Dr. Vivek Murthy, the U.S. surgeon general, has issued an important advisory sounding the alarm about the state of kids, social media, and mental health this week.
As any parent of a tween or teen knows, things aren’t great right now — and haven’t been for a while. Let’s get into what parents need to understand about this report.
What Is a Surgeon General’s Advisory?
The surgeon general is the nation’s top doctor, and their job is to provide Americans with the best scientific information available on how to improve health and reduce risk of illness and injury.
Advisories are serious business — they’re meant to call attention to an urgent public health issue and provide recommendations for how it should be addressed. Just how serious is this one? It’s in the same company as legendary advisories against:
- Smoking cigarettes
- Violence on TV and in video games
- Gun violence
- Drunk driving
These warnings can often trigger a sea change in habits and behavior, which is a good thing.
10 Takeaways from the Surgeon General’s Advisory on Social Media
1. Kids are using social media almost constantly.
This will probably come as no surprise to most parents, but the details are a little heartbreaking. The report gives the following stats that show just how embedded social media is into the fabric of young people’s lives:
- Up to 95% of youth ages 13–17 report using a social media platform
- 8th and 10th graders now spend an average of 3.5 hours per day on social media
- More than a third state they use social media “almost constantly.”
- Even though 13 is the minimum age for most platforms, nearly 40% of children ages 8–12 have accounts.
2. While there are some benefits of social media, the dangers far outweigh them.
We all learned this firsthand during the pandemic — online connections through social media, gaming, and messaging platforms can be a lifeline for people to stay in touch, especially for young people and members of minority groups. But as we’ll see, the risks are too high too ignore for the sake of easy communication.
3. Teen and tween brains are incredibly vulnerable to social media.
Risk-taking behaviors (which can include online activities like sending nudes and bullying) reach their peak when kids are ages 10 to 19. This is also when mental health challenges such as depression typically emerge.
On top of all this, the teen years are when kids are forming their identities, and when they’re most susceptible to peer pressure and outside influences. When you put all these together, they demonstrate why social media is such a dangerous threat.
The American Psychological Association recommends that parents monitor their child’s social media use between the ages of 10 and 14 — especially when it comes to potential harmful content that kids are seeing.
4. Scientific studies clearly show that more social media = more damage
The report cites a study that found kids who spent more than 3 hours a day on social media faced double the risk of experiencing poor mental health outcomes including symptoms of depression and anxiety. Now think about the kids who are spending 6, 9, even 12 hours a day online. The damage could be immeasurable.
5. What kids are seeing (and experiencing) online is actively harming them.
Like with the depression and anxiety that kids are experiencing, social media is also exposing kids to incredibly harmful content like violent and extremist propaganda, videos about disordered eating, and more.
One extremely chilling form of content that algorithms in particular have been known to show revolves around self-harm and suicide. This is incredibly dangerous as suicide is currently the second-leading cause of death for 10- to 14-year-olds.
6. Social media platforms purposely design their apps with features that addict kids.
Some researchers think that social media can overstimulate the reward center in a child’s brain and can form neural pathways like those found in addiction. Small studies have even shown that people with problematic social media use have changes in brain structure like people with drug or gambling addictions,
7. Adolescent girls and transgender youth are disproportionately impacted by online harassment and abuse
Predatory behavior on social media is rampant. Nearly 60% of adolescent girls have stated that they’ve been contacted by strangers on social media platforms in manners that make them feel uncomfortable.
8. Parents can take tangible steps to help protect their kids.
All’s not lost yet — parents and guardians can step in to set healthy boundaries. In addition to monitoring, families are encouraged to:
- Create a family tech contract to set rules and expectations.
- Make tech-free zones and times around the house.
- Set a good example with tech use by being responsible.
- Teach kids about tech use and proper behavior.
- Report instances of bullying and online abuse.
9. Tech companies are being put on notice for how to address these problems but not currently held accountable.
As we’ve seen, the onus can’t only be on parents – not when tech companies have more leverage and the funds to address problems on the front end. The report calls on them to produce more research into negative effects, provide more controls for parents, and to actually enforce age minimums.
10. We don’t have the luxury of waiting years until we know the full extent of social media’s impact.
We’re the first generation of parents raising kids with this unprecedented technology, and it will take a while to actually determine what the long-term effects are. But we can’t wait to act. Even the limited knowledge we’ve gained so far is showing that they probably won’t be good.
Bark Can Help You Manage Your Kid’s Social Media and More
Staying actively involved in your child’s online world is a non-negotiable in the wake of this advisory. Fortunately, Bark is here to help parents! Founded by a dad of two, our parental controls put you in the driver’s seat when it comes to your child’s tech use.
Bark scans texts, emails, and 30+ of the most popular apps and social media platforms for issues like bullying, online predators, suicidal ideation, sexual content, and more.
Bark’s content monitoring features let you:
- Receive alerts if your child encounters porn, cyberbullying, drugs, online predators, and more
- Get key insights into your child’s online world so you can support them as they navigate technology
- Be alerted about inappropriate emojis and slang terms your kid uses
- Much more!
Our web filter lets you select exactly what your kid can access on their devices. You can block specific sites and apps or even whole categories like streaming services, online gaming, sexual content, and more.
These days, it’s more important than ever for kids to have time to disconnect from their devices and spend some time connecting with friends, picking up a new hobby, or just (gasp) being bored.
Bark helps you set screen time rules that will help you care for your child’s overall well-being. Who knows? They might just end up discovering a new passion thanks to a couple of hours a week set aside for screen-free activities.
Get Started Today
We have an entire suite of products available to help families, and you can learn more about everything over on our products page. You can also start a free, 7-day trial of our Bark Premium app to see how Bark can help your family.
It's no secret that kids love spending time in front of screens, whether it's playing video games, scrolling through social media, or watching their favorite shows. However, too much screen time can have negative effects on your child's development and overall health. So, as a parent, how can you balance your child's screen time with other enriching activities?
One great option is to introduce them to the world of digital art! Below, we've compiled a list of 10 art websites that are not only fun and engaging but also suitable for kids of all ages. From coloring to digital painting and even graphic design, these websites will inspire your child's creativity and allow them to explore their artistic talents in a safe and enjoyable way.
