Bark parental controls app review

We tested Bark parental controls on multiple devices with real kids—and it really works.
Best overall parental control app
4 out of 5 stars
  • pro
    Monitors 24+ social media platforms
  • pro
    Offers customisable alert settings
  • pro
    Set location alerts
Monthly price
Annual price
Content monitoring
Risk alerts
Bark Jr.
Icon No  LightNo
Icon No  LightNo
Bark Premium
Icon Yes  LightYes
Icon Yes  LightYes

Info current as of post date. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.

Cathy Habas
Jun 08, 2023
Icon Time To Read9 min read

SafeWise experts have years of firsthand experience testing the products we recommend. Learn how we test and review

The Bark app has long been one of our favourite parental controls thanks to its focus on social media and email monitoring. No other parental control comes close to screening as many apps and communication channels as Bark.

To make sure Bark's as good as it claims to be, we've had multiple kiddos, teens, and parents take the app for a test drive. The hype's legit—Bark does a great job of screening messages and alerting parents.

That said, Bark may not align with your approach to parenting in a digital world since it doesn't provide full minute-by-minute, word-for-word reports. Bark's also not the best for younger kids who need more hands-on management since parents can't control contact lists, set overall time limits, or remotely lock down the device.

Our Bark review explains what to expect from this parental control app and when to consider an alternative. Let's see if Bark is right for you and your family.

pro Unlimited devices
pro Excellent message screening
pro Web and app management
pro Remote internet pause
pro Screen time schedules
pro Location check-ins and alerts
pro Screen time and app usage reports
pro Push, text, and email alerts for parents
con No uninstall protection
con Tricky iOS installation
con No contact management
con No 24/7 location tracking
con No browsing history
con No call history

Bark app cost

Bark offers two pricing tiers: Bark Jr. and Bark Premium. We break down the differences below, but in terms of pricing, Bark Jr. starts at US$5 per month or US$49 annually, while Bark Premium is US$14 per month and US$99 annually.

Note that the Bark in-app pricing is US$0.99 more expensive across the board, so we recommend signing up directly through their website.

You automatically get a 7-day trial period to take Bark for a spin, but you do have to put in your payment information first. You can cancel at any time.

Screenshot: SafeWise

Bark Jr. versus Bark Premium

Bark Jr. is ideal for kids who don't have social media accounts and haven't gotten swept away by the thrill of texting just yet. 

You can set up screen time schedules, filter the websites they're allowed to visit, and ask for location check-ins with Bark Jr. But message monitoring and parental alerts are reserved for Bark Premium subscribers.  

How Bark compares to the competition

Bark stands out from the competition in its entire approach to child device monitoring—it's all about encouraging conversations between parents and their children rather than locking down their internet access. 

So while Bark does scan your child's text messages and browsing history for any topics you want to be notified about, you don't get to read all of their text messages or view a complete list of all the sites they visited. (If that's already a deal-breaker for you, try FamilyTime, or Qustodio.)

In exchange for giving your child some privacy, you get the most comprehensive message monitoring on the market, hands-down. Seriously—of the 30 parental controls I researched to find the best-of-the-best, Bark is the only one that scans emails, tons of social media DMs, and doc sharing apps. When Bark detects a problem (defined by you in the Monitoring tab), you get to see what's been said and make your own judgement. 

In terms of cost, Bark is fairly priced among other parental control apps, especially for larger families with lots of devices to monitor—Bark lets you set up unlimited child profiles and devices, whereas some competitors like mSpy or ESET charge a license fee for every child account. 

Learn more about choosing a parental control.

Compare the best parental control software

Parental control app
Starting price
Free version?
Call/text management
Learn more
Read review
Best overallYes5 to unlimitedYes
Best budgetYesUnlimitedNo
Best freeYesUnlimitedNo
Best for web filteringYes1–20No
Best for monitoring7-day trialUnlimitedYes
(Premium plan)
Best for location monitoringYesUp to 99 usersNo

Prices are accurate as of post date. Read full disclaimer.

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Bark monitoring: texts, emails, photos, and more

Unlike some other online content filters that rely exclusively on keywords, Bark uses advanced machine learning algorithms and artificial intelligence to screen social media, texts, emails, and even images for concerning content. 

Where Bark looks for issues

Bark monitors content in text messages, Android and iOS photo and video albums, six email hosts, and a long list of social media and doc sharing apps. But exactly what Bark screens depends on the app and the operating system.

Email hosts

Bark scans sent emails, received emails, and image attachments on these email hosts:

  • Gmail (also scans text chats)
  • iCloud Email
  • Outlook
  • Yahoo! Mail

Social media apps

Here's where it starts to get a little complicated. Bark can only monitor text content on most social media apps, and in many cases only direct messages are screened. That means your teen can still be exposed to inappropriate content by browsing other people's posts—especially images and videos. 

