193: Keeping Your Child Safe Online, with Titania Jordan

Picture of hosted by Penny Williams

hosted by Penny Williams

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Parenting is hard. Parenting kids in this generation is even harder. Our kids today have a lot more potential pitfalls — and risks — to navigate with the internet and social media. And we parents have that whole additional world of risk to help our kids navigate. It’s vast, it’s tricky, and it’s scary.

In this episode of the Beautifully Complex podcast, I’m talking with Titania Jordan with Bark Technologies. Listen in to learn all the dangers our kids face online as well as important conversations to have with your kids about these risks and tools and strategies to keep them safe. This is a very difficult but important topic and a must-listen for all parents.


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My Guest


Titania Jordan is the Chief Marketing Officer and Chief Parent Officer of Bark Technologies, an online safety company that helps keep kids safe online and in real life.

A renowned thought leader on digital parenting, Titania has contributed to pieces in the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Huffington Post, Fox Business, Daily Mail, USA Today, Vogue, and more. Her first book, Parenting in a Tech World, was published in 2020 and quickly became a bestseller on Amazon. Titania was also featured in the 2020 documentary Childhood 2.0. She also frequently appears as a subject matter expert on nationally broadcasted programs such as the TODAY Show, Steve Harvey, The Doctors, CBS This Morning, Good Morning America, Fox News, Sirius XM Radio, and CNBC.

In 2017, Titania founded a Facebook group where parents could come together and get advice on raising kids in the digital age, share stories, and learn the latest news about social media. It now has more than 230,000 members and is growing rapidly.



Titania Jordan 0:03

Last year, we analyzed more than 3.4 billion messages across text, email and over 30 apps and social media platforms. And just with regards to bullying, we found that 72% of tweens, and 85% of teens experienced bullying either as a bully victim or witness.

Penny Williams 0:27

Welcome to the beautifully complex podcast, where I share insights and strategies on parenting neurodivergent kids straight from the trenches. I'm your host, Penny Williams. I'm a parenting coach, author and mindset mama, honored to guide you on the journey of raising your a typical kid. Let's get started.

Welcome back to the beautifully complex Podcast. I'm really excited today to bring you some information on keeping kids safe online. This is such a struggle and a worry for parents. And I'm so excited to have Titania Jordan here, yes, to talk about this and to share bark with us when she will, I'm sure give lots more specific details on as we get further in our conversation. But first, I just want you to introduce yourself, let everybody know who you are and what you do.

Titania Jordan 1:23

Hi, well, thank you so much for having me. I love talking with fellow creators who you know are making a positive impact in this space. I am a mom of a 13 year old. And I'm also the chief parenting Officer of technology called bark. And bark is tech that helps protect over 6 million children across the globe, using AI to analyze social media text, email, and then send alerts when children have encountered problematic content or people.

Penny Williams 1:56

So, so needed. I'm really excited about bark, really excited about it. I think we should start though by talking about what are the dangers online for our kids?

Titania Jordan 2:06

Yeah, I mean, if any of you listening right now, don't realize just how dangerous the Internet can be for even the most well adjusted mature children, it's going to be a wake up call for you. Whether it's online predation, exposure to violent and hyper sexualized content and pornography, whether it's drugs or alcohol, or just content that can send you down a rabbit hole around depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation, as well as eating disordered content and the comparison trap where everything you're seeing online is filtered and curated and you're not seeing the full picture. There are so many nuances to the digital world that our children are immersed in, that weren't present when we were growing up.

Penny Williams 2:59

So many. It's overwhelming. Yeah, sure. And I guess you know, cyber bullying would be another risk.

Titania Jordan 3:07

Oh my gosh, yes. It's so pervasive. It's like that's just a given. But yes, especially with the rates at which we're seeing children experience cyber bullying, either as a bully themselves, or a witness, or a victim. The numbers are staggering. In fact, we every year, do an annual report at bark based on the vast amounts of data we're processing. And over the last year, we analyzed more than 3.4 billion messages across text, email in over 30 apps and social media platforms. Just with regards to bullying. We found that 72% of tweens and 85% of teens experienced bullying either as a bully victim or witness.

