Online predators can pretend to be anyone, any age, anywhere. We need to educate and empower our children to stay safe on their devices and not become victims. Today’s guest is Titania Jordan. Titania is the Chief Marketing Officer and Chief Parent Officer at Bark Technologies, an online safety company that helps keep kids safe online and in real life. Titania has contributed pieces to 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 best seller on Amazon. She was also featured in the 2020 documentary Childhood 2.0. She frequently appears as a subject matter expert on nationally broadcast programs such as Today Show, Steve Harvey, CBS This Morning, Good Morning America, and many others.Kids are being exposed to everything the world has to offer, both good and bad, at a much more frequent rate and at a much younger age than kids have experienced in the history of being a kid. Click To Tweet
- [1:14] – Titania shares her background and why she was drawn to her field.
- [3:07] – In her history, Titania has many childhood traumas and wants to help protect others.
- [5:18] – Kids have access to everything that’s good but also everything that is bad and parents did not have that experience in their own childhood.
- [7:41] – Kids are being exposed to everything more frequently and at a younger age than ever in history.
- [9:50] – Parents can feel helpless because there is a fine line between controlling what their children access online and giving them the freedom to use it.
- [11:37] – The frequency in which negative experiences online happen to children is much higher than you think.
- [13:09] – Be aware of how you model technology use and talk about “tricky” people.
- [15:07] – It can happen anywhere, not just in social media apps.
- [16:21] – Titania shares some of the issues that can arise depending on the age and abilities of a child.
- [17:29] – There are some apps that appear as something other than what they actually are.
- [19:34] – Predators can be seemingly upstanding and moral people and some can also be people you know personally.
- [21:39] – Kid slang changes all the time and could mean something you aren’t aware of. They are designed to overcome algorithms.
- [23:21] – Titania created a Facebook group about parenting in a tech world.
- [24:25] – Titania lists some of the things Bark tracks to keep kids safer online.
- [25:50] – It’s not about keeping technology away from your child, but to go on the journey with them.
- [27:40] – Titania explains some of the things she talks to her son about regarding privacy
- [30:17] – When it comes to sharing photos of your child on social media, consider the reason you are doing so and who can see it.
- [33:00] – Bark is a tool, but does not replace conversations and education.
- [35:47] – Titania shares some of the feedback from parents who have used Bark.
- [38:49] – Become familiar with parental controls on all the connected devices in your home.
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- Parenting in a Tech World by Titania Jordan
Titania, thank you so much for coming on the Easy Prey Podcast today.
Thank you for having me.
Can you give myself and the audience a little bit of background about who you are and why you do what you do?
Sure. My name is Titania Jordan, as you said. I am a mom of a teenager and two fur babies. I'm the Chief Parenting Officer of a tech company called Bark, which helps protect over six million children across the nation and the globe. Our tech is essentially artificial intelligence that monitors, connects to children's devices, accounts, social media, and text images.
It monitors their tech and then sends alerts when there are issues. Issues like predation, mental health, and acts of violence, runs the gamut what kids are dealing with today. Mom, woman in tech, and passionate about social media safety and mental health.
Was there a reason that you got involved in this industry? It seems very specific.
Yes, a few things. One is for me personally, my faith plays into this in that I really strongly believe that there's a reason for everything. Bad things happen to good people, but you can make a positive from a negative. I really feel that God has me in this place for a reason despite not having a degree in computer science, et cetera.
Part of that is my background. When I was a child, I'm a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. I have that in my history. I also have struggled with anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, and eating disorders in my teenage years. It's like almost every issue that we alert parents to at Bark, I have personally experienced in some way, shape, or form. And I wouldn't take those experiences back if I had to do it all over again, for the most part, because they helped me have compassion and understanding in a way that some might not.
My unique position in the universe, in the timetable. Being born in the '80s, pre all of this tech, but growing up in a way where I could natively enjoy it and not be so scared of it, has just really positioned me uniquely to help educate other parents who might not be as comfortable or inquisitive and connect with children and teenagers who might be going through some really terrible things that might not know how to address it or talk about it.
