Digital Parenting: Surveillance or Safety?

Published: Jun. 11, 2018 at 9:50 PM CDT
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"I'm a busy mom. I don't even have time to keep up with my inbox and my gmail, much less texting and social media messages. And if I were getting a daily digest of every single thing that went in and came out regarding my only child online - there's just no way," says Titania Jordan.

Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram - the list of social media platforms keeps growing and so do online threats. About one in seven kids are targeted by sexual predators online, more than half of all kids have been cyber-bullied, and more than a quarter of teens say they're sexting.

But the new app Bark aims to keep kids safe by alerting parents to potentially dangerous content sent through social media accounts, email, and texts.

"We've actually helped to catch school shooting and bomb threats as well as an online predator that was grooming young girls," Jordan, the CPO of Bark, says.

Along with the alert, Bark sends recommendations to help parents talk to their kids about their concerns.

But critics have concerns.

"It's a very tricky, tricky question. Balancing the child's need to be an individual, need to make some mistakes, need to say some stuff that may be inappropriate or silly or whatnot from time to time as they're growing, versus the need to protect them from society," says Jeremy Straub, an Assistant Professor with the Department of Computer Science at NDSU.

"I would honestly feel more comfortable if my parents were to go through my phone," says Lucas Miller, a freshman at NDSU. "A lot of those Spyware/Privacy programs that are given or sold have as lot of security problems on the backend. I'm aware of one or two security software that was advertised as like, kid watch software to give your kids, and they had the entire private database stolen so all of the kids had all of their private data stolen."

Despite possible drawbacks, Bark says its seen successes that will last lifetimes.

"33 children's lives have been saved because of Bark. We sent an alert to parents regarding a potentially suicidal situation - and those parents wrote back to tell us it was indeed a grave situation, and because of our alerts, they were able to step in and get their child help," Jordan says.

Bark staff say after the Parkland High School shooting in Florida, the company realized it needed to give the software out to schools as soon as possible for free.