iOS 15 depicted by the Apple logo with a multicolored 15 in it


iOS 15 has officially been announced! Apple released their preview of all the new changes a few days ago, and today is confirming exactly what will be rolling out in the new update, which will become available tomorrow. We will keep this blog post updated with any new developments.

The changes are numerous and we know you’re busy figuring out homework and how to convince your kid that screen-free time is actually fun and about a million other things, so we rounded up the most notable changes. Feel free to read all the way through or just navigate directly to the worrisome stuff.

The Bad

The Good

The Neutral

iOS 15: The Bad

If your kid wants to hop onto a quick call with a few of their buddies (who also have Apple devices), they can simply select their contacts and be chatting in no time. With the new update, your child will have the option to share their FaceTime call link anywhere. Then, all someone has to do to join the call is tap on that link — regardless of whether they have Apple devices or whether they know your child.

Automatically saved photos

Now, if your kid receives a photo over iMessage, they have to go through a few steps if they want to save it to their photo library. With iOS 15, any images your child receives will be automatically saved to their library. That means nude images, offensive memes, and more. It does not appear that this is a feature that can be turned off, but we will be sure to update this blog post if that is an option.

Lock Screen access

iOS 15 will now come with the option to search for links, images, and more directly from the lock screen! That means if your kid is not supposed to have access to their phone, they will still be able to see certain results — even without the ability to unlock their device. It is currently unclear whether lock screen searches will fall under screen time rules. 

With the new iOS update comes even more data about your health. The Health app will now show you whether different metrics are increasing or decreasing. While this may initially sound like a harmless change, it can have a negative effect on your child. Kids today face huge amounts of pressure to maintain a certain body shape, track their calories, and more. 

Analysis of whether they’re doing “better” or “worse” in these areas can exacerbate unhealthy habits and mindsets. If you’re concerned about this, make sure your child turns off the new option to receive alerts when emerging trends are detected.

iOS 15: The Good

Focus

The new Focus tool allows users to set personalized Do Not Disturb settings. You will be able to turn all notifications off or choose from Apple’s pre-designed suggestions for “work, personal time, sleep, fitness, gaming, reading, or driving.” This could be pretty useful if your child is someone who gets easily distracted when their phone lights up.

 Customizable notification settings

Of course, you still want to be able to reach your kid when you need to — even if they have Do Not Disturb toggled on. iOS 15 will allow you to pre-approve notifications from specific contacts, so make sure your child elects to receive your messages.

Daily summaries

“Receive a helpful summary of your notifications delivered daily, in the morning and evening, or scheduled at a time you choose,” Apple’s preview article says. “Your summary is personalized and helps you quickly catch up on what you missed while away focusing.” 

For kids (or, let’s be honest, parents) who have a tough time making sure important information doesn’t slip through the cracks, this new feature could be really helpful.

More private email settings

Email scams are becoming increasingly common, and scammers’ schemes are more sophisticated than ever. iOS 15’s new Mail Privacy Protection restricts email senders from having access to information about how you use your Mail app. You can also choose to hide your IP address. “Senders can’t link it to your other online activity or determine your location,” Apple explains. “And it prevents senders from seeing if you’ve opened their email.”

iOS 15: The Neutral

Interactive text in images

With iOS 15, you will now be able to take a photo of something and then copy, look up, or translate any text that appears in the image. That means your kid can quickly transform handwritten notes into a Google Doc or insert a quote from a PDF into their history paper.

The Photos app analyzes the contents of your photos more than ever. You can now search for not only people or locations, but also for things that may appear in an image. For example, you could search for a photo in your library containing a bird. By typing in a contact name, you can also search based on who sent you an image.

More information

To learn about every single change that’s coming, you can read Apple’s announcement article. Just make sure you’re fully caffeinated before diving in — it’s a long one.

Safe search and other Google updates shown by the Google logo

On August 10, Google announced a suite of updates designed to protect kids using their products and tools online. The changes — which will roll out gradually — attempt to put safe search standards in place, turn on safety and privacy features by default to accounts of kids under 18, and more.

But although these steps show good movement toward a safer internet experience for children, they aren’t necessarily as beneficial as they may seem at first glance. Many of these changes can be easily toggled off. Plus, kids can easily lie about their age when creating a Google-owned account and can watch YouTube videos without logging into a YouTube account.

Below, we break down the proposed changes, their pros and cons, and what additional measures you should consider to really protect your kid online.

Digital Footprint

Your kid’s digital footprint can follow them to college, their first job, and probably the rest of their lives — at least, as long as the internet exists. Google says it will be rolling out a new policy allowing kids under 18 or their guardians to request that any images of the child be wiped from Google Image results.