That was a bit of a ramble, but the TL;DR is I've been through some things, I've seen some things, and I'm here to make sure that other children don't have to go through that. If they do, God forbid, parents can help them easier and better navigate it.
Thank you for sharing that. I know it's hard for a lot of people to talk about their past and things that have happened to them, so I really appreciate you sharing that. It's interesting because I think I grew up a little earlier than you and we did not grow up with the instant access to everything that kids now have access to.
It's hard for me to imagine, looking at my childhood and saying, “OK, now how do I parent someone who is growing up in such a fundamentally different timeline with instant access to everything that's good and everything that's bad, and know how to manage that when I have no experience of being on the receiving end of that, so to speak, as a kid?”
It's mind-blowing. Every generation of parents, besides this one, has had a lot of knowledge to base their parenting journey on. As we were joking before we started recording, nobody really knows what they're doing anymore because it's the wild, wild west, hence the www and the internet. There is no manual.
No parents have ever gone through this before. I can't ask my mom or my grandma, “What did you do when I wanted Snapchat?” Or, “How did you navigate getting asked for nudes?” It just didn't exist and now it does. Now kids can get drugs, thanks to Snapchat, and just deliver it to the house. You used to have to leave your house to go make bad choices. Now those can all come to you.You used to have to leave your house to go make bad choices. Now those can all come to you. -Titania Jordan Click To Tweet
It's just so fundamentally different. When we were kids, we made mistakes only, our friends and parents knew about it. If they didn't tell anybody, the rest of the world wouldn't know about our mistakes.
For us, it was a joke of you better behave or it's going to go on your permanent record. As if the school's going to send it off to my next job or something like that. Now, for kids, their youth has a permanent record to some extent.
My high school party memories and my college fuzzy memories are just that: memories. There's no documentation of them, thank God. Our kids are now making mistakes younger without fully formed frontal lobes and there they are embedded on hard drives, on the Cloud, on devices that you think you've wiped clean, on apps that purport to have disappearing content that doesn't disappear, that people can take pictures of and screenshots of.
Kids are being exposed to everything that the world has to offer, good and bad, at a much more frequent rate and at a much younger age than kids have ever experienced in the history of being a kid.
Actually, a side note, if you have not seen the documentary Childhood 2.0, it's free. Just Google it. You can watch it on YouTube or really anywhere besides Netflix yet. Watch that documentary, Childhood 2.0. It's a very chilling, heartfelt look at what it's like to be a kid today and just how different it is than any other time in history.
You hear from the kids. You hear from ninth graders whose friends were all talking about porn and some were even addicted to pornography as early as fifth and sixth grade. Heartbreaking.
Let's talk about the service, the umbrella of parental, or I guess child-monitoring apps or parental assistance apps. What do you call this group of apps?
I'd say it's parental controls. Sometimes we hesitate, as Bark—not everybody in this space—to lean into the parental control aspect because it's really about building a relationship. There's a fine line there between being the parent and not the friend, but also being understanding, being a safe place, and letting go of control slowly as they grow so they can become responsible digital natives when they become adults.
Overall, I'd say the category topic is parental control for so many reasons, not the least of which is that parents are feeling so out of control.
It's almost control for the parents, not necessarily control of the kids.
Yeah, a parent. How do I let my child enjoy the benefits, the connection, the creativity, the curation of the competition, and education of tech without all the downsides? Is that even possible?
For the sake of this podcast, it's usually all the bad stuff and not the good stuff. Let's talk about the sort of things that you're able to monitor for or that parents should be monitoring for in their children and kind of what the apps are doing to try to work against you, whether it's intentional or unintentional. Let's talk about that.
One resource that anybody who's really interested in just the data is our annual report. It's one thing for me as a representative of a company who stands to profit from people using it to talk about the dangers and get you to sign up for a service. It's very important to me that people understand what is reality.
There's an element to which I wish nobody needed this. Would I be out of a job? Yes. Would everybody be safer and happier? Also yes. Let's look at the data. How often is this sort of thing happening? Two kids and unfortunately it is way higher than any of us would ever think. Whether it's cyberbullying, sexual content, online predation, eating disorder content, thoughts of suicide and depression, acts of violence, and drug and alcohol-related content. It goes on, and on, and on.
