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For these last few weeks and the unforeseeable future, many of us parents have been tasked with the responsibility of becoming unofficial teachers (as well as P.E. coaches, art specialists, cafeteria ladies, janitorial workers, afterschool counselors and much more). And as students navigate these rocky waters of digital learning — likely for the rest of the school year — it’s up to parents to keep them safe at the same time.
Even before the pandemic, 59 percent of teens reported being bullied online (source), and one in five receive an unwanted sexual solicitation (source). Staying safe has a lot to do with COVID-19 these days, but staying safe online will be that much more important as children fill up their homeschooling with hours of digital learning. As your child toggles between online learning platforms and countless other websites, it can be difficult (nearly impossible with multiple kids in the house) to keep track of what sites are legitimate, the type of content they’re looking at and who else is online with them. We’re taking a look at three online safety resources to help keep kids safe online — both now, during pandemic-fueled digital learning, and after we return to our new normal.
3 Online Safety Resources to Keep Digital Learners Safe
Atlanta-based Bark is a monitoring service, founded in 2015 by a parent, which covers more than 30 popular social media platforms, in addition to text, chat, email, YouTube, Google Drive and OneDrive files and images, text within images, audio and video.
Titania Jordan, Bark’s chief parenting officer, explains how the monitoring and filtering service uses artificial intelligence (AI) to flag keywords, as well as “analyze language in context and recognize slang that kids, tweens and teens use every day.” She continues, “Parents can set a level of severity based on their personal preference so that they’re only alerted to issues of concern (which may differ from family to family) … Bark is unique in that it doesn’t give parents full access to their kids’ accounts and keeps privacy intact, which is a very important part of our model.” She adds the company has now included screen-time management, making it “a one-stop-shop and a comprehensive safety solution for parenting in a digital age.”
Bark is $9 per month for the family, which includes monitoring various platforms for potentially harmful content and interaction, receiving automatic alerts (via email and text) when these potential risks are detected and alerting parents with recommendations about how to talk to kids about digital threats.
“It’s easy for us to sit back and let our kids be the ‘tech experts,’ but we really need to understand the technology our kids are using and how they’re using it,” says Titania. “That’s another reason why a monitoring service like Bark is so important. As busy parents, we don’t have the time to study emerging tech trends, but we still have kids who are on their devices upwards of eight hours per day. We need to feel confident that they’re safe on those devices.”
Parents can closely track their kids’ digital footprint with FamilyTime Premium. This subscription app offers features for parents to carefully monitor how their children are using technology and supervise what is and is not allowable. FamilyTime offers GPS-enabled location tracking and geofencing (creating a virtual boundary for an actual geographic location), text message, call and internet monitoring, screen-time limiting and time banking, SOS emergency alerting and more. The app makes it easy on parents — with a navigable dashboard and user-friendly app that’s simple to work — even if you have a different device type than your child.
FamilyTime pricing varies, depending on how many child devices are added to the plan — plans start at $27 per year for one device and range up to five devices for $69 per year. There is a free version, but it has limited functionality and features.
Common Sense Media
Everyone likes a shiny, new app or fancy AI-heavy algorithms, but sometimes an informative, easy-to-navigate website can do the trick. Back in 2003, nonprofit organization Common Sense Media had the foresight to predict how overwhelming and overpowering the technology world would be for parents. The extensive organization helps kids — and their parents — by rating and recommending various entertainment and technology resources, as well as working with policymakers, industry leaders and media partners to create a safer digital world for everyone.
Common Sense Media is a fantastic, never-ending resource of helpful information, organized by age groups, from kindergarten to 12th grade. Features include a digital citizenship curriculum (with interactive lessons, videos, guides, and even songs for the younger users); recommended apps and educational tools organized and filtered by age, subject, price, platform, purpose and skills; timely articles about virtual learning, teaching plans for parents during school closures and ways to reduce student anxiety; and much more. This website skews toward younger kids, but as we parents are learning during quarantine, even elementary school students are being asked to navigate multiple educational websites and participate in virtual learning. Bonus? Most of Common Sense Media’s content is free.
There are many apps, websites and platforms that focus on online safety, but if you prefer a direct approach, don’t underestimate the value of a person-to-person consultation. Digital security experts and businesses offer direct meetings for parents with specific requests or those who just need a personalized explanation of how it all works. For example, Ilana Schlam, an Atlanta mother of two, hires a local consultant as her family’s needs arise. “Whenever I have questions about online safety,” says Ilana, “I speak with Ben Halpert, who runs Savvy Cyber Kids. He is a fantastic resource and has a lot of online information, as well as offers personal sessions.”
The world feels like a scary place right now, but staying up to date with your child’s education and having strong online safety tools in place can at least calm your anxieties about digital learning. As Titania says, “Ultimately, nothing replaces hands-on parenting. The more aware we are of what our kids are doing online, the better.”
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