While this is a great step forward, make sure to have a conversation with your child about the fact that images of them can remain in plenty of other places, such as on someone else’s phone or on a social media platform. Remind them not to share pictures privately that they wouldn’t want to be available publicly. 

Safe Search

The concept of a truly “safe search” might be hard to imagine, but Google’s SafeSearch feature filters out sexual content on Google’s search engine and accounts for kids under 13. This latest update will turn on the filter for current accounts of kids under 18, and will make it the default for all new kids’ accounts.

It’s worth noting that this tool only works for sexual content, and it only works on the Google search engine, and won’t block content found on social media platforms, on YouTube, etc. It also only blocks sexual content, not other types of potentially harmful or disturbing results like extreme violence or drugs/alcohol. Bark can help by giving you control over 19 different categories of content, and can apply those filters across all of your child’s devices and platforms.

YouTube

Many kids consume a large percentage of their video content on YouTube, and Google has announced that that platform will get some changes as well. “We’ll gradually start adjusting the default upload setting to the most private option available for users ages 13-17 on YouTube,” the video platform’s announcement says. They will also turn off video autoplay by default, implementing “take a break” reminders, and more.

Unfortunately, it appears that these settings are reversible. While privacy may be on by default, kids do have the option to toggle to less private settings.

YouTube Kids will also begin to remove content that is “overly commercial,” which Google describes as “only focuses on product packaging or directly encourages children to spend money.”

Location History

Google’s Location History feature allows the platform to save information about everywhere you go. This is turned off by default currently, and children with supervised accounts are not currently able to choose to turn it on. As this update rolls out, Google will no longer allow any accounts of kids under 18 to have the option to turn on Location History.

No matter what your view on a platform being able to track your kid’s location, you might want to be able to check where your child is at a given time. Bark’s check-ins feature lets you do this (privately)!

Advertising Changes

“We’ll be expanding safeguards to prevent age-sensitive ad categories from being shown to teens, and we will block ad targeting based on the age, gender, or interests of people under 18,” Google’s announcement says. It’s unclear what, exactly, this will look like, but we will keep this post updated with any further information here.

Comprehensive Protection

If you’re worried about your child’s online safety, Bark is here to help by giving you coverage that Google’s changes can’t provide. Kids can get around many of these proposed updates, and they don’t even cover the many social media platforms children use. Start your free Bark trial today to monitor for danger in your kid’s online activities, set healthy screen time schedules, block websites and apps, and more.

Note: We use both “autistic kid” and “kid with autism” throughout this blog post to honor the fact that different individuals prefer to be referred to differently.

When you have a child with autism, you undoubtedly have an awesome child. Autistic kids each have unique strengths and challenges, and supporting your own kid through everything that makes them them can certainly be a journey. To help make that journey a little bit easier, we want to share some information about the issues many children with autism can encounter online.

Of course, it’s worth saying that all of these issues are ones neurotypical teens and tweens go through too, and that not every child with autism will be vulnerable to each of these situations. If nothing else, we hope this is a helpful reminder that having more conversations about online safety and putting more safeguards in place can only help.

Autistic Kids and Cyberbullying

“Cyberbullying is honestly my biggest issue,” explains one parent on our team who has an autistic kid. Social cues and sentiment can be tricky for anybody to pick up on over text, but for autistic children who have trouble in this area already, the struggle can be magnified

When kids are in a group chat together, friendly banter can quickly turn into exchanging pointed, barbed insults. A child with autism may have trouble identifying when others in the group are picking on them, and so won’t know to speak up or seek help from a parent. “Bark has alerted me to several of these scenarios where I am able to sit him down and explain that a true friend doesn’t say these things to you and that it’s not okay,” one parent shares.

How you can help

Take some time to talk through what it means to be a good friend. Try to focus on concrete examples, rather than talking about more abstract concepts like kindness. Instead of saying, “It’s not okay if kids are mean to someone in a group chat,” say something like, “If the kids in a group chat are all saying mean things about one kid’s appearance, personality, or abilities, that could be bullying.” 

Grooming

Online predators are very skilled at engaging kids in a relationship with subtlety, and it can be tricky for anyone — a child, an adult, someone with autism, or someone who’s neurotypical — to identify that grooming is taking place. A kid who has difficulties with social cues can find it even tougher to notice that someone online is acting inappropriately.

One trick predators often use is to connect with a child through an interest they have. Kids with autism can be hyper-focused on a topic and may be thrilled to find someone who’s willing to chat with them about it. Their excitement can prevent them from recognizing that the attention they’re being shown is inappropriate.