You think, “Oh, maybe it's like 10%, five percent, 15%.” No, I'm talking in the 90 percentile, 75 percentile. A very, very large portion of children are experiencing the problematic people and problematic content online.
That's just from our data set. We are not monitoring every child's device and account across the globe yet, and so who knows what the real numbers are. Our sample set is, I think, over two or three billion data points now.
Let's see our annual report 2021. In 2021, we analyzed more than 3.4 billion messages across text, email, over 30 apps in social media platforms. Just sexual content, 70% of tweens and 90% of teens encountered nudity or content of a sexual nature. That's just sexual content. That's what I want people to know.
Let's start with the facts then let's talk about what do you need to be thinking about? Well, you need to first think about how you are modeling tech usage for your child. If you're telling them not to be on a screen, but you're always on a screen, that's not going to fly.
Then you need to think about how to talk to your children about all these issues in age-appropriate ways. I didn't talk to my then four-year-old son about online predation and sextortion. He'd have been like, “Say what?”
What I did talk to him about was tricky people and how, “Hey, if you're playing on the iPad while mom's in the shower and somehow somebody messages you and they seem really friendly, that's a red flag. That's potentially a bad guy. That's the tricky person. Your antenna should be up. If they want to know your name, where you live, how old you are, where you go to school, anything, any PII, personally identifiable information, that's a warning sign. Come tell mom or come tell dad. You're not in trouble. It's not your fault. You didn't do anything wrong. I'm not going to take anything away from you, but you need to let me know because that's how I can help keep you safe and we can defeat the tricky people.”
It's those sort of age-appropriate conversations that you need to be having with your children in so many different times. It's not just one-and-done. Talk about your body parts and the actual technical names for them. Talk about how as your children get older, there might be some pressure to even be silly and take photos to maybe make people laugh, but those can get around. Then as your children get older, gosh, it just exponentially grows the amount of issues, but it's frequent conversations.
Also, just know that it can happen anywhere. It's not just the apps that you hear about in the news with all the dangers. Predators find kids in some of the most seemingly innocuous places. Bad, troublesome content can live even in traditionally safe places, so you need to be their first line of defense with conversations and filtering.
We talked about the filtering and you talked about monitoring texts and emails. What kinds of things are you looking for in those messages and emails? What should parents be, even if they don't have the app and they just happen to look at their kids' phones, looking for?
That's like finding a specific grain of sand on the beach, and I'm not exaggerating, but it's not impossible. Depending on your child's age, their education, and can they read yet? If so, hello comment section of anything. Are they able to type or mistype things into Google that can lead them down to unintended rabbit holes? Yeah, so search history.
Are they texting with people? What's going on in their text threads? Are they using apps that have disappearing message functions? Are they using apps that allow for real-time chat, or video chat like FaceTime? What are they taking pictures of? Have they discovered how to hide photos? Did you know as a parent or caregiver that there's a whole hidden folder of photos in a camera roll? Do kids sometimes download apps that look like other apps, but they're really vaults?
Here's a tip: If your child has more than one calculator app on their phone, unless they're like the next math wiz, that's time to have a conversation because those are vault apps that are disguised to other apps and they hide screenshots, photos, and files. I'll pause there.
When I was a kid—I guess nowadays we look at it as bad advice—we're always taught stranger danger. If you're approached by anybody that you don't know—that it's a bad thing. Now we've learned that the most unfortunate thing that happened to children, it's usually not a stranger, it's family members.
You talked about kind of watching out for predators, looking for mental health, looking for violence types of things. Is there a component to that of watching out for family members and extended family and friends that are behaving inappropriately as well?
Oh, absolutely. Unfortunately, in many cases, predators are people that you know personally. Now there's a divergence there when it comes to the internet, but let's talk in real life first. Actually, let's back up because you asked me where would a parent even begin to look for these dangers in tech.
It's interesting. If our parents wanted to figure out what we were getting into, they might look under our bed, in our pockets, in our dirty clothes basket, or in our book bag for notes. It was so much easier for our parents to do some diligence. It's just not that way for us.
