New tools to protect kids against cyberbullying

(Credit: CNN Images).

October is National Bullying Prevention Awareness month.

These days, most bullying takes place on computers and phones. Parenting experts say cyberbullying is at an unprecedented level but there are also more tools than ever before to protect your children.

“If it’s not affecting your child directly, they know somebody who it is affecting,” said Titania Jordan, Chief Parenting Officer with Bark, an app that promotes itself as a digital safety solution for parents.

Between Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Kik, Snapchat, text and email, kids and teens have countless ways to communicate now. Any parent would have to spend hours mining their phones to keep up, and that can often lead to a dispute about privacy.

“Children are sneaky,” said Jordan. “Chances are the account you’re following as a parent is their ‘finsta’ account, their fake Insta account. They probably have a whole ‘nother one that’s private that you don’t know about, where they are more authentic about what’s going on in their lives.”

In that cyber world, bullying takes root in ways parents might not even notice.

“For example, forming private Facebook groups that your child may not be allowed in, private group text threads, just showing photos or snaps or Instagram posts of parties where your child was deliberately not invited,” said Jordan. “People taking screenshots of your child’s face and putting text overtop, memes, GIFs, emojis. Everyone can be a graphic designer these days and it’s very easy to create content that lives forever online and harms your child.”

That’s why Jordan promotes programs like Bark. Parents can connect the watchdog engine to dozens of their kids’ social media accounts, plus email and text messaging. Then, Bark scans it behind the scenes and alerts the parent of issues like cyberbullying, sexting, signs of depression, drug use, grooming, and suicidal thoughts.

“We scan photos. We scan texts. We look for text algorithms so it’s not just looking for the word ‘suicide’ or ‘sex.’ We look for conversational analysis, and that’s where machine learning comes in. When you train the models, they get smarter and smarter and can decipher between KMS, which stands for ‘kill myself,’ like if, let’s say, you tweet that out because you tripped in front of someone and you are embarrassed, you’re not really suicidal, versus if you text KMS to a friend and are dead serious,” said Jordan. “It’s not just letters paired together. It’s emojis, the eggplant emoji, the peach emoji. Those are more than just food items in a teen’s world. You don’t want to see that on their device.”

If one of those issues comes up, the app alerts parents, giving them just enough information to address it, along with resources for help.

In two years, Bark has scanned more than 500 million messages and uncovered some alarming data. For example, 54% of children on Bark have at least one issue a month and 80% of the time, their parent was unaware of the issue before Bark alerted them. It also found 25% of girls are involved in cyberbullying, either as the aggressor or the victim, 22% of teens have been in conversations that include sexually explicit content, and most children delete 28% of their text messages each day. The app has also alerted parents to hundreds of cases of grooming. Perhaps most notable, parenting experts at Bark say the app has saved at least 25 lives.

“The way we know this is because we sent an alert to a parent about something we found and that parent wrote back and said ‘Thank you so much, because of your notification, we were able to get help for our child, we did not know this was an issue and now they are getting treatment so thank you,’” said Jordan.

You can learn more about Bark online at It costs $9 a month per family. There are also other apps available that claim to provide a similar service.

Copyright 2016 KMOV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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