That's why it's so important to talk to your kid about healthy internet and social media use. Talk about who they follow and why. Learn which apps are their favorite and turn on built-in parental control settings, if applicable.

Here are the social media and messaging apps Bark monitors on both iOS and Android devices:

  • Facebook
  • Flickr
  • GroupMe
  • Kik
  • LiveMe
  • Pinterest
  • Reddit
  • Slack
  • Spotify
  • Tumblr
  • Twitter
  • WhatsApp
  • YouTube

Bark monitors these social media and messaging apps on Android devices only:

  • Discord
  • Houseparty
  • Instagram
  • Lipsi
  • Messenger Kids
  • Skype
  • Snapchat
Pay close attention to Discord

According to Bark's 2022 report, Discord had the highest number of messages flagged for severe suicidal ideation, body image, severe bullying, and severe violence compared to any other app monitored by Bark.

Discord also had the second-most messages flagged for hate speech and depression, plus the fourth-most messages about severe sexual content.

Learn more about keeping kids safe online.

Document sharing apps

In testing, we were particularly impressed with how well Bark handles Google’s suite of products. Many primary and high school students now use Google accounts to connect with friends and share content. Often, they’ll comment on Google Docs instead of chatting on social media.

Bark screens images, videos, comments, and files in these doc sharing apps on Android and iOS devices plus laptops and computers:

  • Dropbox
  • Google Drive
  • OneDrive
  • iOS Notes 

Web browsers

Here's another great reason to choose an Android phone instead of an iPhone for your kid: it's much easier to monitor any web browser on Android, regardless of whether you end up choosing Bark or another parental control app.

If you already have an iPhone for your tween or teen, you'll need to set up web browsing through Apple's own parental controls. Bark walks you through the process during setup.

Otherwise, Bark monitors website visits, searches, and incognito browsing on these web browsers:

  • Chrome
  • Firefox
  • Default browsers
  • Edge (laptops and computers only)

You can also block any search engine that doesn't have a Safe Search mode by adjusting Screen Time Rules in the Bark app. 

Screenshot: SafeWise

Bark doesn't show search or browsing history

Bark only shows search or browsing history that matches your content filters. You'll never get a play-by-play list of what your child's been up to with Bark. 

What Bark looks for

Parents receive alerts via email or text when Bark detects suspicious search activity and messages. Here are the concerns Bark screens for:

  • Anxiety
  • Body image/eating-related
  • Bullying
  • Change in account activity
  • Dangerous organizations
  • Depression
  • Drug/Alcohol-related content
  • Hate speech
  • Inappropriate behavior
  • Medically concerning content
  • Profanity
  • Risky app/site usage
  • Self-harm or suicidal content
  • Sexual content
  • Violence
  • Weapons

You can turn all of these categories on or off. Some also have adjustable sensitivity so you can get all alerts or only those deemed severe. 

How Bark alerts parents and how you can react

You'll get notified through push notifications, text messages, or emails when a potential issue arises. You can also subscribe to a weekly summary report delivered every Sunday.

Bark's founders designed the app to encourage open conversations between parents and kids, but you can also take more of a lockdown approach by restricting app and content access in the Screen Time section. For example, you could turn off all social media access if you're concerned about your child's activity on those apps.

Pausing all internet access is also an option but requires the Bark Home router filter (about $80 USD).

Problematic phone numbers need to be blocked directly from your child's device.

Bark's screen time management

Bark lets you create screen time schedules down to the minute for school, bedtime, or free time.  

Content filtering and app usage can also be fine-tuned in the screen time tab. For example, you can block certain website categories or apps during bedtime or school hours but allow your child to explore them during their free time. 

Here's what can be blocked or allowed in Bark's screen time rules:

  • Advertising
  • App stores and system updates
  • Blogs
  • Collaboration tools
  • Drugs, alcohol, and gambling
  • Ecommerce
  • Entertainment
  • Games
  • General / education
  • Health and medicine
  • Illegal or malicious content
  • Religious content
  • Sexual content
  • Social media
  • Sports and hobbies
  • Streaming services
  • Unidentifiable traffic
  • Unknown sites and apps
  • Weapons

If a troublesome website slips through the cracks, you have the option to block it under the Exceptions tab. On the flip side, if a website seems to be unfairly blocked by Bark's screen time rules, you can add it to the Allowed list. 

Thumbs Down
Bark doesn't let you set time limits

With Bark, you can pause the internet to encourage your child to take a break or edit their schedules so Free Time occurs in shorter blocks of time. But you can't set a time limit of, say, two hours of total screen time each day.