They knew when we were on the phone because the phone was tethered to the wall.Keeping Children Safe Online with Titania Jordan Click To Tweet
Right. Predators are not just strangers. Predators, unfortunately, are people that are “upstanding members of society.” They can be preachers, teachers, dentists, doctors, politicians, or police officers. Unfortunately, predators are everywhere, and that's just the ones that you encounter in real life.
There are also the ones that are now online, and those are growing. They have the ability to impact, unfortunately, hundreds of children per predator. You can even pull up the database—the sex offender registry—and just see how many of them there are.
Reach out to your local Internet Crimes Against Children unit—there’s one in every state—to get a sense of what's really happening there. It's really disheartening. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reported a 97.5% increase in online enticement reports just over the course of 2020. That's chilling. It's disgusting.
That's what's being reported, not necessarily what's just happening.
Right, that's what they know about.
A little dark thought, a little dark place there. Part of what I think of is the kind of codes that kids use in messaging. Whether they're talking about drugs, sex, or whatever they're talking about, is that something that's an ever-evolving code?
Oh my gosh, kids’ slang. A funny story: My son and his friends kept saying en-God. I thought they were saying en-garde, the fencing term. It wasn't until recently that I learned it's like they're saying I swear to God. These things come out of nowhere. Whether they're saying like bet or no cap, all of them are calling each other bro.
I'm getting called bro. I'm not Mrs. Jordan. I'm bro. I'm like, what? These kids today, man. Thankfully it's not me, mom, keeping up with that. It's our algorithm that can understand the difference of teen and tween slang and not just words but emojis and memes.
I don't know if anybody has seen the pasta noodle emoji by any chance in your kids' text messages. Unless it's Italian night, you might want to look at that again because that could also mean sending nudes like nudes, noodles, or nude photos. It's a whole new world.
I know we were talking beforehand. Is this sort of slang you can find on a Facebook group, Parenting in a Tech World? Is that where resources of that sort of thing where parents can go off like, “Hey, what does this mean?”
Absolutely. I was struggling personally with trying to figure out how to be the best parent I could. How much screen time is too much? When do you let your kids have a smartphone? How do you talk to your kid about pornography? All of those things, and I didn't know where to go. I created a group called Parenting in a Tech World on Facebook because everybody's got a group. This was the one I wanted.
Fast forward a few years and there are now close to 250,000 parents in there talking about these things. And at Bark, we share insights there, including the latest teen slang and drug emojis, emojis that have sexual connotations. What are some hidden dangers of apps that your kids might use that you need to know about? Certain viral trends, some of which are fun and funny, others which are terrible.
You talk about viral trends. Is that something you guys monitor as well as whether it's the eating Tide pods? I'm really dating myself. That's probably like six months or two years ago, but gosh, what was the latest one?
Yes, the NyQuil chicken. Is that something that you monitor for, that Bark monitors for in the apps?
Yes, concerning trends, all of that. We're utilizing anonymized data to help keep kids safer online and then as a result in real life. You have no idea what your kids are doing all day on their device unless you're sitting right beside them and looking over their shoulder.
You probably still don't know what it means.
Right. That's where our check comes in.
I assume you're not coming from a position of no parent should ever let their kid have an electronic device until they're 18 because it has its own connotations and issues. But there's this sliding scale of responsibility and monitoring and that's got to be kind of worked out on a case-by-case basis.
Absolutely. We're not here to judge your parenting style. If you are in the camp of “We are not even going to have the internet in our home,” OK, good luck with that. Your kid's probably going to have a really lovely childhood in so many ways, but also a rude awakening when they leave the house.
Or they're going to get a burner phone from one of their friends.
Or that. It's really about going on the journey with them and it's not just tech. Whether it's healthy eating, more physical activity, learning something new together as a family, travel, cooking, or anything. Tech is a part of our lives now and so how do you embark on that in a healthy way?
How do you balance what it does to your brain? How do you keep in mind how much time you're spending on it? How do you evaluate the quality of what you're engaging with? Passive consumption is a lot different than active learning or creating. I would much rather my son be figuring out how to use Photoshop than just blindly watching somebody rant on TikTok about something that they have no idea what they're talking about.
