Technology is both a wonderful and dangerous tool for the world.

On the one hand, it has allowed for youth to learn a lot about culture, history, math and science in the classroom utilizing items like iPads provided by the Polk School District to students in high school. Parents like Heather Pomponi see it on the other hand, where instead these devices are being used by students in a variety of unauthorized ways, from accessing inappropriate material for those under 18, to using their school-issued e-mail addresses as a “dark web” to take part in drug deals.

Pomponi came before the Polk County Board of Education to provide some details and a lesson about the dangers a variety of communications tools students find themselves entangled in when as they learn to circumvent the usual ways that parents keep track of them.

She said events in her own family prompted her to travel down a rabbit hole of how teens communicate in the digital age, and learned that the only way parents can keep up is by using their own apps to keep tabs on what children and teens are doing and saying online.

“You can't control everything that your kids do, but you can assume responsibility for things you give them, like iPhones and iPads, and what they’re doing on them,” she said. “In my experience with this, I learned a lot about the challenges my daughter was facing, and as an adult if I'd encountered the same challenges wouldn't know how to deal with that.”

After undertaking her own research into how teens are communicating online, and what they’re doing with the technology, she found a number of apps and services that allow for parents to track what their children are doing in a digital age without overstepping too much.

One particular app called Bark allows for parents to enter in all the accounts of their teens to track, and then set keywords they think are dangerous or troubling. The app then notifies parents of anything it feels requires the parent’s attention.

She showed off results of her own use of the app, and also provided examples of how other communities have used it to prevent suicides and violence among youth. The app was tested in 25 schools with 40,000 students, and 250 instances of problems were raised through the service that could be dealt with before becoming a major incident in the lives of the teen. Those also resulted in 12 police raids being conducted.

Pomponi does understand there are privacy concerns related with the app, and that individual parents need to make decisions on their own about what they choose to track or not online.

What she does want is for parent sot be aware of with their children face online, and be mindful that there is help out there for those who want to know what is going on.

Her suggestion was for the community to come together – parents, teachers, leaders and more – to talk about these issues. She also wants the Board of Education to investigate whether tracking apps like Bark are a technology the school system should utilize.

Board member Jane Hamlett, who is a counselor in a neighboring school district, said that her own experience with these issues fell in line with the type of behaviors Pomponi used as examples, like school e-mail addresses essentially acting as a “dark web,” or area not part of the internet as a whole because of the limited access. It is a problem her own school system faces.

“If parents had capability of looking at kids device and see what is on there, they'd be quite educated about it,” Hamlett said.

No decision was made on whether to move forward, but board members did thank her for the information.

Those who want to learn more about apps involved in keeping tabs of teen use online as parents can go read this article online for more information and links.