Penny Williams 3:54

That's staggering.

Titania Jordan 3:55

It is it is and, you know, good kids make bad choices. And so a lot of parents and caregivers think well, not my kid, but it absolutely can be your kid. I mean, just think about all the mistakes and bad choices that we all made as kids, right, sometimes we just make errors in judgment. And unfortunately, for this generation, those errors and judgment can be captured digitally and live forever.

Penny Williams 4:22

Yeah, so much can really haunt them. It's really tough. And even, you know, I've coached some parents, you've had some issues with this where another kid took a picture or video of their kid doing something that of course they shouldn't have done or side right. And it gets out there and then you know, the parents and everyone tries to get rid of it and it never goes away. No matter you know, even if you haven't deleted from the original person who created it. It's out there now it's going to surface over and over and circulate. It's really scary.

Titania Jordan 4:59

It is scary. And it's sad because it's a very vulnerable time where you're growing. And you know, there are certain awkward stages, and every little thing seems that much more pronounced. You know, that's unfortunately that the time in their lives where these things are happening, which can have even more of an impact than, let's say, when you're an adult, and you have more life under your belt and better perspective.

Penny Williams 5:26

I'm glad you brought that up. Because kids do tend to think that things like that aren't just the end of the world or the end. And with suicide rates ever increasing. It's just so scary combination there, that kids don't have that perspective to say, okay, you know, sometimes things are really, really hard. Sometimes they're hard for a long time, but they do always get better. They just don't know that yet.

Titania Jordan 5:49

It's really heartbreaking to know, but everybody should know this, if they don't already that suicide is the second leading cause of death in children. In the United States, those rates are on the rise. It's the number one leading cause of death in some states. And on top of that, you know, we're talking about children specifically. But even for adults, I know that when I was in my early 30s, I went through a scary time of anxiety and suicidal ideation. And I was so scared, I was, you know, and I was an adult, and I didn't know really how to talk about it with anybody. And I was afraid of what would happen if I did surface it? What would people think about me? What I lose my job? Would I still be able to be a parent? You know, how would this affect me? And would I have to be locked up somewhere? Like, how does that work, you know, when you surface eating help, and so reducing the stigma, and the mystery that surrounds mental health? And what happens when you surface that you're not doing okay, and giving people that hope to know that it will be okay. It is scary, but there is hope. There's a lot more work that needs to be done there.

Penny Williams 6:59

Yeah. Yeah. So much more. And I think that we're slowly but surely really starting to realize and accept the gravity of that situation? Yes, in our culture. And I'm glad for that. But there's so much work to be done, as you said, let's talk a little bit about how we keep our kids safe online. You know, there's so many platforms, there's so many apps, there's so many ways that kids even talk to each other on their phones, that most of us parents wouldn't even know. You know, I know that my kids use discord, to chat. But I know there's a lot of other ways as well. And they may be using them. Who knows, you know, it's so hard to learn about the technology, one for ourselves, but then also to have our kids open up right and share with us what's happening with them online.

Titania Jordan 7:49

Yeah, you know, how do you keep your kids safe online is the question of the decade. It starts with making sure that you are modeling responsible tech usage, at the early stages and stages, if they can observe you and how you interact with your smartphone, Smart TV, tablet, et cetera, and you are taking breaks, it's not the first thing you grab when you wake up in the morning. And the last thing you touch before you go to bed at night, if you are connecting with any other adult who's in your house, you know eye to eye, instead of just hiding behind screens, that goes a long way. Also, any sort of connected device or account that is within your home, you need to be in control of it, don't let it control you. There are so many aspects of tech now that have built in parental controls, whether it's your internet router, or you know, the Amazon account that you can pull up on your Smart TV to your Apple or Android smartphone.

