics for good in order to bring the real killer to justice.

Reading level: Suitable for children reading at a 6-7th grade level.

Perfect for: Children starting to explore themes of racism and morality. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer breaks down important societal themes in a more approachable way.

The Hobbit

Written by J.R.R. Tolkien

Set in the fantasy world of Middle-earth, readers will meet Bilbo Baggins – the hobbit. He works with a group of dwarves to battle the dragon Smaug. As you journey with Bilbo, you explore the world of Middle-earth, meeting fantastical creatures like trolls and goblins along the way.

This prequel to The Lord Of The Rings Series explores themes of good vs. evil and the bonds of friendship. As a classic piece of literature, The Hobbit is often included as required reading in school curriculums.

Reading level: Suitable for children reading at a 7-8th grade level. It does include some themes of violence that may be more suitable for slightly older readers

Perfect for: Readers who want to be transported into a whole new fantasy world. The Hobbit is the perfect introduction to fantasy adventure books, especially for those looking to progress to the more dense Lord Of The Rings epic.

The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe

Written by C.S. Lewis

Another fantasy series, the Chronicles of Narnia explores the magical world of, you guessed it, Narnia. Four children, Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy, step into a mysterious wardrobe and on the other side, they discover Narnia. A world of talking animals, supernatural and mythical creatures, and an evil queen – who has left Narnia in perpetual winter. The four children work with the great lion Aslan to restore him as the rightful king.

The remaining books explore Narnia through the lens of different characters, coming together to create a robust picture of Narnia that brings the world to life. The Chronicles of Narnia aren’t written in chronological order, so readers can choose their own adventure. But most will read the series in publishing order.

Reading level: Suitable for children reading at a 6-7th grade level.

Perfect for: Readers looking for a fantasy series that they can see themselves in. Many children will find Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy relatable as they explore the world of Narnia through the book.

The Hunger Games

Written by Suzanne Collins

In the nation of Panem, children are forced to fight to the death in the Hunger Games. Each of the 12 districts is required to send two children – a boy and a girl. When 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen’s little sister’s name is drawn at the reaping, she volunteers to take her place. The book follows Katniss as she fights to survive in the Hunger Games, making unlikely friends and building a following throughout the nation along the way.

The Hunger Games is part of a trilogy, the following books exploring the aftermath of the Hunger Games and the subsequent rebellion in Panem.

Reading level:  Suitable for children reading at a 7-8th grade level. It does contain some violence and other more sophisticated themes, including politics and oppression, which may be better enjoyed by slightly older readers.

Perfect for: Children learning about oppression and the power of media through an engaging story of friendship and family.

How to encourage reading for tweens

Now that you’ve got some books in mind, how can you get your big kid to finally curl up with their new books?

Encourage reading with Bark

Building a habit of reading isn’t always easy, but Bark can help.

Bark makes managing technology a breeze for parents. Whether it’s monitoring what your child is reading or setting screen-time limits, you can use a wide variety of features to build reading into your child’s routines. You can even get detailed activity reports to help make sure your tween is tackling all the books on their list. 

Ready to start building your child’s reading routine? Get started with a free trial of Bark today.

illustrated life preserver with social media app icons sitting in it

Social media has become an essential part of our daily lives, especially for young people. While it can be a great way to connect with friends and family, it also poses various risks, including cyberbullying, exposure to sexual content, online predators, and more...

It is crucial to learn how to stay safe on social media to avoid these dangers. In this blog post, we will share some tips and best practices that parents and teens can use to stay safe on social media.

How to Stay Safe on Social Media in 2023

Protect your personal information

One of the easiest ways to stay safe on social media is to protect your personal information. As a parent, it's essential to teach your child to never share personal information such as full name, address, phone number, or email address online. Hackers and online predators can use this information to access your child's account or even steal their identity. Teens should also be mindful of the information they share online and make sure they limit it to trusted sources.

Use strong passwords

Another way to stay safe on social media is by using strong passwords. Encourage your teen to use a unique and complex password that is difficult to guess. This can be achieved by using a combination of letters, numbers, and symbols. Also, advise them not to use the same password for different accounts. 

Think before you share

Teens tend to overshare on social media without realizing the consequences. Teach them to think before they post anything online. Remind them that anything they post could be seen by anyone, including strangers, future employers, and college admissions officers. Even if their profiles are private, screenshots can be taken and shared — and then they’re out of your teen’s control.

Be aware of cyberbullying

Cyberbullying is one of the most significant risks associated with social media — and it looks a lot different from the bullying we experienced in the 80s and 90s.  As a parent, it's essential to talk to your child about cyberbullying and how to prevent it. Encourage them to report any instances of cyberbullying they encounter and reassure them that they are not alone. Also, advise them not to respond to the bullies or retaliate in any way.