How you can help

Facts and straightforward guidelines are often helpful for autistic kids. Instead of saying, “grooming is a serious problem!” it may be useful — if appropriate for their age and maturity level — to give them data to convey just how serious this is. Below are a couple of points that may be useful.

Data:

Helpful rules:

Self-Regulation

If you’ve ever started browsing Pinterest for home DIY ideas or stumbled down a Netflix rabbit hole, you know just how tough it can be to disconnect from technology. This is pretty much a universal struggle, but it can be even tougher for some kids with autism — who can often have difficulties with impulsivity, self-regulation, and time management. 

Issues with impulse control can appear in many different ways. Sometimes, they can lead to self-esteem issues (which are famously exacerbated by tech use). “My son will have a ‘tantrum or melt-down’ and break something then realize what he’s done and stress about it and have feelings of tremendous guilt,” one Bark parent explains. “In my experience with my own child, this has furthered his issues with low self-esteem.”

Other times, they can show themselves in difficulties using the internet in healthy ways. Another parent says that web filtering has been a great help for her child, as it prevents her from accidentally clicking on inappropriate sites. No matter your kid’s specific needs in terms of regulation, there are a number of things you can do to help them find more balance.

How you can help

It’s always a great idea to talk about why you have certain screen time rules, of course. This helps you bond with your child and build trust, rather than just implementing limits without discussing them as a family. You can even put together a tech contract so that the expectations are clearly outlined. But saying “only 30 minutes per day on TikTok” most likely isn’t enough — whether your kid is neurodivergent or neurotypical.

We’re here to support you by helping you set time limits, block specific apps and websites, and more.

Special Interests

For kids who are nonverbal or have limited speech, being able to communicate with other people online is an amazing opportunity. Despite all of the potential dangers the internet has to offer, its ability to connect people who share a passion or a life experience can be pretty awesome. Many autistic children have special interests — strong passions for learning about and talking about a specific subject, and can head to online forums to find people with similar interests.

For example, a teen might have a passion for exercise and find a thread on Reddit where they can discuss new workouts. While fitness is an awesome hobby, it can turn into an unhealthy obsession if appropriate boundaries aren’t put in place.

How you can help

It might sound simple, but be sure to listen as often as possible when your kid talks about one of their special interests! Being able to learn so much about something is a great strength, and showing that you care about the topic can be a great opportunity for you to bond.

Obviously, it’s not possible to always be available to chat and it’s pretty likely that your kid doesn’t want to exclusively talk to you (even if you are a cool parent). We are here to help you monitor their online activity to give you some peace of mind that you’ll be alerted if a potential predator is using their special interest to strike up a relationship, if their fitness love is showing signs of disordered body image, etc. You can also find more parenting help here.

This can help you relax and help your kid have some independence to build healthy relationships around the things they love most — something all autistic kids deserve.

**Update: As of April 13, Instagram still hasn’t taken down @HaveBikini — even after an influx of reports.**

Yesterday, Titania Jordan, our chief parenting officer, came across an Instagram account sharing hundreds of images of teen (and even tween) girls in bikinis, and when she filed an Instagram report, nothing happened. Now let’s be clear: Bikini photos are not the problem here. But the way they’re being shared on this account is.

One of the differences between, say, American Eagle’s Instagram account sharing a shot of a girl posing in a fun suit and what “Bikini Teens” is doing is the entire purpose behind the posts. Bikini Teens isn’t sharing these posts to sell a cute new tie-dye bikini. It’s posting for the sole purpose of displaying random teens’ semi-nude bodies for anyone to see. Even the Story highlights on the profile reduce these young girls to fitting neatly into “Brunettes,” “Redheads,” or “Blondes.”

When Bikini Teens does share a photo, they’re grabbing it straight from the girl’s own Instagram account, and they often tag her — potentially opening her up to receive unwanted messages from strangers.

This is not the only account like this. They’re everywhere, and some contain even more explicit images of what are clearly kids. Disgustingly, these accounts are goldmines to predators. But we’re urging you to report “Bikini Teens” because the more of us who bring it to Instagram’s attention, the better our chances are of getting it taken down and making the platform a little safer for everyone.

How to File an Instagram Report Against This Account

  1. Open the account’s profile on Instagram.
  2. Click the three dots beside the “follow” button at the top of the page.
  3. Click “Report User.”
  4. Click “It’s inappropriate.”
  5. Click “Report account.”
  6. Click “It’s posting content that shouldn’t be on Instagram.”
  7. Click “Nudity or sexual activity.”
  8. Click “Involves a child.”

