ATLANTA, Ga. – At the Parker family home in Georgia, “screen time” is something that goes hand in hand with teenage life.
“They're supposed to be young,” said Dana Parker, mother of two teenagers, “and you want them to keep their innocence for as long as they possibly can.”
With the internet, though, that’s not always possible. Cyberbullying, online sexual predators, among other things, lurk online.
“I love being able to check in with my old friends and see what they're up to,” said father Todd Parker. “But the aspects of it that are kind of dark and scary – I don't want my kids hanging out in there.”
That’s what triggered the creation of “Safer Internet Day,” first in Europe in 2004, and now in more than 100 countries, including the U.S. It tries to raise awareness of the potential dangers online and what can be done to protect kids.
“Having the technology talk with your children is so important and that includes ‘there’s no such thing as privacy for children,’ because the frontal cortex of their brains is not developed enough to handle what goes on with social media and gaming platforms,” said Richard Wistocki, a retired cybercrimes detective in Illinois.
Titania Jordan is the chief parenting officer for Bark , a software monitoring program that instantly notifies parents via text, if their children are encountering something unwanted online.
“Parenting and the digital age is not easy,” Jordan said.
Here in the U.S., Bark is monitoring more than 4 million kids.
“We have escalated 16 credible school shooting threats to the FBI,” Jordan said. “We have escalated over 450 online predators to law enforcement and our algorithms have detected over 21,000 instances of severe self-harm.”
Jordan says there are other things parents can do to protect their kids while they’re online:
-- Use parental controls that come with your home’s internet providers
-- Don’t let kids have connected devices after a certain time at night
-- Make sure to teach your children to never reveal personal information online that can be used to identify them
For the Parker family, Bark is now a part of online life: just one tool in their internet safety toolbox, giving them piece of mind.
“Your kids, no matter how smart they are, don't mistake intelligence for maturity,” Todd Parker said.
His wife, Dana, says it’s a balancing act.
“We're winging it. I'm winging it. You know I'm trying to do the best that I can, and my kids are awesome and I'm so proud of them,” she said. “but I would not be doing my job if I didn't help guide them.”
It’s a job that includes helping children navigate past uncharted waters, deep in the web.