There's built in free parental controls that you should take the time to get to know and set up for whatever is best for your family's digital path. And then it's multiple, multiple, multiple ongoing conversations that are age appropriate and stage appropriate. You know, when we were growing up, there was a running joke about the birds and bees conversation, the meaning single conversation. And typically our parents would have that with us way past the time. It needed to happen. We already knew what we needed to know there, or what we thought we needed to know. Whereas now there are so many conversations that you need to have with your children around tricky people which you know, basically is online predators, PII that's personally identifiable information and what you should and should not share online about being kind to one another and not saying anything to anybody, you know, in the comment section or otherwise that could hurt them or exclude them to mental health, you know, and how what you see online is not the full picture and you cannot compare your real life to somebody's digital life, feelings of inclusion and exclusion. There's just so much and pornography, there's so many things that you will need to talk about with your child as they grow at a much more frequent rate than you might think.

And earlier than you might think.

Penny Williams 10:20

Yeah, so much earlier.

Titania Jordan 10:21

Yeah. And to wrap all of that up, everything we just talked about goes into the why behind bark. The reason bark exists is because Parenting is hard. And we need tech tools to help us with the tech tools we give our children access to and, and that's where it comes in. You know, you asked how do we keep our kids safe online? Well, you utilize bark to monitor their devices and accounts and send you alerts when they encounter danger. I just got a bark alert this week that gave me really critical insight into my child's world. And we have a great relationship. But there's just some things that he at 13 doesn't want to talk to me about because it's uncomfortable, and it's awkward. And when I have more insight, I know how to be as compassionate towards him as possible and help him navigate a rocky eighth grade.

Penny Williams 11:13

Yeah, yeah. And the subject always comes up, or the question among parents is, do I sort of spy on my kids? Am I spying on my kids? Do I tell them that I'm doing it? Do I not tell them, a lot of parents seem to spy and not tell them and I always cringe at that. And I wonder what your input and advice is in that area.

Titania Jordan 11:37

It's really fine line between spying, which I don't advocate and gathering insights that help you be a more compassionate parent, you know, my son knows that I not only work with bark, but have bark, use bark. In the past, I used to talk about the bark alerts, I would get with him more often because, you know, they would freak me out. And I was worried about the choices that my son in his friends were making on permanent, you know, places as he's grown. And as I've grown to know, and trust him to make some mistakes, and trust his judgment more, I don't talk about everything with him. But he knows that if it's serious that I'm going to step in, and you know, if there's imminent harm, that would be coming towards him or one of his friends. You know, that's what I'm really going to step in. But it is critical that you communicate with your children, the why behind the tech, much like when you drive a car, which is a powerful tool, you make sure they are in a car seat up until a certain age and then wear seatbelts thereafter, when they're going to use let's say a smartphone, that can access the world and let the world access them, you're going to use bark, it's a tool, it helps to keep them safe, and loop and you as their parent as their caregiver, when there are dangers. Now you as a parent have got to be cool. And by that I mean, you can't freak out.

And you can't use it. For more or less spy, you know, if you are going to be in your child's business about every little thing, you are not going to have the healthiest relationship, they're not going to want to share things with you, and they're going to pull away from you. So you know, you need to be open and honest about the tools that you're using. But you also need to know when to say something and when to sit back and observe and just love your child, let them know you're there for them and support them unconditionally. But maybe you don't need to get involved in that situation.

Penny Williams 13:40

Yeah, we can't parent all of their content, and everything that they say, right. And when we were growing up without technology in our hands in this way, you know, we have conversations with people our parents weren't privy to, right. And so to me, you know, a parent who's looking at a child's phone every night and reading everything that feels very intrusive. And I think it really damages the relationship. But what I love about what you're saying about bark is that you get a notification when there could be danger, but you're not going through everything that they're doing and saying exactly yourself.

Titania Jordan 14:17

Yeah, just like there's age appropriate curiosity. And then there's, you know, extreme, violent pornographic content that doesn't portray healthy sexual relationship. You know, there's a difference there. You know, there's flirting between two teenagers that is super healthy and wonderful for building relationships. And then there's adult predators DMing children on social media platforms. And in the latter of those cases is when, you know, a bark alert could kick into effect so a parent could help their child to understand, you know, what is age appropriate sexual curiosity and what you know is perhaps have performance under duress.

And you know, what's great about building relationships with people you're interested in as you grow, and then why adults don't need to be contacting children, and why children are not legally able to consent to certain sexual acts with their digital in real life, because their children is a lot, a lot of tough conversations.