Bark's app management

One of the things you'll see under the Insights tab is a list of all the apps installed on your child's device. Bark points out which ones have been recently installed and lists their rating (Mature, Teen, Kids, Everyone) to help you evaluate each app. 

If Bark determines a new app is particularly risky, you'll get a notification. Otherwise, it's up to you to review app activity. If you find an app you don't want your child to use, add it to the Block list under Screen Time Rules. 

Bark's a little weak in this area. It would be nice if new apps—or even just Mature or Teen apps—could be automatically blocked pending parent approval. (To be fair, that's a rarely-seen feature currently offered by Google Family Link, MMGuardian, and Screen Time only.) But Bark is really good about sending out push, text, and email notifications when something requires your attention, so it shouldn't take too long for you to catch a problematic download. 

Bark's geofencing and location check-ins

Bark’s location tracking features work a little differently from other parental controls or kids' GPS trackers. You won't see your child's location on a map or track the route they took to school. Instead, you set up specific addresses to get alerts once your child arrives or leaves the area (up to a 656-foot radius).

The other option is to request a location check-in. It's up to your child to decide whether to share their whereabouts with you. A single tap is all it takes on their part to share location data.

If you're disappointed in Bark's approach to location tracking, consider using the Find My app for iPhones or the Find My Device feature for Android to get real-time and map-based location data.

Our Bark testing experience

In our testing, Bark was surprisingly adept at catching slang, acronyms for swearing, and even questionable emoji use.

At one point, an emoji-heavy text from an 8-year-old triggered a warning for alcohol-related content because it included a beer mug. Bark also flagged an email between a father and son about a haircut appointment as a self-harm risk.

While it’s nice to know that Bark won’t miss anything, all those alerts can get pesky. Some concerns don't have adjustable sensitivity settings, so you're either all-in for those alerts or kept in the dark. 

Our thoughts on Bark's setup process

Screenshot: SafeWise

One of the challenges of parental control apps is that they can be tricky to install, especially if you’re not particularly tech-savvy. We think the Bark parental control app does an exceptional job of walking parents through each step of the installation process.

You get to-do list to make sure you don't miss anything during the setup process, and Bark even gives tips for talking to your child about parental controls. 

The more apps and social media accounts your child has, the longer it takes to set up Bark. Buckle in for about 20 minutes (per kid) of entering passwords. 

Installation gets especially wonky with iOS devices. This complexity isn’t Bark’s fault, as Apple doesn’t always play nice with other platforms and apps. You’ll need to connect your iPhone or other iOS devices directly to your laptop or computer and use Bark’s desktop app to finish the installation process. During testing, the download slowed to a crawl and took 30–45 minutes to complete.

A word about privacy and parental controls

You could install a parental control app on your child’s device without letting them know, but Bark discourages this. During the installation process, Bark reminds you to have a frank conversation with your kids about why you’re using Bark and what they can expect.

Experts agree that one of the best ways you can ensure your kids’ safety on the internet is to encourage communication. By limiting strict control features and expanding monitoring instead, Bark puts those critical conversations about staying safe online in a parent’s hands.

Bark’s parental alerts do include content and comments from people your child interacts with, but the notifications are only snippets of conversations. These alerts strike a balance between respecting the privacy of others and safeguarding your child.

Final word

Open and honest communication with everyone in your family about internet safety for kids is critical. Blocking access and restricting social media may be necessary for young children, but it’s not a long-term solution for teaching your child how to stay safe online.

Bark is ideal for monitoring tweens and teens online because it doesn’t infringe too much on their privacy. Easy installation, good customer service ratings, and unlimited access for your entire family and all their devices make Bark’s slightly higher price tag well worth it.

Bark FAQ

No. Bark doesn't record or monitor phone calls or even log call history. However, Bark screens voice memos on iPhones for concerning content based on your monitoring settings. 

At the bottom of every alert, Bark offers common-sense recommendations about how to discuss the problem with your child as well as discount codes for online counselling services for teens.

Installing any parental control app, including Bark, on your computer or your child’s device may slow it down slightly. When we tested our internet speed before and after installation, the difference was minimal.

Neither the children nor the parents in our test noticed a slowdown during normal online activities like web browsing or email, but it may become more pronounced for high-bandwidth activities like gaming.

How we reviewed Bark

Screenshot: SafeWise

For our Bark review, we connected multiple devices used by both young children and teenagers to a Bark account. We experimented with Bark parental control sensitivity filters and monitored alerts over a week’s worth of online activity for both age groups across platforms like YouTube, Facebook, Google Docs, text messages, and email.

For a thorough Bark review, we also considered information from cybersecurity experts on keeping kids safe as well as reviews from other Bark users. We also compared Bark to 29 other parental control apps to see what was unique or competitive about this brand. 

See our full methodology to learn more.

Cathy Habas
Written by
Cathy Habas

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