I come from a place where I have lots of discussions about privacy, security, and knowing what your apps are sharing and aren't sharing. Is that some of the discussions that you've had with your son? Making sure that Snapchat doesn't need to know your precise location nor does your calculator app.
Yeah. Oh, absolutely and we bring it up in a lot of different ways. For example, in some of the schools he's gone to, they ask for parent permission to take photos of your child, share them on their website, or on their social media. Without me just making that decision, I'll go to him and be like, “Hey, here's how I feel about this. How do you feel about this? Let's talk about your digital footprint and where it lives.”
I'm filling out something online and asking for my Social Security number. That's another point of education like how secure is this site's practice? Are they SOC 2 compliant? Are they using two-factor authentication?
When my son did get a smartphone, we talked about how you don't let your friends know your phone password because that's a whole world of pain. Yes, digital footprint, security, and privacy, it's all critical. They're evolving conversations just in our society and ones you absolutely need to be having with your child.
I have some friends with kids who they'll take pictures of, but they won't post them on any social media platform without talking to the kid first because they don't know the connotations and how other kids are going to perceive that photo.
I've heard of kids just being totally upset because there was a photo of a couple of their friends posted online and they weren't tagged. They were in it and they weren't tagged so that had this under-the-surface meaning that I'm upset with you. If the parents posted a picture, then it meant this. There was all this complexity and nuance that the parents were like, “I'd never even thought of.”
There's that and then there's also just going back to what's in the parent's control. Every back-to-school year and every end-of-the-school year, when parents are posting photos of their children's full names, grades, teachers' names, their hobbies. I get it, you're proud of your child. I'm proud of your child, even if I've never met them.
I just don't think that's a wise thing to do. Some people are really good about limiting who can see that. Maybe you really are only connected to 10 people on Instagram, and it's the grandma, the uncle, and the best friend and that's cool. That's way safer than if you've got 200 friends, 400 friends, or 1000 friends.
The larger your circle gets, the riskier it is. Just rethink the why too. Would it be safer to maybe text that to three people who really know your child, love your child, care about your child, and who your child knows as well? Are you trying to show off, or are you trying to create a connection? There's a fine line.
Yeah, and I guess it's the same discussion you have with your kids of, “Why are you sharing this? Who are you sharing it with? And what are you expecting to have out of it?”
Right. That's a selfie at the beach. Are you proud because you've been working out and you feel good and because you feel good, you look good? Or are you trying to solicit feedback, which may be positive or may be negative? Are you vulnerable? Are you sharing not only the good pictures with the good lighting but also the bad pictures with the bad lighting and the unfavorable? It's a whole thing.
You can either contribute to the uplifting of the people who are following you or you can contribute to the unrealistic narratives, the comparison trap, and the FOMO. We all have a responsibility to think about that whenever we're posting and we're sharing
Even as an adult, I have to think about the fact that whatever somebody is sharing is in some way, shape, or form curated. If I see a competitor's business sharing stuff and how great their business is doing or whatever, that may not be the case. Even as an adult, it's sometimes hard to read what's really going on here. Is this reality or is this just the reality that someone or something wants to share?
Even the BeReal app is not 100% reality. It's closer and I applaud the thinking behind it. But even that, like you said, it's curated. In real-life connection is something that we need to continue to prioritize for our emotional intelligence and mental health.Real-life connection is something that we need to continue to prioritize for our emotional intelligence and mental health. -Titania Jordan Click To Tweet
It's funny that this discussion about a parental control app has been, in some sense, very little about an app and more about these sorts of things as being a conduit to have a conversation with your kids.
Exactly. Bark is a tool just like a car is a tool. Cars can get you places and you can do a lot of great things with them, but you need to wear a seatbelt and make sure you have car insurance. Smartphones are a tool. Social media is a tool. All of these tools have great capabilities, but also have some downsides.
When you're thinking about how you parent in today's day and age, you can be at a major disadvantage if you are not spending time where your children spend time, which is most likely online gaming in certain apps and if you're not using tech to help with the tech that you've given them.