Penny Williams 15:21

Yeah, it really is. And I will say that, you know, I have experienced myself that, yes, your kid might do these things that, you know, you think, no way. And then one day you discover, you know, he's watching porn, and you know, then you go, Oh, my gosh, what do you do, right, and to be able to prevent it from going that far before, you know, would be so helpful, but also just having the conversations about what is expected and isn't expected in relationships. Like, I remember, my own kid at one point, said, you know, well, that's what boyfriends and girlfriends do, right? And thankfully, I was able to say, No, it's not what they do. It's still not appropriate, especially when you're a teenager, or you're, you're not adults, you know, you're not consenting adults.

And so kids make assumptions, right? In their experiences, they see other people doing it, and they think, Oh, well, then maybe that's appropriate. For me also, maybe that's what people do, right. And I think, especially for kids on the spectrum and neurodivergent kids, they sometimes really misinterpret what you do in a relationship, what you say in a relationship, those kinds of things. And so it's really, really important that we're having these conversations ahead of time, like bark and tools, like it would be very helpful to notify us when there's danger. But we also want to be preventative, and we want to, you know, give our kids the information to keep them from making some of those mistakes, as you're talking about.

Titania Jordan 16:57

Absolutely, we place a great deal of importance on education and empowerment. So we have a lot of blog posts and content on just how do you talk to your child about pornography? And I'm not talking about when you're 13? When they're when they're 6789? How can you explain to them, you know, the differences between age appropriate sexual curiosity and just the appropriate and topical names for body parts versus some things you might see online that are not healthy are addictive, or not accurate portrayals of healthy relationships. And so it's really important to have those conversations with your children in a very shameful way. So they know like, hey, we can talk about these things, in a very matter of fact, way. And you can come to me without judgment, if you have seen something that is disturbing is scary is exciting. But you wonder if it maybe falls into that camp that could borderline on danger.

Penny Williams 17:53

Yeah. So many conversations. I'm feeling overwhelmed.

Titania Jordan 17:58

I know. I know. I do want to give a shout out to there's a book called good pictures, bad pictures. You just get it on Amazon or wherever. And it's a wonderful book that helps you have a conversation with your child about pornography. There's good pictures, bad pictures, and then good pictures, bad pictures, Jr. and I got that book when my son was around nine. And I'm really thankful I did. Yeah, it was awkward. But it was incredibly helpful. Yeah, cuz we tend to fall back immediately on shame. Yes.

Penny Williams 18:30

Your kids watching something they shouldn't be watching. And you're like, oh, my gosh, it's my kid. And immediately, that's just the instinct, unfortunately. And we have to not shame but we also have to not make it forbidden. Because we know that when we make things forbidden kids run to them and starve away from them so often zactly it's really delicate, you really have to be careful in the ways that you talk about these things. And so you don't actually end up pushing them toward it when you're trying to pull them and prevent and pull them away. So so let's talk about the gaming community. Because I wonder, like kids get into games, and they talk to each other does bark. Also look at that? Does it sort of process their conversations in those areas, too?

Titania Jordan 19:20

I wish so there's good news, and there's bad news, they'll start the bad news first. Bad news is currently the most popular games that children are playing, whether it's Roblox or fortnight or you name it. Those games and consoles in general, don't currently partner with third party monitoring software to moderate you know, in game chat, et cetera. The good news is that what bark can do is you can get the bark home, which is a physical piece of hardware you get for your home and connect it to your router, and it can help limit act access. So if you want to go to bed at 10pm, and you want to make sure your child isn't, you know, utilizing certain aspects of tech, you can just toggle that access off. And so at least you know, they're not, you know, gaming at all hours of the night, and the Wi Fi base capacity. Yeah. But hey, maybe somebody who works at one of those companies is listening right now and can reach out and we can partner and help alert when children are being groomed, you know, on certain platforms, because it is happening on gaming platforms.

Penny Williams 20:32

Yeah. And there's a lot of cyber bullying in those areas, too, I find and it's conversations that I've had to have with my own son, because he's an enforcer. He can't stand for anybody to be mean to anybody else, which is wonderful. It's great. It gets him in trouble online, because he tends to explode when somebody else is being mean. And so we have lots of conversations about how, you know, you don't want to have the same behavior, you were just upset with them for having right. But he's really learning to weed out people in that way where it used to be, he was so desperate to be in there and playing that he would just deal with it. And now he's mature enough at nearly 20, to say, I want to play this game.