10 Art Websites for Kids
1. Color By Numbers
As the name suggests, this account takes the classic paint-by-number process and makes it digital! Simply select a paint from the sidebar and click to paint in the areas that coincide with each paint number. This foolproof “painting” is perfect for all ages, from busy toddlers who can’t sit still to anxious adults looking for a little mindless, creative fun. Looking to go analog? You can also print out paint-by-number templates for hand coloring or painting.
2. Jackson Pollock
For those looking for a little more abstract art, look no further than Jackson Pollock. This interactive website uses your cursor as the paintbrush as you make quick swipes across the screen to reveal Pollock’s characteristic colorful splatters.
3. PBS Kids Arts Games
If your child is nervous about picking up the virtual paintbrush, let their favorite cartoon characters lead the way. On PBS Kids Arts Games, well-known characters like Elmo from Sesame Street and D.W. from Arthur lead your child through various creative adventures.
4. Scrap Coloring
Elsa (an elementary school teacher) and Stephane (a software engineer) wanted to create an online coloring experience for their three children that went beyond the basics. Instead of a simple swatch of basic predetermined colors, in the world of Scrap Coloring, kids can pick from a wide array of fabrics, papers, textures, patterns, gradients and more to color in a variety of scenes and characters.
5. Draw a Stickman
With Draw a Stickman, your child’s artwork goes beyond just fun and colorful and becomes a functional part of a grand adventure. In the beginning, users are prompted to sketch their own “stickman” character to use. Once your Stickman is drawn, he moves about the screen facing different challenges—which he’ll need your help to face. Draw a sword to face the mighty dragon or a rain cloud to put out the fire. Each step along the way, your art skills will be put to the test.
6. Make Beliefs Comix
Another action-packed art adventure, kids and teens can create their own comic strips with the help of Make Beliefs Comix. Backgrounds, characters, and text bubbles are all used in tandem to create a unique written and visual story that pushes your child’s creative limits.
7. Mandala Gaba
It’s all about symmetry, baby! Mandala Gaba allows users to create beautiful mandalas, which are kaleidoscopic designs that feature symmetrical patterns. The website’s interactive drawing board can instantly mirror your strokes across a number of points, creating intriguing symmetries and unexpected designs.
8. Google Arts & Culture
Hoping to sneak in a little bit of learning into your child’s next creative venture? Consider introducing your kiddos to Diwali or Hanukkah celebrations through Google Arts & Culture’s online coloring books that are outside your usual horizons.
For the budding graphic designer interested in curating the perfect social feed or crafting their own ‘zine, Canva takes the tools once available only in complicated applications like Photoshop and makes them intuitive. Kids and teens can browse thousands of templates and use amazing new integrations like the “magic eraser” to remove background characters from photos and polish their designs.
10. Sculpt GL
For those looking to get their hands dirty — virtually, that is — Sculpt GL enables users to use a variety of techniques to move and configure a ball of clay into something spectacular. While the controls and toggles are a little more advanced, tutorials are provided, and a few minutes spent playing with the different settings and methods will have you revealing a masterpiece in no time.
AI — the term is everywhere these days, and it can be hard to know what exactly it means. But maybe even more importantly, what it means for your child. From groundbreaking new platforms like ChatGPT to the videos TikTok chooses to show your child on their For Your Page, AI influences nearly every aspect of our lives these days. Here’s what parents need to know about how childhood is being impacted by AI.
What Do We Mean by AI?
AI stands for artificial intelligence, and this term has come to mean many different things when it comes to technology. AI mimics human problem-solving and decision-making — think about chatbots on websites, personal assistants like Alexa, and more. But AI also spills over into video games, social media, and a ton of other avenues that we interact with on a daily basis.
5 Ways AI Is Affecting How Your Kids Grow Up
Kids are incredibly creative and have always been so. Technology today just gives them a ton of more avenues to explore. Toys in the past were generally limited to blocks, dolls, trucks, and crayons. We still have these, of course, but we also now have virtual reality headsets that let kids explore the universe, first-person video games that let them fly, and interactive apps that project digital images into the real world.
While there are lots of dangers that tech poses to kids, it has also given them the opportunity to create new worlds and experience things young people could have only ever dreamt of in the past.
Immediate answers to questions
Never before in the history of humanity have we had such immediate access to knowledge. Even compared to the 90s, the change has been enormous. Gone are the days of having to look up information at the library or in musty old volumes of encyclopedias.
But even beyond research, the everyday curiosity of kids can be answered by AI in a matter of seconds. A quick question to Alexa or Siri can instantly provide the weather, the capital of Italy, or Zenday’s birthday.
These shortcuts can make our lives better, but be sure your kid knows how to find answers themselves. Also, teach your child that even these technological conveniences can be wrong sometimes, and to take everything with a grain of salt.
An algorithm, at its most simple, is just a set of instructions. The steps to tying your shoes is an algorithm, for example. But today, AI-based algorithms control and help make sense of a lot of the online content we see.
Your kid encounters algorithms whenever they google something — how the results are ranked is determined by AI, as it helps to find the most fitting article. They also encounter algorithms when on social media, YouTube, Amazon, and more.
TikTok’s algorithm is known to be one of the most powerful in the world, as it continually learns what a user likes by monitoring how long videos are watched and whether you comment or like them. It takes this info and then shows you more videos it thinks you will be interested in.
This could be a good thing if your kid is learning more about dinosaurs. It’s not so good if the content is about disordered eating or hate speech.
Facial recognition filters
If you type “photo editor” into the App Store, you’ll get tons of results. There are so many apps that promise to provide filters and enhancements for amazing selfies. Some promise flawless skin, a reshaped face, and even the ability to open your eyes if they’re accidentally closed in a photo. Many of these apps are free, which means they’re easy for kids to download.
Of course, kids aren’t born wanting filtered faces. They’re eased into it, often through kid-focused, “fun” filters that add puppy ears or angel haloes. As they get older, kids will encounter filter options that include more adult-appropriate adjustments. These include prominent cheekbones, larger eyes, and plumper lips.