Like you said, tech is not the answer, it's just a tool to help you make that connection and help you raise your children as opposed to the tech raising your children.
Exactly. Gosh, tech in a lot of ways has become a substitute babysitter, but it is no substitute. It is a distraction. It is a short-term fix that can create some long-term problems. Use the right tools to give you insights into your children's world that is becoming more and more isolated inside of a device that you don't know where to navigate, and use that to help build a relationship with your child.
That relationship is everything, especially as they get older and as they spend more time inward, inside themselves, in their phones, in their friend group. It's hard to extract what's important to them.
It's sometimes hard to see signs of distress. Sometimes it's hard to even understand what they're into. What sort of music do they like? My parents knew what kind of music I liked because they could hear it blasting in my room. You may never hear what your child is listening to or what they're binge-watching on a streaming platform. You just have to work extra hard to get those insights.Prevention and education empowerment is really core to what we do. -Titania Jordan Click To Tweet
Do you have any—gosh, I hate to phrase it as—a success story or some stories where you've gotten feedback from a parent where, “Oh my gosh. I didn't realize this, but because of this, it's helped XYZ.”You can't do anything if you don't know what to do and know what's happening. -Titania Jordan Click To Tweet
Absolutely. It goes back to when we were talking at the top of this time together about how in some ways I wish there wasn't a need for this, but there is. And we hear from parents every day who thank us on the lighter end for the ability to connect with their child on a deeper level because of the insights that Bark gave them, to more severe life-saving situations.
In fact, I'm flying to Colorado in a few days to speak with a mom who reached out to me to let me know that Bark saved her child's life. Every day we are sending right now, a little over a hundred severe self-harm suicidal ideation alerts each day. Bark has escalated over a thousand predators to law enforcement, has escalated credible school shooting and bomb threats to law enforcement, and has saved children's lives.
It's chilling, it's moving, and we—based on the data and on the rate at which these incidents are increasing—know that it needs to be around.
It's fortunate that you guys provide the service that you do and that there are parents out there that really want to connect with their kids, help their kids maybe in ways that our parents didn't help with us or maybe ways that our parents did help with us.
To me, it's really neat to see that this one tool is not the end-all-be-all. It's not going to solve every problem, but for some people it's going to give an insight. It's going to give help, it's going to help them to connect with their kids and talk about things that they wouldn't have necessarily known the appropriate time to talk about.
Now that it comes across, I know that my kid has seen X, Y, or Z or has gone to a porn site. I guess we have to have that conversation now as opposed to you've been addicted to porn for five years and we didn't know about it. Now we have to have a very different conversation.
Absolutely. Prevention and education empowerment is really core to what we do. You can't do anything if you don't know what to do and know what's happening. Learn about what's happening with kids today, like for real. Get familiar with where it's happening and how it's happening, and then utilize both the free tools at your disposal. Whether it's Apple's Screen Time, Google Family Link, or whatever settings exist on your home router, smart television, or whatever.
Whatever's connected in your home, figure out what parental controls exist and utilize them. Then for that extra layer of additional insight and safety, use Bark. If you're going to get your child a smartphone, we're releasing the Bark phone, which is going to be the safest kids' phone out there. We're not saying your kid needs a phone. More kids do not need more smartphones earlier. But if you're going to make that decision, it might as well be a safer one.
That's something where you're integrating more deeply at the OS level so that you know what's being installed and can't be overridden?
Yeah. I mean, essentially, if you can plug in a device and it's ready to go, that makes it easiest for parents. That's what we're trying to do is make parenting easier. Keep kids safer, make parenting easier. It's a circle.
I like that. If people want to find more about the app, it's bark.us?
Correct. Not bark.com, bark.us.
Bark.us, and we'll also make sure to put a link to the Parenting in a Tech World Facebook group. If people want to reach out to you, how can they find you?
Just google Titania Jordan. Thankfully I have a unique name and I've been able to get that handle on all the places—Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, you name it. Love to connect.
Awesome. Titania, thank you so much for coming into the Easy Prey Podcast today.
Thank you for having me, Chris.