Never trust strangers

It's important your kid knows never to trust strangers online. Online predators can create fake profiles and pretend to be someone they're not. Teach your child to verify the identity of anyone they connect with online and to only accept friend requests from people they know in real life.

Be on the lookout for scams

Scammers often use social media to target their victims. Teach your child to be cautious of any offers that seem too good to be true or ask for personal information. Advise them not to click on any suspicious links or download anything from untrusted sources.

Let them know they can always, always come to you

There are a lot of ways for a kid to encounter something that’s just not quite right online. And while it may not always lead to incredible danger, it could still cause worry or apprehension. Stress the importance of intuition when it comes to strange things online. If it seems weird, it probably is — whether it’s someone who’s acting funny, a strange request, or if money is involved. Make sure your kid knows that no matter what, you’re there to help them through it. At the end of the day, their safety is the most important thing, and when they know you won’t get mad or judge them, they’ll be more willing to share everything with you.

Monitor Your Child's Social Media Activity with Bark

As a parent, it's crucial to monitor your child's social media activity regularly. You can also use Bark to help! Our parental controls let you monitor their activity,  block inappropriate content, set screen time schedules, and more. Make sure to have an open and honest conversation with your child about your monitoring, and make it clear that it's not about spying but about keeping them safe. Start your free, 7-day trial today!

Online friendships header image - kids on laptops

Remember pen pals? Growing in the 80s and 90s, you may have even had one — or knew someone who did. Maybe it was through a program at school, or a friend from summer camp. Today there’s something similar: online friends! Some may be people a kid knows in real life, while others could be entirely online — and they may never actually meet. 

Online friendships aren’t inherently bad, and for a generation of kids that had to make do with virtual playdates throughout the lockdown years of the pandemic, they’re part of life. In this post, we’ll discuss some of the pros and cons of these relationships, as well as how you can help protect your kid online and in real life. 

Pros of Online Friendships

Increased social connections

Online friendships can help children and teenagers connect with other individuals who share similar interests and hobbies. This can be especially valuable for kids who may struggle to make friends in their local community or who feel isolated or lonely.

Greater accessibility

Online friendships can be formed regardless of geographic location, making it easier for children and teenagers to connect with peers from all over the world. This can be especially beneficial for kids who may not have access to diverse communities or who live in rural or remote areas.

Safe space for self-expression

Online friendships can offer a safe space for children and teenagers to express themselves and explore their identities without fear of judgment or criticism. This can be particularly important for kids who may be struggling with issues like bullying, harassment, or discrimination in their offline lives.

Cons of Online Friendships

Risk of online predators

One of the biggest risks associated with online friendships is the potential for children and teenagers to be targeted by online predators. These individuals may use social media platforms, chat rooms, or other online forums to groom children and gain their trust, often with the intention of engaging in sexual exploitation or other forms of abuse.

Exposure to inappropriate content

Online friendships can expose children and teenagers to a wide range of inappropriate content. This can include simple profanity, violence, hate speech, and extremist propaganda. This can be particularly concerning for parents who are worried about the impact of exposure to such content on their children's mental health and wellbeing.

Lack of face-to-face interaction

Online friendships also lack the benefits of face-to-face interaction, such as the ability to read body language and facial expressions, build trust and empathy, and develop interpersonal social skills. This can be especially concerning for parents who worry about the impact of excessive screen time on their children's development.

Tips for Managing Online Friendships

While online friendships can offer several benefits for kids and teenagers, it's important for parents to take steps to manage and monitor these relationships to ensure their children's safety and wellbeing. Here are a few tips to help parents navigate this complex issue:

Educate your children about online safety

Make sure your children understand the risks associated with online friendships and how to stay safe online. Teach them about the importance of protecting their personal information, setting privacy settings, and avoiding interactions with strangers online.

Notice how your child is acting

Keep an eye on your children's online activity and look for signs of potential risks or dangers, such as unusual or secretive behavior, inappropriate messages or content, or changes in mood or behavior. Online friends may affect how they start to behave, especially if the friend may be a bad influence.

Set clear rules and boundaries

Establish expectations for your child’s online activity with things like limiting screen time, prohibiting certain types of content or interactions, and requiring regular check-ins. We recommend sitting down and filling out a tech contract so everyone is on the same page when it comes to behavior. 

Encourage offline socialization

While online friendships can be valuable, it's important for kids to make real-life friends and develop face-to-face relationships with peers. Encourage your children to participate in extracurricular activities, join clubs or organizations, or attend social events in their local community.

How Bark Can Help

Bark is an all-in-one parental control tool that can help you manage nearly every aspect of your child’s online world. You can block websites and apps that may be causing trouble, set up screen time limits to encourage healthy boundaries, and keep an eye on their location. 