But these types of filters aren’t just in fun apps… they’re everywhere. There’s even an option on Zoom, which many kids relied on during distance learning, called “Touch up my appearance.” It’s possible that many kids may never post a photo of themselves without having altered it in some way. It’s no wonder that body image issues are growing more and more common — even in kids as young as four.
ChatGPT is perhaps the most talked-about AI tool right now, and it’s definitely making waves in the education community. Here are just a few examples of homework questions kids might ask ChatGPT:
- “Write me a 300-word essay on the theme of revenge in Hamlet.”
- Solve for x: 2x + 35 = 6x
- “Compare and contrast the French and English revolutions.”
- “What are the themes of To Kill a Mockingbird.”
- “Create a sweet poem about a family’s golden retriever.”
- “How do I make an image tag in HTML?”
- “If train A is moving at 30 m.p.h. and train B is moving at 60 m.p.h. and they start 100 miles away from each other, when will they meet?
But it’s important to remember that just as computers and graphing calculators didn’t signal the end of education as we know it, this probably won’t either. The traditional model of assigning students a take-home essay may simply evolve, resulting in more in-class writing exercises. It will always be important for kids to understand the why behind what they learn — not just the answers. Learning how to use ChatGPT may become more important than the outcomes it provides.
How Bark Can Help
Here at Bark, we have a lot of resources that can help parents better understand their children’s world. From tech guides and app reviews to videos and blog posts, we strive to keep families in the know when it comes to technology.
Our award-winning parental controls also use AI to help protect kids online and in real life. Our monitoring feature scans your child’s online activities — like texts and social media posts — and alerts you if it detects issues like predators, bullying, depression, and more. Try Bark free for a week to see how it can transform your family’s online safety.
I have a teen that uses Snapchat to chat/send silly photos with her best friends, but I recently heard about this new chatbot the app is offering. I’ve seen some tweets saying how it’s problematic and potentially dangerous. Can you give me more info about what it is exactly and how I should talk to my kid about it?
Is MyAI a Bad Idea?
Dear Is MyAI a Bad Idea,
First, I’m glad to hear that Snapchat in general doesn’t cause too much strife at your house. A lot of families struggle with it! Snapchat, after all, is an app that was created to send nudes, so you can see how some kids may be tempted to use it for more than just puppy dog filters. Because of this, the app generally tops my list of problematic platforms for young people.
So you can imagine my surprise when I learned that the creators were adding yet another function — a chatbot — that could potentially harm kids. Talk about a double-whammy! Don’t worry though, in this post, I’ll walk you through everything you need to know.
- Snapchat’s MyAI is a chatbot that works answering questions like ChatGPT
- MyAI is Snapchat’s attempt to keep users on the site longer.
- How MyAI responds isn’t always predictable — Snapchat even states that answers may be incorrect, biased, and harmful.
- Dangers may include MyAI answering questions about inappropriate content like sex, drugs/alcohol, adult-child relationships (i.e. predators), and more.
- Good news! Bark can monitor your kid’s MyAI chats and send you alerts (Android/Bark Phone) for concerning content.
First, What Even is a Chatbot?
Snapchat’s MyAI is a chatbot, a program that’s designed to answer questions you ask it. Chatbots are meant to provide useful information to humans, and sometimes even fun in the form of games and puzzles.
You’ve probably encountered one before without realizing it — lots of websites use them to answer simple customer questions in little boxes in the corner of the page. There are also automated text messages from doctor’s offices you can reply to (or unsubscribe from).
You may have even used a chatbot when you were young! That’s right, remember Clippy, the helpful paperclip in Microsoft Word? He was 100% an early chat bot — but he could only answer questions about margins and grammar (thank goodness). As technology has grown, so have chatbots’ ability to answer questions about nearly anything.
Chat GPT is the most recent chatbot to gain popularity (and notoriety) in the U.S., and its ability to answer questions that sound human is remarkable. Kids are already using it to write papers, solve math problems, and more.
Why Do Snapchat Users Need a Chatbot?
The short answer, of course, is: They don’t. But social media platforms make money the longer users — even kids! — stay on the app, which is why new features are constantly being rolled out. MyAI is Snapchat’s way of staying relevant, and it’s riding the ChatGPT wave from the past year or so.
Here’s what Snapchat says they hope kids do with it:
In a chat conversation, My AI can answer a burning trivia question, offer advice on the perfect gift for your BFF’s birthday, help plan a hiking trip for a long weekend, or suggest what to make for dinner.
Honestly, it still remains to be seen how popular MyAI ends up being with young people. But it’s important to know about it since it’s right there in your child’s app, waiting to be used.
What Snapchat Has to Say About MyAI
Snapchat talks out of both sides of its mouth when it comes to MyAI. In this article from their help center, they tell you just how helpful it is for planning parties and gift ideas. But then in the immediate next paragraph, they lob a huge caveat at you absolutely filled with red flags:
We’re constantly working to improve and evolve My AI, but it’s possible My AI’s responses may include biased, incorrect, harmful, or misleading content. Because My AI is an evolving feature, you should always independently check answers provided by My AI before relying on any advice, and you should not share confidential or sensitive information.
So there we have it — Snapchat basically says outright that this isn’t a great idea, and yet they’re experimenting with this service on our kids in one of the most popular apps for young people in the world.
This is where the controversy enters the chat (pun intended). While Snapchat talks about fun things like finding dinner recipes and planning hiking trips, kids may use MyAI for wildly different reasons. A tech columnist at the Washington Post experimented with the chatbot and found that he could get it to discuss:
- Ways to lose one’s virginity
- Types of alcohol
- How to cover the smell of alcohol
There are, of course, the occasional disclaimers. MyAI will remind users that the drinking age is 21, but then go on to explain things about alcohol anyway.
Another issue that may affect families is that kids could start to rely on MyAI for emotional support instead of family and friends. And because Snapchat states directly that sensitive information shouldn’t be shared with MyAI, there’s the possibility that it’s not safe and secure. No one wants personal life information spread online, and that seems like a possibility given the warning from the creators of the app itself.
