Has a child in your life asked for a smartphone for Christmas?

Experts say it's a good idea to set some strict ground rules before you hand over that iPhone to a young user. And, beyond rules, there are tech tools available to help kids stay out of trouble.

For example, Bark Technologies, an Atalanta-based company, offers a smartphone app and subscription service ($9 a month for families, and free to schools) that is helping protect 4 million children in the United States, according to the company.

The Bark app uses algorithms to sense peril in a child's interactions on social media, and in texts and e-mails. When a danger is suspected, parents receive real-time text and e-mail alerts. Parents do not, however, have unfettered access to all their children's communications, just the ones that might indicate a problem, says Titania Jordan, the company's chief parenting officer.

The Bark app has helped flag 1.2 million cases of cyberbullying, 142,000 cases of shelf harm or suicidal thoughts and 99 child interactions with sexual predators, according to the company. More than just triggering off key words, the algorithm's can sense from context if trouble lies ahead.

"What sets us apart from other other apps is contextual analysis," Jordan said in an interview.

The app also adapts to changes in teen text slang, Jordan says, noting that the company recently realized that teen references to "school buses" was about perscription drug pills not transportation.


Before giving a phone to child, here are 10 tips and rules to discuss, according to the child-security company:

1. Caution children on sending or posting images/videos online

2. Know who your child is talking to online

3. Make sure your kids choose non-identifying screen names.

4. Regulate screen time each day

5. Make room for non-digital family time

6. Avoid having phones in bedrooms (especially after a certain time)

7. Don't allow unsupervised YouTube time

8. Join a parent tech education and community group such as

9. Require approval for every app download

10. Talk openly and honestly about cyberbullying

— Source: Bark Technologies