New Instagram Safety Update

On March 16, Instagram released an announcement detailing new features designed to help protect young users. These include working to detect when kids are lying about their age, restricting which adults can message teens, providing safety notices to kids who may be engaging in unsafe conversations, and more. While these changes are a step in the right direction, they likely will not lead to children being meaningfully safer on the platform.

What Else You Can Do to Help

It can be easy to get upset when you see accounts like this, but you may find comfort in the fact that there are steps you can take to help.

Report, report, report

Even if Instagram can ignore a handful of complaints that an account is posting inappropriate content involving children, we’ve seen that they’re likely to take action when a number of people work together. So never assume sounding an alarm won’t make a difference, because you and your community can create real change together.

Be alert 

It can be easy to assume that since social media platforms have community guidelines in place and reporting tools you can use, they will take speedy action when you bring something to their attention. But, sadly, that just isn’t generally the case. Do not trust that Instagram has your child’s best interest in mind.

Educate your kid

A teen or tween who wants to build a large following on Instagram might insist on keeping their account public, but be sure to talk with them about some of the issues with this that they might even realize. As shown above, it’s easy for one of these predatorial accounts to grab the cute beach pic your tween posted last summer and share it for tens of thousands of strangers to see. And it would most likely be a nightmare — if not altogether impossible — to get that photo taken down. 

Turn off message requests

Even if your kid has a private account, they can receive message requests (that show you the text, images, and videos they’ve been sent) from anyone unless you disable that feature. We’ve included a step-by-step guide for how to do that in this blog post about Instagram messaging.

Empower other parents

Whether you recognized how pervasive an issue this is on Instagram or not, it’s likely that a big group of parents in your social circle aren’t aware. Help them protect their own children by sharing this important information with them… and urge them to pass on the message.

Put safeguards in place

You can’t file an Instagram report for every single predatorial account on Instagram, but you can make it easier to know if something’s wrong in your own child’s online activities. We’re here to help by sending you an alert if they receive a message from a potential predator.

Teen slang illustrated with bright words and emojis

**This blog post was updated on October 1, 2021**

We’ve combed through our data at Bark to find the most common instances of teen slang that kids are using these days. Some of this slang you’ll be familiar with, but much of it may surprise you! (P.S. If you want to receive alerts if your child uses a potentially worrisome word or phrase, we can help!)

Text Slang Decoded

Less Frequently Used Teen Slang Terms

Teen Slang Emoji Icons

Pretty frequently, kids opt for emojis instead of typing out full words. Here’s a helpful list of some of the most popular teen slang emojis decoded.

One of the things that’s most important to us is making sure you’re aware of any potential issues as soon as they happen. Today, the Bark team discovered a new bug affecting Facebook video search, making it incredibly easy — whether you’re looking for it or not — to find almost endless explicit videos on the platform. Here’s what we know so far (this blog post will be updated as new information comes in).

As of this afternoon, if someone searched any letter in Facebook’s search bar and then navigated to the video results, they would see a long list of mostly sexual options. This appeared to be the case on both mobile and desktop versions of the platform. A sizable number of these results appeared to be from non-U.S. countries. While the social media site seems to be working to address this, there are still a number of inappropriate results.

Porn and Social Media

It’s worth noting that this is just the latest example of what is a rampant problem on social media platforms (and the internet at large) — that porn is everywhere, and if a kid is online at all, they’re likely to see it even if they aren’t trying to. In fact, according to our 2020 Annual Report, 70.9% of tweens and 87.9% of teens encountered nudity or content of a sexual nature at least once in that year alone.

Today, the platform letting pornographic videos get through is Facebook, but it’s far from an isolated issue. Just days ago, Twitter refused to remove CSAM (child sex abuse materials) because it said the horrific content didn’t violate their policies. Pinterest porn is still an active problem. Even the gaming platform Discord has easily accessible, graphic sexual content. This is exactly why it’s so important to share this kind of information with your community. These issues will continue to arise, and we are much better equipped to tackle this issue if we work as a team.

What You Can Do About the Facebook Video Search Problem

We’ll continue adding more information about the Facebook video search problem as we uncover it — continue to check back here or on our Instagram (@BarkTechnologies).

What is consent? This may be something you’ve asked yourself after seeing something in the news, hearing about an experience someone you love went through, or talking through dating rules with your kids. Much like the classic “birds and the bees” talk, a discussion about consent can feel very uncomfortable — especially if your child is on the younger side.

If you aren’t sure what to say, or when, or during what stages of your kid’s development, this guide can help the whole thing feel a little less daunting. Just remember that you don’t have to cover everything there is to explain about consent during one ride home from soccer practice or over one mug of hot chocolate. This conversation can (and should) evolve as your kid continues to mature.