3 Things to Talk to Your Kid About Concerning MyAI
If you’re worried about your child interacting with MyAI — and I definitely am with you! — here are a few conversation starters.
- Ask, “So this new MyAI on Snapchat, how do you think it works?”
- Goal of question: See how much they already know, and then provide them with some details you learned in this post or our ChatGPT blog post. You’d be surprised how much kids are tuned into tech, though they may miss key points.
- Ask, “What’s the difference between chatting with a friend and chatting with MyAI?”
- Goal of question: Get your kid thinking about what interactions really mean, and how emotional connections are different from just getting a “reply” back on an app.
- Ask, “Do you think MyAI could give bad advice? What’s an example?”
- Goal of question: Help your child understand that machines aren’t perfect, and that any answers should be double-checked for accuracy, if they’re based on objective information.
How You Can Disable It
Snapchat is really pushing MyAI to its users. It started out as a premium feature, but the company soon rolled it out to everyone across the world. Now, the reverse is happening — to remove it, you have to be a Snapchat+ subscriber. This means you have to pay to prevent your kid from accessing it if you allow them to use the app.
How Bark Can Help
On Android devices and the Bark Phone, Bark’s advanced monitoring will scan the chats between your child and MyAI and will alert you to potential dangers like drugs/alcohol, suicidal ideation, sexual content, and more. This way, you can check and make sure everything’s okay.
It’s my hope that kids will quickly realize that there’s not really much to MyAI. But you never know — tech and trends change so fast these days. The best way to stay on top of it all is to take a deep breath, keep reading these posts, and keep talking to your kid, no matter what.
Good luck (and you’re doing a great job – it’s not easy)!
Digital technology has become an essential part of our lives, and it's no different for our children. Whether it's watching YouTube videos, playing online games, or chatting with friends on social media, our kids are spending more and more time online. As a parent, it's important to embrace all that technology can offer your child while also ensuring their safety and well-being. Here are some tips on digital parenting 101:
Create and Sign a Tech Contract
Signing a tech contract is an excellent way to establish expectations and guidelines for device usage. A tech contract should outline rules for device usage, consequences for breaking the rules, and guidelines around online behavior. Make sure your child understands the importance of the contract and agrees to abide by it. Not sure where to start? You can download Bark’s Technology Contract here.
Setting boundaries around screen time and online activity is crucial for your child's safety and well-being. Create clear guidelines around device usage, and make sure your child understands them. Consider using parental controls on devices and apps to limit access to inappropriate content.
Talk Openly and Honestly About the Benefits and Dangers
Having open conversations with your child about the things they're seeing online is essential for their safety and well-being. Ask them about their online activities, who they're chatting with, and what types of content they're viewing. Teach them about online safety and privacy, and encourage them to come to you with any concerns or questions they may have.
Model Healthy Tech Habits
As a parent, it's important to model healthy tech habits for your child. Limit your own screen time and prioritize face-to-face interactions with your family. Avoid using devices during meal times or family activities, and encourage your child to do the same.
Embrace the Benefits
While there are certain risks associated with the digital age, it's important to remember the benefits as well. Technology can provide opportunities for learning, creativity, and social connection. Encourage your child to explore these positive aspects of the digital world while also being mindful of the potential risks.
How Bark Can Help
Even after establishing your family’s rules about the internet, 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, 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!
Kids nowadays spend a lot of time on their screens and as parents, we know it’s important to limit screen time when we can. But the reality is technology and screens are a huge part of our lives. Most of us can’t just give up screens entirely, which means we just need a healthier approach!
So we put together a list of educational apps that your kids will love, while also giving you peace of mind that their screen time will be more productive and beneficial to their development. And there’s a lot — so let’s jump in!
Best language learning apps for kids
Communication is key to success in school and throughout life. Learning to read and write empowers your child to express themselves clearly and confidently.
Here are a few apps that are great for language learning.
Duolingo is one of the most popular language-learning apps out there. The gamified approach has made learning new languages more fun for both kids and adults.
You and your child can unlock new levels as you complete lessons. Plus, you can earn points and compete against others. You’ll also earn points as you unlock.
The rewards system and colorful, child-friendly design make learning a new language more engaging and help to keep kids motivated!
Pros: Duolingo is great for everyone, from beginners to advanced learners. It’s also available in over 38 languages. (Including even some fictional ones!).
Cons: It’s not available in all languages and requires an internet connection to access the content.
Cost: Duolingo app is free and gives you access to all content. However, to remove ads and access offline content, you’ll need to upgrade to Duolingo Plus.
Epic is like Kindle – but for kids! From picture books to non-fiction, Epic puts the world of reading at your child’s fingertips. You can let them browse with confidence, knowing they’re accessing books that are parent (and kid) approved.
Epic also stands out with built-in learning tools, like dictionaries and quizzes, to make the most out of your child’s reading journey. There are also other elements like badges and reading buddies to help keep your child motivated.
Pros: Access to over 40,000 titles in just one subscription, including books that are exclusive to Epic.
Cons: Epic’s library is designed for ages 12 and under, so it’s not a great solution for older kids and teens.
Cost: Epic is a subscription-based app that starts at $6.67 a month. A free trial is available to explore the offering.
3. Night Zookeeper
The name doesn’t quite do it justice, but Night Zookeeper is designed to help kids with their vocabulary, spelling, and grammar skills.
Night Zookeeper makes learning to write more engaging and interactive. The storybook-inspired environment is designed to help encourage creative thinking and writing. Kids can start with simple vocabulary activities and progress to writing short stories.
They also include unique ways to keep kids engaged, like drawing their own avatars!
Pros: Instant writing feedback from Night Zookeeper characters and educators.
Cons: Relatively expensive subscription compared to other apps on the list.
Cost: Night Zookeeper has a free 7-day trial. Subscriptions start at $9.92/month.
4. Write about this
Kids have some of the wildest imaginations, but they can get writer’s block sometimes too.
Write about this helps get the creative juices flowing by providing prompts. The prompts range from random ideas to images. Then your child can use the prompt to write directly in the app, use the voice recording feature, or start writing elsewhere.