And I like some of the people in this group. But this group isn't for me, this isn't good for me, which is amazing. But it's taken a lot to get there. And so I would love for the gaming platforms to allow technology like bark to really be watching those conversations, because there is a lot going on there. You know, there's a lot of fear that people are who they say they are, we've had so many conversations, I can't even count at this point about the fact that just because somebody tells you something about them doesn't mean it's true. You don't know them, you feel like it and kids, so often they feel like they're friends, with people they don't really know online, it's really tough to navigate that with them, to let them know that their instincts aren't actually necessarily correct is really tough.

Titania Jordan 22:03

It's very tough. It's hard. And in some cases, I've had to pull up the Google and share with my son stories of unfortunate incidents that have happened to other kids his age, you know, that have resulted in children, you know, leaving their house in the middle of the night to meet up with somebody they met on a game that they thought there was their friend, and then they didn't ever come home. You know, sometimes you have to be very direct and talk about some really tough topics with your children so that they understand. This isn't just mom or dad being hyper, this has actually happened. And you do not want it to happen to them.

Penny Williams 22:42

Yeah, yeah. And it has to be a good mix. Because we don't just want to scare kids into compliance, so to speak. It's not healthy either. And so it has to be that mix of informing, but also sometimes proving, right, that you're telling them the truth, you're not exaggerating, you're not freaking out, that it's a real danger. And so many kids and teenagers, especially teenagers, it seems just think nothing bad will happen to them. You know, it's this weird thing in our development that I wish wasn't there, but they feel very just invincible, almost. And it's really scary. And I think that's when, you know, some of these conversations are gonna be most powerful and most needed.

Titania Jordan 23:24

Agreed parents fall victim to the Not My Kid syndrome and kids, you know, fall victim to that that will happen to me.vSo, yeah, it's hard.

Penny Williams 23:37

Yeah. This is such a tough conversation. But we have to have them, we have to have them. And I, I try never to shy away from them. Because even if we save one kid in this conversation, that's amazing, right? And the reality is that yes, there is That danger, or there's a danger of losing your child forever of not having them around anymore because of online dangers. And it's not going away. I think for a long time, we have put our head in the sand. And we've said, you know, this is just a short term thing. We'll figure out how to do better with online and guess what, it's not going away. It's here. We have to learn to deal with it and to manage it.

Titania Jordan 24:20

Yeah, I mean, the good news is that there is hope. We're talking about a lot of heavy, heavy topics today. But there's absolutely hope, you know, if your children know that they are loved unconditionally, and that you are a safe place. Things are going to be okay. Yeah, you can trust your gut and get them help. If you start to see signs of distress, meaning, appetite changes, grade changes, sleep changes, they are not interested in things they used to be interested in. And not only things but friends, you know, any sort of change change in their behavior warrants a second look, conversation and or maybe an appointment with their pediatrician so that you can get advice on, you know, is this typical, let's say, tween or teen behavior? Or does this maybe warrant a conversation with a therapist or mental health care professional, just that effort can go a long way in helping your child to be okay, because you don't realize what is happening in their device? Unless you're sitting beside them the exact same time they're on it, and nobody has time for that.

Penny Williams 25:34

Yeah. Yeah. And we don't even know how they're processing it, you know, we could watch and see what they were typing or what they were saying or exactly what they were doing. And, you know, our neuro divergent kids have different brains. And so they may not be processing what they're doing, or what people are saying to them in the same way that we are. So there's so much complexity to that, as well. But those conversations that open the relationship, and having just a really good relationship with your kid is everything because we need them to come to us and say, you know, this person wants to meet up with me, I met them on this app. What do you think, you know, and if you just immediately jump to shame and punishment, every time your kid does something wrong, or dangerous online or anything like that, they're not going to come talk to you about anything, right? They're going to keep it all to themselves. And that's dangerous. So, you know, everything in parenting comes back to the relationship, really, the relationship has to guide everything. But I think it's so so important here in this conversation, because we need them to talk to us. And we have to set that tone in the relationship for that to happen.