What is Consent?

Consent is an agreement between all involved parties that something — usually sexual — is allowed to happen. In the wake of the #MeToo movement, you’ve probably at least encountered the term, but thinking about the idea in the context of adult experiences is pretty different than figuring out how to pass it along to your own child. 

After all, there’s a great deal of nuance to be considered. Getting consent does not exclusively mean hearing the other person say “yes” out loud. People often use a more active definition of this called “affirmative consent,” meaning each person vocally agrees to participate (rather than expresses their agreement through body language, for example). Consent can also include:

How to Talk With Your Kid About Consent

You might be uncomfortable with the idea of introducing your six-year-old to the concept of sexual assault, or be worried about accurately explaining the nuances of getting and giving consent to your teen who’s recently started dating. 

The good news is that you don’t have to dive into the deep end when your kid is still in kindergarten, and you don’t have to tell your tenth grader everything there is to know about consent in a single conversation. Instead of thinking of this as something to check off a “what to teach my kid” list, start to see it as an ongoing discussion that will probably change as your child’s needs, maturity level, and stage of life change.

How Young Kids Can Practice Respecting Boundaries

What is consent to a younger child? Your elementary school kid might not be ready to learn about sexual violence, but that doesn’t mean they can’t start learning about what it means to give — and ask for — consent. No matter how young they are, they can start practicing showing respect to themselves and others. 

Obviously, your kid doesn’t have the option to say no in every situation. They need to brush their teeth before bed, for example. But you can still find ways to give them choices to help them feel a sense of choice when it comes to their body. You could let them choose between two flavors of toothpaste, decide which side of their mouth to brush first, or pick the song they want to listen to as they scrub away. Each of these small options lets them practice making decisions without compromising their tooth health.

Here are some other simple ways you can help your young kid practice respecting boundaries.

Stop When They Ask You to Stop Tickling Them

A tickle fight continues until someone pees their pants, right? It might seem really harmless, but if your kid is begging for you to stop tickling them, that’s a great opportunity for you to show them how important it is to stop touching someone else when they ask you to. Make a game of this by taking turns seeing how quickly you can each remove your hands when the other person says “please stop!” Remind your child that even if you’re giggling, they must respect your boundary and stop tickling you the moment you ask them to stop.

Let Them Choose Not to Hug Someone

When you were growing up, it may have been nonnegotiable to see a relative or family friend without greeting them with a big hug. But if your child feels uncomfortable embracing someone else, you can model consent for them by instead letting them choose to give that person a handshake, a high five, or a thumbs up.

Discuss Who is Allowed to See Their “Private Parts”

In previous decades, many parents saw strangers as the biggest threats to their kids’ safety, so taught them to watch out for “stranger danger” or never get into a van with a man promising candy. But we now know that the danger often lies much closer to home. According to RAINN, 97% of child abuse victims know their perpetrator.

Make sure to talk with your young child about who is allowed to see their genitals (experts recommend that you use anatomically correct terms). It might feel easier to say “private parts” or “the areas your bathing suit covers,” but using accurate terms with your child can help prevent them from feeling shame about their body parts. Explain that only you, perhaps their other parent if they have one, and their pediatrician can see their genitals, and that if anyone else asks to see, they should say no and come tell you as soon as possible.

Additional Resources

How Older Kids Can Model Consent

When your kid is at the age where they’re doodling their crush’s initials in their notebook (or whatever the 2021 equivalent of this is) and asking if they can start dating, they’re probably ready for more serious conversations about physical boundaries in a sexual context. 

It can feel really sad to talk with them about sexual assault, harassment, or rape, but it’s important that they’re equipped to protect both themselves and those around them. No matter what your family’s values around sex are, it’s critical that your kid knows to treat other people’s bodies with respect and to demand the same in return. (Note: If your child has already experienced sexual violence, this resource can help you give them the support they need.)

Some Questions They Can Ask a Partner

Non-Intimate Ways to Practice Consent

Your teen doesn’t have to be dating or sexually active to practice consent — although it’s important to talk with them about it in that context even if they aren’t allowed to date yet. Knowing ahead of time how to respond to unwanted advances can help them be prepared should they ever feel pressured to do something they don’t want to do. Before they’re ready to get physical with a potential romantic interest, they can show friends or siblings the respect that they will one day show someone else. Here are some good examples of ways to do this:

Additional Resources

This guide has hopefully given you some insight into the question “what is consent?” and provided some practical advice for how to broach the subject with your kid. As always, make sure they know the topic is always open for discussion and that you’re there to help them figure things out. While this subject can feel intimidating, you’re already their best advocate and teacher.