The app is a unique way to get kids to write more and feel comfortable doing it. There are also publishing features to encourage your child to share their writing.
Pros: Simple to use and can be repurposed in many different ways, from journaling to other creative projects.
Cons: Built-in editor has limitations which can make writing in the app challenging at times.
Cost: Write about this has a one-time app fee, currently at $5.49.
Best math and science learning apps for kids
Whether your kid dreams of being a doctor or has other goals in life, math and science help provide the foundation for learning. They’re great subjects for developing critical thinking skills.
These educational apps will help your child develop their love of science and math early on.
Take learning math into a whole new world with Prodigy.
Kids take on a role in a fantasy world where they can win battles with – you guessed it – math. They go through different daily and seasonal quests in order to earn items and rewards.
There are also interactive elements like pets and treasure hunts that make Prodigy feel more like playing a game. It’s a perfect alternative for the child who struggles with traditional learning and math.
Lessons and activities are based on standard curriculums, so you know your child is on track. There is also an English stream for language learning.
Pros: Interactive features allow your child to play with friends online in a safe, child-friendly space.
Cons: Some parents have provided feedback that the math components could be better integrated into the game.
Cost: The basic version of Prodigy is free and includes all core game functionality. There are also Level Up and Ultimate memberships that unlock things like items and additional pets.
6. National Geographic
Let your child explore the world from the comfort of the couch with the National Geographic app.
This app gives your child unlimited access to interactive and digital versions of National Geographic’s world-class stories and photographs. National Geographic is one of the best ways to learn about the world around them – from people and animals to the creatures that roamed the earth millions of years ago.
In general, this app is better for older kids who have developed solid reading skills. You can also pair it with a National Geographic Kids subscription for the ultimate Nat Geo experience.
Pros: A subscription includes access to past articles and issues, so there’s plenty for kids and adults to enjoy.
Cons: Free content is very limited, but subscription costs are reasonable.
Cost: Free with a National Geographic subscription. Otherwise, a subscription costs $2.99/month.
7. NASA App
The perfect app for kids dreaming of going to the moon. The NASA app is home to all content related to NASA.
From podcasts to space photos, this is the ultimate app for any space lover. There’s even an educational center that includes a solar system simulation.
Whether it’s browsing pictures of space or discovering missions in 3D, the NASA app is a comprehensive resource for all things space. Even adults will love exploring everything the NASA app has to offer.
Pros: Take a deep dive into real-life examples of the work that NASA is doing.
Cons: Content can be technical, so it’s not very friendly for kids under 10.
Cost: The NASA app can be downloaded for free.
Best technology learning apps for kids
AI and robots aren’t taking over the world yet, but we know computers are powerful tools.
Take a deep dive into the world of computers with these apps that will help improve your child’s computer literacy.
8. Typing club
With more and more education and testing taking place digitally, building typing skills early on is more important than ever.
Typing club helps children develop their touch typing skills through interactive typing lessons. It teaches to build muscle memory while encouraging proper hand posture. Kids can advance through the lessons and levels as they progress in their typing skills.
The badges and stars gamify the experience and act as great motivators.
Pros: Unlike most apps, there’s no need to create an account. But you still can create one to save your progress.
Cons: Since it’s typing-focused, it’s not a traditional app and requires a laptop and keyboard.
Cost: Typing club is free to use.
Code.org is a nonprofit helping kids, and underrepresented communities get access to computer science education. The site has many activities so kids can dip their toes into computer science.
There are resources and activities for kids as young as kindergarten to Grade 12. Many of the tutorials also relate directly to popular games like Minecraft or trending music. It’s a great way to apply computer science to the real world.
Pros: Code.org partners with major organizations like NASA to develop activities and campaigns that go beyond just coding.
Cons: There is no standalone app, and it must be used online in a browser.
Cost: Code.org and its resources are free to use.
Scratch is a coding language designed especially for kids. It takes the fundamentals of coding to create a visual programming language. Kids can drag-and-drop blocks to create their own designs and animations – without the complications of text-based coding.
There’s also an online Scratch community for kids to learn more about coding and share their projects.
For kids below age 8, consider Scratch Jr.
Pros: Scratch can be used via a web app or downloaded to be used offline. There is a mobile app, but it has limited access to the creator.
Cons: There are limited resources to help older kids transition to text-based programming languages. The online community also offers limited content monitoring.
Cost: Scratch is funded by donations and is free to use.
Learning to code is about more than just programming. It can teach children problem-solving and critical thinking skills that can be applied to all aspects of life. So it’s no wonder coding apps are taking the educational app space by storm!
Tynker is another platform designed to introduce kids to the world of coding.
Tynker’s partnership with brands like Star Wars and Barbie makes the activities more fun and relatable.
Pros: Unlike the other coding apps on this list, Tynker has a hybrid approach that gives your child access to live coaches. There are also dashboards for parents to stay up-to-date on progress.
Cons: You can only access very basic features in the free plan. Most benefits of Tynker require a subscription.
Cost: Subscriptions for Tynker start at $20/ month.
Best educational apps for ages 8 and under
Even the youngest of learners have access to apps that can help them grow and develop. Most importantly – they need to be fun and safe!
Here are some apps that are perfect for the youngsters in your family.
ABCmouse is regarded as one of the premier learning apps for young children – even boasting several awards!
The curriculum is well-rounded, offering activities in everything from reading to the arts. From puzzles to games, there is something for every kid. Plus, the stunning graphics and animations alone are bound to keep your child entertained for hours.
As a paid app, you can ensure that your young children are in a safe environment, free from any potentially inappropriate content.
Pros: Activities for children as young as pre-k.
Cons: ABCmouse is on the pricier side for a children’s learning app.
Cost: ABCmouse’s subscription is $12.99/month. You can try the app first for free by taking advantage of the 7-day free trial.
13. PBS Kids Games
From TVs to apps. PBS’s Kids Games app is the best of both education and entertainment.
The app is designed to help kids aged 2-8 learn basics in a wide variety of subjects alongside the characters they know and love from their favorite shows. There are well over 200 games, videos, and activities to create a seamless transition from TV to the app.