Titania Jordan 26:48

Yeah, we have to have an unimaginable amount of restraint, compassion, patience, wisdom. I mean, just pat yourself on the back right now, if you're a parent, because this is, it has never been harder.

Penny Williams 27:04

I know. I know. It really hasn't. It's just a really tough time in the world. And it's adding to all the other stressors of parenting and love being a kid. The one last thing I wanted to ask you about before we close, is online challenges. And if you have any advice for parents, I have known a couple of parents now who have lost a child to participating in a dangerous online challenge. And it is so heartbreaking. And of course, the child really doesn't see the danger, right? They don't know, all the ways that it could go bad, like an adult with more wisdom might know. And I just wonder how can we and I guess it's really these conversations again, but even the conversation, I feel like so many kids think well, I'll be okay. You know, what do we do with that particular challenge?

Titania Jordan 28:05

Well, unfortunately, there are children who have lost their lives for participating in a challenge. And I would share their stories with your children. When the tide pod challenge was in the news, and I had to myself was thinking what child in the right mind would do this? Who would do this? My kid would never. And I was like, wait a minute, wait a minute, I bet those parents thought the same thing. And I wouldn't talk to my son. And I was like, A, have you heard of this be like, You do realize that if this happens, it could, you know, burn your esophagus and kill you. Like, that's what we're dealing with here. And it actually happened to these children and my heart breaks for them and their families. And so, you know, again, just like you tell kids to look both ways before they cross the street. Because unfortunately, people have gotten hurt from not doing that. You got to now warn them about the dangers that you hear about, you know, online. And again, it goes back to bark, bark can alert you when your child children are engaged in dangerous, medically concerning activity. You know, and some of these cases, it just breaks my heart that these parents didn't have bark and could have been alerted in their child's life could have been saved, potentially.

Penny Williams 29:24

Yeah. Yeah, there's so many dangers to navigate. And we've talked about so many different conversations, and I hope the parents listening are going to have with their kids and be really open to the fact that you feel like your kid might not do these things, but you still need to have that conversation. Because sometimes you're right and sometimes you're not I didn't. So you have to err on the side of caution for sure. And I really encourage everyone to go and to look at bark. See if it's a good tool for your family, to try to keep your kids safe online.

I will have it in linked up in the show notes, as well as the books that were mentioned that we talked about. Anything else before we close?

Yes, I would say that because parenting in the tech world is so difficult. And parenting neurodiverse children is uniquely difficult that we need each other now more than ever, and one of my favorite ways to get support and get help, that cost nothing, besides my time is to go to the parenting and tech world Facebook group. There's over 220,000 parents in that group now. And you know, no matter what hour of the day or day of the week it is, you can talk to another parent in there about whatever you might be going through, even anonymously, if you wish.

Yeah, yeah. so valuable. We'll link that up in the show notes as well. And I thank you again, this has been such an enlightening conversation and really, really valuable to the parents listening is something you really need to think about and hear, even though it's a really tough conversation to have. And so I thank you again. And with that, we'll end this episode. I'll see everyone next time.

Thanks for joining me on the beautifully complex podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe and share. And don't forget to check out my online courses and parent coaching at parentingADHDandautism.com and thebehaviorrevolution.com

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

Thank you!

If you enjoyed this episode, please share it. Have something to say, or a question to ask? Leave a comment below. I promise to answer every single one. **Also, please leave an honest review for the Beautifully Complex Podcast on iTunes. Ratings and reviews are extremely helpful and appreciated! That’s what helps me reach and help more families like yours.

I'm Penny Williams.

I help stuck and struggling parents (educators, too) make the pivots necessary to unlock success and joy for neurodivergent kids and teens, themselves, and their families. I'm honored to be part of your journey!

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Join me as I help parents, caregivers, and educators like you harness the realization that we are all beautifully complex and marvelously imperfect. Each week I deliver insights and actionable strategies on parenting neurodivergent kids — those with ADHD, autism, anxiety, learning disabilities…

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