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Apps Helping Parents Monitor Their Kids' Digital Life

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- Being a kid in today's digital world isn't always easy. And being a parent trying to help your child navigate through all of it, can be just as difficult. Especially when it's nearly impossible to keep track of everything they're doing online.

That's why more parents are turning to apps that can monitor their kids' digital life, screen for red flags and immediately alert parents.

Apps like Bark.

Bark's Chief Parent Officer Titania Jordan says the internet needs precautions, just like the real world.

"You don't send your child to the beach without sunscreen, and you don't put them in a car without a seatbelt," says Jordan.

Bark uses artificial intelligence to screen information from more than 30 different applications, including social media, texts and email.

It sends alerts to parents when it sees any signs of danger, including incidents of cyberbullying, self-harm, violence and sexting.

The app also gives parents advice on how to discuss whatever the problem is with their child.

But Dr. Candice Biernesser, a licensed clinical social worker with UPMC, thinks it can go even further. She's currently working with Bark to expand the app's services.

"I'm talking about developing an online intervention that would provide resources, coping resources and support essentially immediately following an incident of cyberbullying," says Biernesser.

It would live on the child's social media platform, so it would be right at their fingertips.

Biernesser says monitoring is really helpful and parents getting alerted to these things is really important.

But she says, "It would be great to take a next step where we can intervene to reduce things, like cyber victimization in the moment that they're experiencing it."

Bark isn't the only monitoring app out there.

Libe Ackerman, editor-in-chief of the website Super Parent, also recommends Circle Go, which monitors devices that work through your WiFi and Pocket Guardian, which analyzes a child's messages and social media.

"It can understand certain phrases and contexts to really know if there is a real issue or not and whether a parent should be alerted," says Ackerman.

There's also Qustodio, Net Nanny and MamaBear, which all get the "seal of approval" from safe-tech advocacy group Common Sense Media.

While all these apps are great for parents, Biernesser cautions there's still a fine line between protecting your kids and respecting their privacy.

She encourages parents to still have good old-fashioned talks with their kids.

"An app is not necessarily something that's meant to be a stand-alone monitoring approach, but it can be really useful in addition to having really open and supportive conversations with teens about what's happening with their social media use and also having conversations about appropriate online behavior in general," says Biernesser.

She encourages kids to be open to the process.

Biernesser says, "The more that the parent and the child agree not necessarily on every single aspect of monitoring, but at least the larger principles, the more that when something bad does happen in their child's online life, they might be comfortable actually going and talking to the parent about what's really happening."

The monitoring apps like these cost anywhere from a few dollars a month to up to $15 a month.

Experts say it's also important for parents to keep an eye on any online gaming their kids are involved in, as well.

They suggest adjusting the parental controls on each gaming console to create an environment that feels safe for them and you.

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