PBS is a trusted nonprofit educational organization. So you can feel comfortable letting your child browse on their own. The content is well-researched and developed with your kids’ best interests in mind.
Pros: It also includes resources for parents, like TV schedules and storage management.
Cons: Some parents note that there are so many options on the app that it can be overwhelming for young kids.
Cost: The PBS Kids games app is free to use.
HOMER is designed for early learning – making it the perfect app for kids under the age of 8.
They use a four-step approach throughout all their activities to help kids become better learners at a young age. HOMER also covers topics across all subjects to help set your child up for success.
Pros: HOMER is created by experts who have backgrounds in early childhood education and development. So you know that your child is in good hands with Homer.
Cons: There is limited functionality offline, making it difficult to take HOMER on the go.
Cost: HOMER has a free 30-day trial. Memberships start at $4.99/month.
Starfall has several learning and education apps for young children. However, it’s mostly known for its learn-to-read curriculum.
Your child can go on a journey from learning the alphabet to reading at a Grade 3 level – all with Starfall. The main character is Zac the Rat, who takes the user on a journey through colorful stories and reading-related activities. The app also includes learning streams in math, social subjects, art, and more.
Pros: Starfall has several different education apps that you can download for your child. You can also access a majority of the content directly through a web browser.
Cons: Some users report that the content can get repetitive at times, but it seems the developers are continuing to make improvements.
Cost: Starfall is a free app, but certain content is available for a cost in-app.
Best educational apps for teens
Games may offer less intrigue for older kids, but technology and apps can still empower them to learn.
Here are some favorite learning apps among teens:
16. Khan Academy
Khan Academy is a nonprofit whose mission is to help more children around the world access educational resources.
The biggest areas of learning for Khan Academy include math and science. However, you’ll find lessons and videos on everything from economics and humanities to life skills. For high school kids, you’ll even find lessons on SAT prep.
Pros: The reliable and high-quality content for children of all ages makes Khan Academy a trusted education source.
Cons: It’s less interactive which can be a challenge for kids who need an extra layer of motivation when it comes to digital learning.
Cost: Khan Academy and all the resources are available for free.
Quizlet itself isn’t an education or learning app; rather, it’s a platform that helps children study through flashcards and quizzes.
No matter the subject, you can create digital flashcards to help you memorize and test your skills. You can even add images and diagrams. There are also other learning features like Match, where you can drag and drop matching answers.
The different tools mean there’s a solution for every learning style.
Quizlet can be a great way for parents to help kids study or learn new skills.
Pros: Completely customizable to supplement school curriculums.
Cons: Flashcards and quizzes already available on the site are created by individuals, which means the content has not been vetted for accuracy.
Cost: Quizlet is a free resource. But you can remove ads and get access to offline studying with Quizlet Plus, which costs about $48 a year.
Making digital education a priority with Bark
Technology and apps have so much to offer kids of all ages. The best part? All these apps are parent and kid-approved, so you can feel confident knowing that your children are getting the best possible digital learning experience.
The world is becoming increasingly screen and technology-centered. It’s inevitable that your children will spend time online – whether they’re learning or just having fun!
However, it’s normal to be wary as a parent when it comes to screen time and digital access. Use tools like Bark’s website blocking and screen time management to make sure that your child is balancing online fun with online education.
With Bark, you get detailed reports about the sites and apps your child is using. Plus, you can even monitor content and set alerts– so you can enjoy peace of mind that your child is staying safe online.
Get started with a free trial of Bark today.
As parents, we all want our children to be happy, healthy, and safe. However, when it comes to discussing mental wellness, it can be tough to start the conversation and foster a safe, non-judgmental space.
But as teens face more and more challenges to their mental health —from post-pandemic loneliness to cyberbullying, increasing social media pressures, and more— it's never been more important to start the conversation with your child about their mental wellness. Below we offer you tips for breaking the ice and things you can do together with your teen to help improve their mental wellness and cultivate healthy habits.
Why Talking About Mental Health is So Hard
The stigma surrounding being a person with “mental health issues” can make talking about mental wellness difficult. No one wants to feel judged, broken or misunderstood. While conversations around mental health have begun to spread around Hollywood and social media, it can be scary to have such an intimate conversation with someone you love so much. It’s important to craft a safe space, so your teen can trust and open up to you about important mental health struggles.
Tips for Breaking the Ice
One of the hardest parts when it comes to talking about mental health is starting the conversation. Here are five tips that can help broach the topic and break the ice:
Talk about everyday situations
A stressful event at school or a family conflict can serve as a starting point to discuss mental health. Ask your teen how they cope with stressful situations or if they ever feel overwhelmed or anxious.
Share relevant studies or articles
From a study on Instagram’s effects on teen mental health to an article about five ways exercise can help boost your mental health, news or studies related to mental health can be an easy jumping-off point that doesn’t feel invasive.
Express it with art or writing
Encourage your teen to flesh out their thoughts and feelings about mental health through art or writing. They can draw, paint, or write about their experiences, and you can use their art or writing as a starting point for discussion.
Bring up your own mental health
Share your own experiences with mental health challenges, if applicable. This can help normalize the topic and make your teen feel more comfortable opening up.
Use pop culture as a springboard
Movies, TV shows, or music, can provide a non-threatening way to discuss mental health. You can ask your teen what they think about a character's experiences with mental health or ask them what they think about the latest celebrity opening up about their mental health issues.
5 Ways to Encourage Mental Wellness
So you’ve had the talk; now what? Here are five activity suggestions you can do with your teen to help improve your mental wellness or cultivate healthy habits for the future:
- Get active: Exercise has been shown to improve mood and reduce stress. Find an activity that you and your child enjoy doing together, such as biking, hiking or dancing. Ask them what they would be interested in and go from there!
- Practice mindfulness: Mindfulness routines, whether meditation, deep breathing, or yoga, have been shown to decrease your resting heart rate and can be helpful to rely on in stressful situations when anxiety may creep up.
- Get creative: Is your teen not really the active, outdoorsy type? Suggest creative activities such as painting, drawing or playing music to help them express their emotions and relieve stress.
