Kyle Troutman: Part IV — The new normal

Pinpointing a problem is easy, but finding a solution — not as much.

After the Cassville school district held a screening of the documentary “Childhood 2.0” recently, attendees were asked to complete a survey to help organizer understand what people liked and disliked about the unique event.

Respondents we appreciative of the content and the message of the documentary — which aims to educate about the dangers of smart devices, the internet and social media — but there was one question an overwhelming number of people left the FEMA Event Center asking.

What can we do? At the event, the district supplied a “Digital Safety Tools” flyer that gave a few recommendations, and some other options were presented by school counselors. However, the consensus from the feedback seemed to be that people wanted more.

One of the counselors’ suggestion is abiding by “Wait Until 8th” pledge, asking parents pledge to wait until their children are in eighth grade before giving them access to a smart device. I am all for that idea, but I’ll be the first to admit my hypocrisy, as we gave my third-grade child a hand-me-down device for Christmas.

We decided to give that gift for multiple reasons, the most prominent being that it would allow her to contact her mother and I wherever she is, whether it be grandma’s house or after school if needed (like when buses were held for weather a couple weeks ago).

While I agree and promote the “Wait Until 8th” pledge, that ship has sailed for child No. 1. Taking back that gift would mean a barrel full of sour grapes. Maybe we can do better with kid No. 2 in years down the road.

I will tell you from experience, my third-grader has only had a phone for three full months now, and I am already seeing multiple issues with how she interacts with the device, and with her friends through the device. It’s something we as parents will have to continue to monitor and find ways to teach healthy habits as she grows.

The flyer at the “Childhood 2.0” screening had three suggestions, the first of which I am using personally. Bark is an app that monitors a smart device’s texts, emails, social media, photos, videos and more, alerting parents to any content that may be troubling.

It set us back $100 a year for the full subscription service, but the depth of its options and control it allows us to have is well worth it. Using Bark, we can monitor the phone’s location, set screen time and filtering controls, block apps and more.

It also flags suspicious content and delivers it to us. For example, every time my daughter has texted someone, “I’m sick,” we get notified for “medically concerning” content. Or, if she texts someone is “being mean” to her or someone else, we get notified for “bullying.”

Photos and videos can be flagged as well. My daughter was taking a video one day on a trip to her piano lesson, and I was listening to music loudly on the drive. That video was flagged for “profanity” due to the song lyrics. Another video a while back she took in our house happened to catch a wine glass in the background. That one was flagged for “alcohol content” and is probably the best example of how in-depth Bark’s monitoring truly is.

Two other suggestions on the school district’s flyer were Google Family Link and Apple Screen Time, free services that allow parents to set ground rules, screen time limits and app controls on their children’s phones.

Since we are using Bark, I have not explored those options much, though from what I have seen, they provide many ways to be proactive in preventing possible exposure to dangers and helping children learn to manage the amount of time they spend on a phone.

According to the results of a voluntary poll of Cassville students in grades 6-12, 20% of students are on a device more than 6 hours a day, 31.9% are at 4-6 hours, 34.6% are at 2-4 hours and only 13.5% are under 2 hours.

Tools like Bark, Google Family Link and Apple Screen Time are great options for parents to stem overuse and monitor content going through a device, but is an app for that the only answer? No.

Another tool in our belts as parents is exactly that — parenting.

No app is going to completely safeguard our children. We have to take active roles in educating them about the good and the bad that comes with owning a smart device, and we have to lead by example.

Superintendent Merlyn Johnson wrote a great column this week offering some tips for getting children off their devices.

It may seem obvious, but some of the best things we can do are to get children involved in social activities absent of a phone. Church, sports, volunteerism, fine arts and outdoor activities are all great ways to keep children’s minds growing and developing social skills they will need in their years to come.

This is my fourth column on the topic of the dangers of devices and what we can do about it. It’s extremely important to me and it should be to every parent, because the last two decades have shown we will not be rearing a better generation if we do not act and help it adapt to this new normal.

Kyle Troutman has served as the editor of the Cassville Democrat since 2014 and became Publisher in 2023. He was named William E. James/Missouri Outstanding Young Journalist for daily newspapers in 2017, and he won a Golden Dozen Award from ISWINE in 2022. He may be reached at 417-847-2610 or ktroutman@cassville-

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