I grew up in the late 1970’s and 1980’s before the onset of computers and the world of the internet and major technological advances. I vividly remember our first Apple computer and the first time I logged into the world wide web on America Online. The internet dates back to 1969, just two years before I was born. I played outside a lot, road my bike to the neighbor’s house, and stayed out well after dark. Looking back on our current world, little did I know how much opening this computer box, and logging into the internet, would change our world, both for better, and for worse.
Advances in technology have given us instant access. Through our phones, and computers, we can find the answers to about every know question. You can ask, “Hey Siri, tell me when the internet began”, and instantaneously, you have you answer. Technology changed the way we educate, receive mental health, conduct business, engage in religious worship, promote physical health, and engage in interaction with others. Many studies have observed that recent technological advances have essentially killed face-to-face communication, especially with children. Many kids opt to text message rather than calling a friend to discuss a school assignment. The Covid “global pandemic” has heightened the rise in internet use (60% estimated increase). The pandemic has also increased mental health issues, especially isolation from friendships for young children. The American Psychological Association noted that between March 2020 and October 2020 mental health related emergency department visits increased 24% for children ages 5 to 11. Technology has changed our world.
There is a scary, dark side, to the digital world that is dangerous to children. Covid’s increased internet usage has created more online time and predator focus surrounding issues that are problematic for kids. The Federal Bureau of Investigation estimates that daily there are 500,000 online predators vying for the negative, and damaging, interest of our young people. It is our responsibility as a caring society to do all we can to protect the next generation of leaders, and the future of our world.
Instead of discussing all of the challenges and dangers of technology and the internet, this author proposes a possible “digital world safety net” that all parents should adopt. Bark (www.bark.us) is an application that can be utilized as a “watchdog” for internet safety. It is regarded as the best comprehensive parental control tool for families challenged with internet safety. The mission of Bark is to “Keep children safe in a digital world.” The application uses algorithms to detect risks associated with dangerous online activity. Bark monitors texts, email, YouTube, and over 30 plus applications and social media platforms for signs of issues ranging from cyberbullying, sexual content, and online predators, to depression, suicidal ideation, and threats of violence. Parents receive email and text alerts when Bark detects potential issues so you can talk to your child about these potential dangers. Bark likes to use the terms: Connect, Detect and Alert! 5.9 million children are being covered by the Bark application. Is your child or young person you know covered? Please spread the word to others about this innovative tool.
I encourage parents to utilize the benefits of the Bark application. Growing up I was encouraged to wear my bicycle helmet and put on my seatbelt. Times have certainly changed and Bark is a step in the right direction for protecting our children in a dangerous digital world.
Dr. George Hendricks serves as the Senior Director for Community Affairs at Methodist University (MU) . Prior to his work at MU he was a school social worker with Cumberland County Schools for 12 years, and served as Chair of the Social Work department and a school dean. He enjoys serving on the board of the Child Advocacy Center , participating in the Fayetteville Kiwanis Club and serving as Lay Leader at St. Andrews United Methodist Church.