When we were growing up, kids were limited to watching porn on a videotape, DVD, or fuzzy cable channel. For today’s generation, however, kids can find it with a two-second Google search — no matter where they are or what time it is. Right now, there are at least 4.5 million porn sites on the web, and every minute, 63,992 new visitors arrive at Pornhub — a popular streaming platform for sexual content. According to our 2019 Annual Report, 70.7% of tweens and 84.0% of teens encountered nudity or content of a sexual nature online.

Different families have different views on porn and sex — and that’s OK! But regardless of how you’ve learned that your child is viewing porn — whether by stumbling across their browsing history, walking behind them on their laptop, or getting an alert about sexual content from Bark — you probably have some complicated feelings. In this post, we walk you through how to handle this situation so you can have an important conversation about your child’s emerging interest in sex and sexuality. Plus, if you feel that blocking sexual content could help your child thrive, we can help with that.

Have a Plan for How to Handle It

Your first instinct might be to take away your kid’s phone or laptop if you’ve learned that they’re looking at porn. But that could actually encourage them to not talk to you about difficult issues in their life — and it could lead them to go to greater lengths to hide what they’re doing online. Instead of banning access to technology altogether, come up with a solution that both you and your child can agree to. If your kid is a tween or younger, you might even find that talking through an age-appropriate book about pornography can help guide your conversation.

Your plan of action may vary depending on your family’s values. Options range from making a tech contract with established rules to setting up parental controls that will make it more difficult for your child to access pornography on their device. This can include screen time limits and even web filters. No matter what you choose to do, make sure your child understands why you’ve chosen this course of action, and don’t be afraid to revisit the conversation.

When the Time Comes, Don’t Shame Them for Viewing Porn

It can be awkward to start a conversation with your child about porn — both for you and for them — and it’s important to keep that in mind. Your child might feel embarrassed, ashamed, upset, or afraid, and a cooling-off period can make a big difference. Instead of making them feel like they’ve done something wrong, make sure to approach the topic calmly. This will help them feel more comfortable opening up and listening.

Sexual curiosity is a natural part of a child’s development, and so is acknowledging that they aren’t “broken” just for having questions about sex. If you haven’t had the “birds and the bees” talk yet, now may be the time. And if you’ve already broached the topic, readdress it and ask if they have any additional questions.

Talk About How Porn Is Unrealistic

If your kid has been watching porn, you may want to have a candid conversation about what they’ve seen. Start by explaining that pornography doesn’t always represent what happens when regular people have sex. Your kid’s favorite superhero movie, for example, is fun to watch, but the people in it are just actors and the special effects are all made by computers. Porn is similarly unrealistic in many ways — and it can even perpetuate unhealthy ideas about relationships or body image.

These conversations can also help kids develop the emotional intelligence they need to create healthy relationships. “If we start teaching kids about equality and respect when they are 5 or 6 years old, by the time they encounter porn in their teens, they will be able to pick out and see the lack of respect and emotion that porn gives us,” Miranda Horvath, a sex researcher and professor of psychology at Middlesex University, told The New York Times. “They’ll be better equipped to deal with what they are being presented with.”

Explain the Potential Dangers of Watching Porn

Take the time to explain to your child why, exactly, porn can have a negative effect on them. For some families, this might mean saying that pornography is against their values or moral convictions. But for other families, this might just mean talking about how viewing pornography can give children skewed views about sex. You can also discuss how porn can perpetuate sexist views, especially when it comes to how women are treated.

This is also a good time to talk about consent. No matter how old your child is, you can discuss what that means in age-appropriate ways. If your kid is a tween or younger, you can stick to examples that aren’t necessarily as sexualized. For example, you can talk about the fact that they have to ask their friend’s permission before playing with their toys — in the same way, they should also get someone’s permission before initiating physical contact.

Have you ever told your teen that you wish you had a set of comfy, cozy unicorn PJs — only to log onto Facebook later that day to see an ad for (you guessed it) comfy, cozy unicorn PJs? An experience like this may have left you feeling a little weirded out. Like you, many other people have concerns about how social media platforms serve them a number of targeted ads. The MeWe app was created in an attempt to address this issue.

But MeWe, which claims to have 8 million members (and is projected to reach 40 million in 2020), works to create freedom from more than just advertising. Its other goals are much broader — and they might even be dangerous for teens. Here’s what you should know (and how Bark can help by blocking it on your child’s devices).

What Problems Does the MeWe App Claim to Solve?