- Volunteer: One of the biggest keys to mental wellness—connection. Volunteering is a great way for you and your teen to foster a sense of purpose and connection with others.
- Take breaks from technology: Too much screen time can contribute to anxiety and depression. Encourage your child to cut down on their screen time and engage in some of the activities above.
How Bark Can Help
With Bark, parents can monitor their child's online activity and detect potential issues related to mental wellness. Bark uses advanced AI technology to analyze and alert you to potential concerns such as cyberbullying, self-harm or depression. Bark can also help with setting screen time limits and blocking certain apps and websites that may be harmful to your teen's mental health. Start your free, seven-day trial of Bark to see how it can help your family.
Summer break is a time for kids to relax, play and explore the world around them. But between TikTok, Instagram and texting friends, it can be hard to convince your teen to take their nose out of their phone and look around at all there is to see. If you are hoping to connect with your kid this summer or just hoping to help them ease up on their screen time during summer break without coming across as a nag, you’ve come to the right place. Below, we’ve listed five ways to encourage your teen to put down the screen and make the most of summer fun!
5 Ways to Reduce Screen Time During Summer Break
1. Set clear rules and boundaries
Setting clear rules and boundaries is essential to reducing your child's screen time. Kids need structure and guidelines to follow, and while it’s up to you as the parent to establish them, it helps to have an open dialogue with your teen on what you want for them and what they believe is fair. When setting rules and boundaries, be clear and specific about what is expected of your child. For instance, you could set a time limit for screen time each day and designate specific times when devices are off-limits, such as during meal times or before bedtime. When setting rules and boundaries, be sure to explain the reasons behind them. Emphasize the importance of getting enough sleep, the need for physical activity or your desire for them to get outside and make lasting memories.
2. Encourage outdoor activities
Encouraging your child to engage in outdoor activities is an excellent way to reduce screen time. Summer is the perfect time to get outside and explore nature, so take advantage of it! Plan fun outdoor activities such as bike rides, picnics, hiking, swimming or playing games in the park. Consider rounding up parents in the neighborhood for a field day, summer celebration or weekend competition. These activities not only help reduce screen time but also promote physical activity and help your child make new connections or solidify older ones.
3. Promote creative play
Promoting creative play is another way to reduce your child's screen time. Encourage your child to engage in activities that stimulate their creativity and imagination, such as drawing, painting, writing stories or picking up a new hobby. These activities not only reduce screen time but also promote cognitive development and problem-solving skills. Provide your child with the necessary materials, tutor or even enlist them in a summer camp to fine-tune their abilities. Don’t forget to celebrate their wins and praise them for their creativity and hard work along the way!
4. Plan family activities
Participating in family activities is another way to reduce your child's screen time while promoting family bonding. Plan fun activities that the whole family can enjoy, such as a board game competition, movie night, cook-off or weekend trip. Not sure where to get started? Check out Camp Bark for creative ideas on how to spend rainy days in, activities for athletes, artists and much more! These activities not only reduce screen time but also promote socialization, communication and quality time together as a family.
5. Be a positive role model
Finally, be a positive role model for your child when it comes to screen time. If you're always on your phone or computer, your child will follow your lead. Set an example for your child by limiting your own screen time, especially during family time or when engaging in outdoor or creative activities. When you do use screens, be sure to model responsible digital behavior, such as avoiding excessive social media scrolling, engaging in positive online interactions and avoiding online negativity.
How Bark Can Help
Reducing your child's screen time during summer break can be challenging, but it’s well worth it in the end. By setting clear rules and boundaries, encouraging outdoor activities, promoting creative play, participating in family activities and being a positive role model, you can help your child develop healthy digital habits and enjoy a summer break full of fun and exploration.
In need of some backup when it comes to enforcing your screen time rules? Bark gives you the ability to set healthy screen time limits with schedules as dynamic and flexible as your summer activity plan. Check out how you can create custom daily screen time schedules down to the minute and start your free trial of Bark today.
My daughter is 9 years old and some of her friends have already gotten phones. I’m so stressed! I have no idea what the right time for a first phone is — different articles say everything from 10 to 16! How do I know what’s best?
Wondering When It’s The Right Time
Dear Wondering When It’s The Right Time,
Welcome to the question of the hour for so many parents around the world! Giving your kid their first phone has joined other classic childhood rites of passage like the first day of school, riding a bike without training wheels, and getting a driver’s license.
Generally speaking, there’s no age when kids are magically ready for a phone. Some experts suggest ages 10–14, which is when many kids start to be responsible enough to have a phone. But you know your kid best.
Fourth grade might seem too young, but maybe they have some medical issues and you want to make sure you can reach them quickly at a sleepover in an emergency.
On the flip side — tenth grade might seem too old, but maybe your kid has had some behavior problems in the past, and a phone would only exacerbate things. The folks over at Wait Until 8th have resources for families that choose to wait until around age 13 or so, which is often a popular age since that’s when many social media platforms officially allow teens to have accounts.
So, the short answer is: it depends on a ton of factors! The long answer is…this post. Don’t worry, though — I’ll give you lots of things to consider, checklists, ideas, and more. Let’s get into it!
3 Questions to Get You Thinking
Before we get started, I just want to say that there is no right answer to this question: every family is different, and there are healthy ways for kids to navigate life both with and without a cell phone. You just have to pick what’s right for your child.
1. What’s prompting the first-phone discussion?
You mentioned that your kid’s friends were all getting phones. Peer pressure, both from other kids and other parents, can be a pretty strong influence — especially when phones are used to communicate plans for hanging out.
A natural part of growing up is gaining some independence apart from parents. There are going to be things like playdates and after-school activities where you won’t be right there with them. But if they have a phone, you can have instant communication. In a lot of ways, kids having a phone is easy protection against the unknowns of the outside world, especially with tools like location tracking.
We mentioned above the power of peer pressure — it’s a strong one. But this is made all the more so because of how kids socialize. Apart from using a text to plan a meet-up, many kids play games online together or chat in group threads.
2. Is your kid ready? A checklist
It all comes down to responsibility — is your kid responsible enough to have their own phone? The only way to answer that is to look at how they’ve proven (or not proven) their responsibility with other things. For example:
- Do they obey current screen time rules for TV/video games?
