Do you have a strategy to protect your kids online? If it's simply keeping them offline for as long as possible or trying to build a firewall so that the only thing they can watch are Disney Junior videos on YouTube Kids, odds are they're going to see stuff you don't want them to see, and you may have no idea.
That’s where a new ministry and business based in Birmingham hopes to step in.
“It's like 'let's protect them from anything and everything that's out there',” says Undone/Redone Ministries and My Secure Family co-founder Tray Lovvorn. “The problem is we can't be with them 24-7.”
Tray and his wife and co-founder Melody have four kids of their own and now spend their time traveling the country showing parents the harsh reality of what's online, and encouraging them to drop any pretense that they know as much or more than their kids do about technology.
“Let's be honest with what's going on in the world,” Lovvorn says. “Not to mean we inadvertently expose them to things that would not be age appropriate, but to prepare them for the world we live in.”
“As parents, we want to engage,” Melody says. “We want to give them some privacy, but we want them to know we're gonna be monitoring that.”
Tray and Melody say if you don’t act as an open book with your kids on exploring new technology or apps together, you risk them using “hiding” apps designed to look innocent like a calculator, but actually hide pictures or screengrabs of things your kids don't want you to see and you may never find.
There are several Internet filters in the market, and the one the Lovvorns recommend is called Circle. You plug it into your home modem, and with the Circle app you have instant control of the Internet access on every connected device in your house. Want to set a limit on screen time for the day? You tell Circle which devices your child uses, and it automatically keeps track of that combined time and cuts off internet access when they reach the limit, or their bedtime.
It also lets you choose which apps each device can access so you may be ok with Facebook, but not with Snapchat.
“It provides a lot of those parameters for parents so now we can monitor bedtime because Circle's gonna turn the Internet off for us,” Lovvorn says. “We can pause the Internet for the entire family, we can pause it for certain individuals of the family. Filters can do a lot, but even the best filter is not gonna be absolutely foolproof.”
And that's where new monitoring software comes in. The product Tray and Melody recommend is called Bark. It's software you install on your child's devices that uses algorithms to monitor what they're saying in texts or group chats, looking at on Facebook or Snapchat, or even the search terms they're Googling.
Instead of sending you a list of everything they looked at today that could take you hours to comb through, the algorithm searches for keywords and combinations that could indicate cyberbullying, sexting, or even thoughts of suicide and sends you a text alert.
“There's lots of algorithms that it's tracking and the moment that it finds something, it sends the parent a text,” says Melody. “So now's an opportunity for me to sit down with my child and talk through this.”
“Now the parent can get an alert and not feel like ‘I've gotta spend 24/7 monitoring even what places they can go on the internet," Lovvorn says.
Technology is changing so fast that the apps you may worry about today could be obsolete in 3 months. That's why the Lovvorns are launching a new online community they call MySecure Family to let parents talk to each other about new issues they're finding or asking for advice and experience.
If this is starting a conversation in your house, you'll have a chance to ask Melody and Tray directly for some advice when they join us for a Facebook Live chat this Thursday at 6:30 p.m.
If you’d like more information on Circle or Bark, here’s the links to their products:
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