MeWe claims to be an innovative social platform. It brands itself as an uplifting, ad-free, targeting-free, and safe place for people to express any thoughts and feelings they may have. Users can share photos, videos, documents, voice messages, chats, GIFs, and more. They can interact directly with another user, in a group of two or more people, or in an open community forum formed around a shared interest or hobby. There are more than 266,000 open groups on the platform, and they can be built around anything from similar ideologies to a love of classic cars to an appreciation for tasty vegan food.

MeWe’s website describes it as a place for people to really open up with their opinions: “MeWe is the uplifting next-gen social network for everyone who wants to have fun, communicate authentically and share like-minded & disparate ideas under the umbrella of trust, control, and safety.” But unchecked speech isn’t always a good thing — especially for the teens who may use the app.

What Are the Potential Dangers?

MeWe is appealing to many people who are interested in activities that are banned on traditional social platforms like Facebook. For example, a number of users take to the app to sell animals they’ve bred, purchase a variety of weapons, and more. In fact, in the aftermath of the shutdown of the Parler app (allegedly a hotbed of plans to incite violence during the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol), many of those displaced users flocked to MeWe to continue airing their grievances, citing the platform’s embrace of “free speech.” MeWe may not become the next Parler, but it has become a known haven for controversial content. But those aren’t the only potential issues you need to know about.

Sexual content

Although MeWe claims to protect its users against “haters, bullies, porn, spammers, bots, lawbreakers, violence inciters, etc.,” pornography is unfortunately still an issue on the platform. In a 2020 Google Play review, one person wrote, “Every page/chatroom has some kind of porno link. Vulgar language and obscene picture/videos. You can’t report them and they aren’t being deleted.”

Unfortunately, content about pedophilia is also exchanged on the platform, according to another 2020 review. If your teen uses the app to chat with friends or meet people online, they may be exposed to sexual images, videos, and comments that are very disturbing. If they reveal that this is something they’ve experienced, be sure to give them the support they need.

Privacy concerns

While data privacy is one of the hallmarks of MeWe’s appeal, it doesn’t quite live up to its lofty ambitions. A number of users have reported issues with their content’s security. One person left an App Store review saying, “This app was all up in my private stuff with no requested permissions given, and of course Background App Refresh enabled, as well… so concerning!” 

Others have expressed frustrations around the fact that some of the privacy features aren’t free. For example, the ability to change messages through encrypted Secret Chat costs $0.99/month or $5.99/year. “Having a subscription model for encryption is a dealbreaker for me,” one person commented in a review on the App Store. “If a company is going to talk big about privacy being a right, then it should walk the walk too. Actions>Words.”

Hate speech

Hate speech is perhaps the most significant issue on MeWe. Because the platform is so adamant about its support of free speech, many users gravitate toward it so they can share opinions and views that are generally regarded as unwelcome on mainstream sites. These alternative views can range from telling racist jokes to memes claiming the Holocaust is a hoax to spreading harmful conspiracy theories.

“There’s nowhere in our terms that says you may not post fake news,” MeWe founder Mark Weinstein told Rolling Stone. “It’s not my job to censor good, law-abiding citizens abiding by our terms of service discussing…their opinions.” Regardless of the effect this may have on adult users, teens aren’t always well-equipped to tell the difference between a fact and a conspiracy theory. They also aren’t necessarily as aware of what jokes may cross a line as opposed to which ones are totally cool to tell.

Important Conversations to Have With Your Child

Whether or not your teen is already spending time on MeWe, let this serve as a reminder to chat with them about online safety. Take some time to walk them through what hate speech looks like and how it can harm other people — giving them time to express their own feelings about anything they may have experienced themselves. You can also spend some time going through what it means to be a good online citizen. Remind them that they can use the internet for good. Lastly, chat about the importance of considering their digital footprint. Messages and comments that may seem like “just a joke” can easily be screenshotted and then haunt them for years to come.

If you decide that MeWe is not appropriate for your child, you can block it using Bark’s web filter. From the drop-down menu in the top-right corner of your dashboard, navigate to the “Screen time” section. From there you can use our web filtering feature to manage access to MeWe by toggling it to “Blocked.” That can help you have some peace of mind knowing that your child won’t be using the MeWe app unless you decide it’s right for them.

There you are — avoiding getting out of bed, scrolling through your feeds while you grab a quick lunch break, or hiding in the bathroom for some time to yourself (hey, we don’t judge). Then, seemingly out of nowhere, it happens. Another social media platform announces they’re changing yet again. It’s one thing to adjust to Facebook’s new design, but getting accustomed to changes that affect the way a platform functions can be even trickier to become comfortable with, especially when you’re trying to keep your kid safe online at the same time. Luckily, we’ve done the sleuthing for you today. Settle in and grab a cup of relaxing chamomile tea, because Instagram messages are going to be changing.