- Do they keep up with their schoolwork?
- Do they own up to their mistakes?
- Do they frequently lose or misplace things?
- Do they get distracted easily?
- How well do they handle conflict and receive punishment?
Regardless of your answers, it’s still going to be a leap of faith at the end of the day. You’ll never feel 100% confident that they’re ready, but as long as you and your kid have a healthy level of trust and keep the communication lines open, that’s a good place to start.
3. Are you as a parent ready for this?
I’m not going to sugarcoat it — when your kid gets their first phone, it’s a lot of work. You want to keep on top of their usage, which is where parental controls come into play. Setting screen time limits, blocking inappropriate websites (of which there are millions!), and trying to keep your kid off it 24/7 can be a struggle.
A tool like Bark definitely makes it easier, but you’ll also need to set expectations and lay down ground rules. I recommend sitting down with your kid and creating a tech contract even before they get a phone so they can know what to expect.
As a caveat: In all my chats with parents across the country over the years, one thing I’ve never heard a parent say is “I waited too long to give my kid a phone.” Phones will always be there — and kids will have their whole lives to use one. If you want to prolong childhood a little longer by waiting to give them a phone, that’s absolutely fine!
Still Not Sure? Take Our First Phone Quiz!
Even though you’ve learned a lot about what goes into an important decision like this, it can still be really hard to figure out a final answer! We recommend checking our first phone quiz to get a better idea of whether your child is ready.
Alternatives to Phones
Many parents use a kid’s smartwatch as a stepping stone to the first phone. These devices have features like location tracking and limited texting and calling, which are a good way to ease your child into the world of instantaneous communication. Plus, you can get peace of mind when it comes to safety by always knowing where your kid is. We’ve put together a list of our favorite options here.
How Bark Can Help
No matter when you choose to give your child a phone, Bark can help it make the experience safer. I recommend the Bark Phone, which comes with our parental controls built in, and you can customize nearly every setting on it. For younger kids, you can even make it text-and-talk only. As they get older, you can gradually add in more functionality. It’s the best first phone option out there — period.
I hope this helps! That first phone is a huge milestone, and there’s no right or wrong answer — only how you and your family decide to tackle it together.
It’s really never been harder to be a teenager. Where today's parents mostly had the luxury of escaping bullies and drama after they stepped off the school bus, today’s kids and teens are constantly connected to their social circle through their smartphones, for better or worse.
From doom-scrolling Instagram to online bullying, what goes on behind your child’s screen can genuinely damage their mental health. Bark’s annual report recently found that more than 83% of teens were exposed to bullying in some form online, with 44% engaging in conversations about depression.
It’s crucial that parents work hard to support boys’ mental health during these difficult times. So, let's take a closer look at the warning signs of mental health issues, effective ways to communicate with your teen, and practical ways to support young men during this critical time in their lives.
Warning Signs of Boys' Mental Health Issues
While mental health issues vary far and wide and show up in different ways, according to Mental Health America, there are some red flags you should look out for when it comes to boys’ mental health.
- Changes in behavior. Withdrawing from friends and family or acting out in school can be signs of underlying mental health issues. Encourage your teen to share their feelings and be there to listen.
- Sleep difficulties. Difficulty sleeping or excessive sleepiness can be indicators of mental health struggles. Encourage healthy sleep habits and offer to help them find professional support if needed.
- Loss of interest. If your teen has lost interest in activities they once enjoyed, it may be a sign of depression or anxiety. Offer to engage in activities together and help them find new hobbies that bring them joy.
- Persistent sadness. Persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness or worthlessness are warning signs of serious mental health concerns. Encourage your teen to talk openly about their feelings.
- Substance abuse or self-harm. Substance abuse or self-harm behaviors are red flags for serious mental health problems. Offer support and help your son find professional help as soon as possible.
Effective Ways to Communicate About Mental Health Issues
Open and honest communication is key when it comes to supporting boys’ mental health. Consider these tips from the Child Mind Institute to help guide your conversations:
- Emphasize that mental health struggles aren’t a sign of weakness. Often, boys don’t seek help because of ingrained beliefs that asking for help means you can’t handle something on your own and are weak. Let your teen know that seeking support and prioritizing their mental health is a strength, not a weakness.
- Normalize mental health struggles. It's important to normalize the experience of mental health struggles and let your teen know they are not alone. From yourself to members of your family and even celebrities, point toward real-life examples of people doing their best to manage their mental health struggles.
- Encourage open communication. Encourage your son to share their feelings and thoughts openly and honestly.
- Reassure them. Let your son know that seeking help for mental health is just as important as seeking help for physical health.
- Lead by example. Show your son that seeking help for mental health is a positive and proactive step by prioritizing your own mental health.
Practical Ways to Support Your Teen and Prevent Mental Health Issues
In addition to effective communication, there are practical steps you can take to support your son’s mental health. The American Psychological Association recommends the following five ways to offer support and stave off mental health issues:
- Encourage physical activity. Exercise has been shown to improve mood and reduce stress. Encourage your teen to stay active and engage in activities they love regularly.
- Make time for fun. Spending time doing fun activities together, such as playing video games or watching movies, can help build positive memories and improve mental well-being.
- Promote good sleep hygiene. Good sleep hygiene, including a consistent bedtime routine and limiting screen time before bed, is essential for mental and physical health. Encourage your son to prioritize sleep and create healthy habits.
- Connect with support services. Help your teen connect with support services, such as a therapist or school counselor, to address mental health concerns.
- Lead by example. Lead by example and prioritize your mental health, setting a positive example for young men to follow.
How Bark Can Help
While tips, talking points, and resources can help you spot and address boys’ mental health issues, there’s still so much that can be hard to see and is often happening inside your teen’s phone. Bark is here to make things a little easier. Using Bark’s software or new teen-friendly phone, you can get an inside look into what things your teen may be struggling with but might not be talking to you about. Bark can help you stay on top of it by monitoring online activities for signs of depression, anxiety, self-harm, and suicidal ideation. Learn more about Bark here.