If you’re a parent, you probably know that raising kids in the digital age isn’t exactly easy. Social media, smartphones, and 24/7 internet access have transformed what growing up looks like — including how kids communicate, have fun, and make sense of the world.
All of this technology opens up a world of possibilities, as well as a whole host of potential dangers and distractions.
We’ve rounded up the top nine things that kids do online that parents need to know about. You may be surprised! Fortunately, there’s a solution to some of these issues: a parental control app for families called Bark.
Kids use Google Docs to chat.
Google Docs (and Microsoft Word) are the go-to programs for homework, classwork, and everything in between for kids today. When one child is typing in a Google Doc, it’s like a piece of paper. However, when you share it with a friend, it becomes one large chat room.
You can invite as many people to join the document as you want, and everyone can contribute in real-time. So, when you peek in your kid’s room and see them typing away on a doc, it may not just be homework they’re working on — they could just be joking around with friends!
Tweens and teens read and write racy fan fiction online
Fanfiction, or the art of writing new stories with beloved characters from pop culture, has been around since the 60s. Fanfiction has become incredibly popular on several websites thanks to the internet. People can share their stories, get feedback, or just read for pleasure, including WattPad, FanFiction.net, and Archive Of Our Own.
Fanfiction isn’t all superheroes and fantastical adventures, though. A lot of it is devoted to sexual content — and it can be extremely graphic. In fact, the book 50 Shades of Grey began life as Twilight fan fiction on FanFiction.net back in 2009. Inappropriate content in these stories can also include sexual assault, incest, and more.
Cyberbullying is rampant 👺
Cyberbullying isn’t like the schoolyard bullying you may remember. Thanks to technology, kids can be bullied anywhere they take their phone — in church, at the dinner table, even on vacation 1,000 miles away. Bullying also takes many different forms.
Kids can receive hateful or aggressive messages, texts, chats, and emails. They can also be the victims of fake Instagram accounts where people post embarrassing photos. There are also group chats that exclude others, like ones named “Everyone in homeroom but Taylor.” The effects of cyberbullying can be intense and distressing and can even cause depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation in children.
Anonymous chatting apps are popular at sleepovers 🛌
Anonymous chatting websites like Omegle exist for only one purpose — to connect strangers. Children have been known to go on sites like these in groups, looking for excitement during a sleepover, much like our generation did with crank calling or AOL chat rooms.
Omegle isn’t just innocent fun, however. This video chatting platform presents a whole host of dangers that could affect children in serious ways, including sexual content, disturbing images, online predators, and more.
Even Twitter has sexual content.
Twitter’s search function is essentially a Google search bar. Conventional terms like “sexual” serve up countless results. However, because of Twitter’s loose standards, these usually aren’t needed.
A quick search for “sexual” can reveal immediate explicit images. And because Twitter isn’t usually seen as a dangerous website, it’s often overlooked by parents as a potential source for inappropriate content.
Kids often feel pressured to sext 📱
According to Time magazine, one in 4 kids is sexting. If this scares you as a parent, you’re not alone! The peer pressure facing kids today is unprecedented.
They’re made to feel like they have to send nude photos to fit in, and then if they do, they’re judged for it. And if they don’t? They’re judged for that, too. On top of all this, the legal consequences of sexting can be severe. Laws vary from state to state, but naked pictures of minors may be illegal even if they’re exchanged between two kids.
Smart speakers can act as phones 🔊
In addition to listening to music, kids can use smart speakers to talk to friends and family. This functionality is tied to a phone and syncs with contacts. But it can also be used to call public numbers, including strangers. In addition to making calls, Amazon’s “Drop-In” and Google’s “Broadcast” features allow you to communicate directly from speaker to speaker.
You can use these features to talk to another smart speaker in a different room of your home, or in some cases, even in another house entirely! But unlike a regular phone call, people can contact you even if you don’t want them to. This could lead to unwanted communication and even harassment.
Emojis have become their own language.
Every generation has its own slang — remember “all that and a bag of chips” from the 90s? Today, not only does Gen Z have its peculiar turns of phrase, but they also use emojis to communicate things that aren’t always clear what they mean on the surface.
For example, the dump truck emoji (🚛) is used to mean “a shapely bottom.” And the leaf emoji (🍃)? It doesn’t mean an appreciation of nature — it’s actually used to talk about marijuana! This helps camouflage conversations in case adults happen to be watching.
Kids need help balancing screen time.
According to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, kids 8–12 in the U.S. average 4–6 hours of screen time per day. For teens, the number skyrockets to 9 hours. And according to the Mayo Clinic, kids may face serious side effects from too much screen time, including impaired academic performance, irregular sleeping habits, behavioral problems, and more.
While screens are (and will remain) a big part of modern life, maintaining a healthy balance is key. Your kids will be using technology for the rest of their lives, so it’s crucial to teach them how to live and thrive with it when they’re young.
Feeling overwhelmed by all this? Don’t worry! Bark’s parental control app is here to help!
Bark is a parental control app that gives insight into your child’s digital world. When you connect your kid’s devices, apps, and accounts to Bark, you can monitor for issues like bullying, online predators, drugs/alcohol, sexual content, depression, and more. If something concerning is found, you’ll get an alert so you can check in with your kid.
Bark doesn’t give you complete access to everything on their phone — this saves you time while giving your child a little privacy.
In addition to monitoring, Bark also provides a customizable screen time scheduling tool that lets you manage what apps your child can use and when — perfect for limiting distractions during the school day and encouraging rest after lights out.
Finally, Bark also has a powerful web filter to block websites to help keep your kid safe from inappropriate content. Sign up today for your free 1-week trial!
Here are some more parental control apps for your kids’ online safety.