Just this week, Instagram announced a suite of new features that have the potential to affect users’ experiences a good deal. This is the latest step in the platform’s integration with Facebook, and the exact timeline of when these shifts will be live for everyone has yet to be announced. In the meantime, we’ve put together a guide to what you need to prepare for. In addition to fun new tools, they’re releasing some developments that could really change the way your kid uses the app.

Vanish Mode

If you’ve decided not to let your child download Snapchat, that decision is probably largely based on the platform’s disappearing messages and images. Instagram’s latest update now includes this option. While the app already allows users to send photos and videos that disappear, people can now choose to have their text-based messages self-erase as soon as the recipient has viewed them. This can encourage kids to send messages that they would otherwise never share, so have a conversation with your child about how a screenshot or screen recording can prevent what they’re sharing from ever truly disappearing.

Watch Together

During this period of social distancing, your child probably isn’t able to have their BFF swing by to watch Stranger Things for the millionth time or host a watch party for Disney’s new live-action Mulan. But streaming videos is a major part of many kids’ lives, so your own child could look to group viewing options (like Netflix Party or Facebook Messenger Watch Together) to help them keep in touch with their best buds while avoiding in-person interactions. Now, Instagram is joining the list of social platforms offering this feature. This latest update will give users the option to stream videos from Facebook Watch, IGTV, Reels, TV shows, movies, and more through a group video call. While this can be a good way for your kid to fulfill their social needs during the pandemic, make sure what they’re viewing meets your family’s standards and your child’s maturity level so they don’t walk away upset by something they weren’t ready for.

Messenger Rooms

Messenger Rooms is an Instagram/Facebook alternative to Zoom. To start a Room, both an Instagram and a Facebook account is required. Users can invite up to 50 people to join the call by sharing a link with them, and they’ll be able to participate whether they have an Instagram, Facebook, or WhatsApp account — or no account at all! There’s also a Live Rooms function for users interested in broadcasting content to others. 

Like other video chat apps, the potential for unwanted guests and inappropriate content are two primary dangers. Fortunately, Messenger Rooms puts the room-creator in control of their guests, with the ability to make a room private, block users, remove guests, and more. If you’re worried that your child’s room might become overrun with uninvited guests, have them lock it as soon as their friends have joined the call. This will ensure that a stranger who somehow found the video chat link won’t be able to participate.

Instagram Messages Controls

Instagram is announcing two main adjustments to what messages are allowed to be sent and received. One of these carries Facebook’s integration with Instagram to the next level. “The main change is that people using the Messenger app can now reach you on Instagram without you needing to download a new app, and vice versa,” the platform’s announcement explains. In other words, if your kid doesn’t have Instagram but has Facebook Messenger, they’ll still be able to chat with someone on Instagram unless they adjust their settings to turn off cross-platform messaging.

On the flip side, another messaging update allows for more security. “You can also control where you receive messages and calls, such as in your chats, in your message requests, or not at all,” Instagram states in their update message. Historically, strangers could send message requests to your child even if they had a private account. With this new update, each person has the option to elect not to receive any message requests from strangers. This is a significant step toward online safety, and it could mean your kid is only able to exchange messages with someone they’re friends with — not with a potentially predatory adult. Of course, it’s worth noting that your child has the ability to change their privacy settings, so make sure to talk with them regularly about the importance of only communicating with people they know in real life.

To turn off message requests, follow these steps:

  1. Open the Instagram mobile app.
  2. Navigate to Settings.
  3. If you see the option to select “Update Messaging,” go ahead and do that.
  4. Go to Privacy > Messages.
  5. Choose who has the ability to message your child.

Reporting and Blocking

In the past, Instagram has allowed users to report a message containing inappropriate content, spam, or abusive materials. Now, each person has the option to report an entire conversation instead of just one single message. This has the potential to help address cyberbullying, predation, and more. The platform also reports that — under this new system — people will receive “proactive blocking suggestions across Instagram and Messenger,” which can help you and your child move forward from a situation after it has been properly reported.

The Fun Stuff

This new update is also going to give you more room for creativity and customization! We’re talking boomerang selfie stickers you can send to your BFF, editable top emoji reactions to sprinkle in a conversation at a moment’s notice, customizable chat background colors, and animated message effects to really liven up a group chat. These Instagram messages features could help your child connect with their friends, and maybe even spark some creative interests!