But Bark’s most powerful feature is our content monitoring. It scans your kid’s texts, emails, and social media platforms for potential dangers and sends you alerts concerning interactions. This way, you can check in and make sure everything is okay if your child is facing issues in online friendships like bullying, depression, online predators, and more. Sign up today for a free, one-week trial.

Ask Titania Google search with post title

Dear Titania,

My daughter recently told me that she’s been using ChatGPT to write her English essays. I told her I don’t think that’s a good idea, and she replied that it’s not cheating because at least she’s not plagiarizing. I don’t know much about ChatGPT but this doesn’t seem right. Can you give me a primer on this platform as well as some talking points for having a productive conversation with her about it? Thanks!

Signed,

Anxious About AI

Dear Anxious About AI,

The future is now, and it’s a wild ride! ChatGPT is just the latest in what seems like a never-ending series of mind-blowing tech developments. Artificial intelligence (AI) has become extremely commonplace — think about the chatbots you encounter on homepages where you ask questions, those impressive photo filters on Instagram, and even auto-correct on your iPhone!

But as a parent, when technology starts to affect the way your child is learning and behaving in school, I’m sure your parenting spider-sense is starting to tingle, and rightfully so!

What Exactly Is ChatGPT?

ChatGPT is a website where users can ask questions and get answers from an incredibly sophisticated chatbot. The company behind ChatGPT is called OpenAI, and it works with all sorts of artificial intelligence. You may also have heard of OpenAI’s DALL-E, which takes user prompts and generates graphic designs in a matter of seconds. They’re all over social media right now.

ChatGPT: How It Works

The tech behind ChatGPT is super complex, but it’s worth explaining a little about how it works. 

ChatGPT uses pattern recognition and access to unimaginable amounts of information to make decisions. Human brains do this, too, but not at the speed or volume that machines are capable of.

Let’s break down a simple example. Suppose I asked you and ChatGPT to finish this sentence: “The ice cream was ____.” 

Your first guess would probably be along the lines of “delicious”, “creamy”, or “cold.” ChatGPT knows this too, based on all of the human data it's been fed — information from books, websites, articles, and more. It won’t answer “smelly”, “warm”, or “ugly”, just like you wouldn’t. 

This was just a simple example, too. ChatGPT can use the same principles to answer incredibly complicated questions that take much longer to explain. But this is where it gets tricky, and where the chatbot’s limitations come into focus. We’ll get more into these issues later.

How Kids Might Use ChatGPT for School

Here are just a few examples of questions kids might ask ChatGPT:

ChatGPT can not only give correct answers to these questions, but it can also explain its reasoning in the cases of math problems — it shows its work, in other words. This makes it tricky. In the past, if you copied the answers from the back of the book, your teacher would know because you wouldn’t be able to show your steps. Not so with ChatGPT. 

The Issues with AI Assistance

Can ChatGPT generate remarkably human-sounding words? Absolutely. Is it perfect? Definitely not. Here are a few of the issues it has:

It can be plain wrong

Human experiences and information don’t always conform to logic, and ChatGPT can run into problems because of this — it’s also limited to data before 2021. But because it so confidently and quickly spits out answers, kids may believe they’re always 100% true. 

It can reflect human biases

ChatGPT only uses information that humans created, and it can mirror prejudices that exist in the data it’s fed with. This can include harmful positions about marginalized groups.

It will never be as creative as a real person

While ChatGPT is truly remarkable and probably the closest we’ve come to human-sounding answers in text form, it’s always…just missing something. The more you play around with it, the more you can start to see its patterns. (Hopefully, teachers will, too!)

A Tool, Not a Lifeline

At the end of the day, technology is a tool that can make our lives easier, but it’s just that — a tool, not a lifeline. Even though graphing calculators are used every day in advanced math, kids still learn how to count, add, subtract, multiply, and divide in elementary school. Once those are mastered — remember times table tests? — then calculators can be used. The same goes with ChatGPT. It can help you brainstorm, give you lots of options, and even provide a starting point for research. But it shouldn’t replace the work teachers assign to kids. 

Some Conversation Starters

I recommend pulling up ChatGPT (you can create a free account) and sitting down with your kid to explore it together. Here are few ways to get a conversation started:

I hope this helps you make a little more sense of this new technology! We live in exciting (and overwhelming) times, and like with everything when it comes to raising kids, talking it out together will always help. Good luck!

teen boy looking at phone with sad expression

Content warning: This article discusses eating disorders and contains language that may be triggering to some readers.

As a parent, you see your child as perfect just the way they are. That’s why it can be so heartbreaking to see them struggle with body image issues and negative self-talk. Today’s teens aren’t just exposed to photoshopped images in magazines but are constantly bombarded with unrealistic social media posts and unattainable ideals each time they open their phones. Although conversations about the impact of social media on body image often focus on girls, boys are also at risk of developing these issues, with a worrying rise in eating disorders in boys.

Despite the difficulty in controlling your child's exposure to unrealistic content, creating an open and supportive environment where boys can discuss their concerns is key to preventing and addressing eating disorders in boys. Learn more about the pressure boys today are under, how to talk to your child, and how to encourage healthy habits below.

The Pressure to Look Perfect

One of the main contributors to the rise in eating disorders in boys is the pressure to look perfect. This pressure comes from various sources, including social media, advertising, and peers. Boys are constantly bombarded with images of perfectly toned and muscular men, which can create unrealistic expectations and feelings of inadequacy.

In many cases, boys feel like they need to have a six-pack or be perfectly ripped to fit in or be attractive to others. This pressure can be especially tough during their teen years when boys are already dealing with plenty of changes and trying to figure out who they are.

The Dangers of Eating Disorders

Eating disorders aren’t “just a phase” and can have serious and long-lasting effects on a person's health and well-being. They can lead to malnutrition, dehydration, and even organ failure in severe cases. In addition to physical health problems, eating disorders can also impact a person's mental health, leading to depression, anxiety, and other issues.

Eating disorders can be particularly dangerous in young boys and teens, as their bodies are still developing and need proper nutrition to grow and thrive. If left untreated, eating disorders can affect their future health and well-being.

How to Talk to Your Teens About Body Image Issues

While it may be uncomfortable at first, it's important to talk to your teens about body image issues and social media's impact on their self-esteem. Here are some tips for your next conversation:

  1. Start the conversation: Initiate an open and honest conversation about body image issues with your teens, and make sure they feel safe to discuss their concerns without judgment.
  2. Encourage healthy habits: Emphasize the importance of healthy habits, such as regular exercise and a balanced diet, and avoid focusing on weight or body shape.
  3. Highlight diverse beauty standards: Promote diverse beauty standards and challenge unrealistic depictions of men and women in mass media, social media, and advertising.
  4. Be a positive role model: Model positive self-talk and a healthy relationship with your body to your teens, and avoid making negative comments about your own body or appearance.
  5. Seek professional help: If your teen struggles with body image issues or eating disorders, seek professional help and support from a therapist or healthcare provider.

It's important to remember that you are your teen's role model. If you constantly talk negatively about your weight or appearance, your teens are likely to pick up on these messages and feel like they should be critical of their appearance too. Try to model healthy habits and a positive relationship with your own body, from what you eat to how you work out and talk to yourself.

Ultimately, it's up to all of us to work towards creating a more positive and accepting culture around body image. By having open conversations with our teens and being mindful of the messages we send, we can help our young men feel confident and empowered in their own skin.

How Bark Can Help

Bark monitors online activities for signs of disordered eating — and other issues — in texts, emails, and app activity. If something concerning is found, we send parents an alert so you can check in and make sure everything is okay. Sign up for a free trial today

smartphone with a top hat, illustrated emojis around it

Social media has become an ingrained part of modern life. The question these days is less of an if your child will have several social media accounts and more of a when and what then? For many parents, social media can be a source of concern when it comes to their children. It's understandable, as social media can be a double-edged sword, with both positive connectivity and learning aspects and darker cyberbullying and self-esteem impacts. In this guide, we'll discuss some tips and tricks for how parents can approach social media with their kids.

When to Introduce Social Media to Your Child

One of the first things to consider when it comes to social media is when you want to give your child access to social media sites. Most social media platforms require users to be at least 13 years old, but that doesn't mean that all 13-year-olds are ready for social media or that all kids should have to wait till 13. Parents should consider their child's maturity level and ability to handle online interactions before allowing them to sign up for social media. It's also important to note that some platforms, such as TikTok, have a minimum age requirement of 16 years old.

Good Social Media Etiquette 

Before your child joins their first social media platform and begins interacting with friends online, it's crucial to have a conversation about best practices that can create a positive experience for everyone involved while ensuring safety and respect. Here are some talking points to get started.

Poor Social Media Etiquette

Just as it is important to outline good behavior online, it’s also important to highlight what behavior won’t be tolerated and could cause them or others harm. Here are a few important points to bring up. 

What to Watch Out For

As a parent, it's important to keep an eye on your child's social media activity. Make sure you're aware of who they're talking to and what they're sharing. Encourage your child to talk to you if they encounter anything that makes them uncomfortable. Be on the lookout for signs of cyberbullying or other negative interactions. If you're concerned about your child's social media usage, don't hesitate to limit their access or even remove them from social media altogether.

Monitoring Your Kid’s Activities

In addition to establishing ground rules around social media and discussing etiquette, you can use Bark to monitor your child’s online activities. Even after talking about your family’s rules around social media, your child might not always follow them. That’s why having an additional safeguard in place can be helpful.

Bark’s 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 thoughts, threats of violence, and more. Sign up today to monitor your child’s texts, email, YouTube, and 30+ apps and social media platforms and get one week of our service completely free!