The Bark Phone Is a Parent-Friendly Phone for Kids (That Doesn't Look like a Phone for Kids)

If your tween or teen is going to have a phone, make it this one

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bark-phone-review: A photograph of the Bark Phone, front and back, imposed on a pink background scattered with sparkles.
Paula Boudes for PureWow
  • Value: 19/20
  • Quality: 20/20
  • Ease of Use: 17/20
  • Safe for Kids: 20/20
  • Cool Factor: 17/20

TOTAL: 93/100

If your kid is like mine and doesn’t already have a smartphone, you know what it’s like to be nagged 24/7 for you to get them a device. My 6th grader claimed they were the “only one” at middle school without a mode of digital communication—not true, the teachers said, but still the point remained: many classmates already had a phone last year in 5th grade. Still, we knew that handing our already distracted, tech-loving child a screen to be obsessed with at all times was a bad idea, and something we were just not ready for. In fact, I went so far as to sign the Wait Until 8th pledge to delay getting a smartphone until at least 8th grade.

And yet…there have been many occasions where it would have been not only nice but safer to be able to get in touch. After all, our kid enjoys the freedom to ride a bike around our neighborhood and is trusted to go to activities and friends’ houses without us present. When a fellow mom told me that a friend of hers got the Bark Phone for her child for the purpose of getting in touch, I was intrigued. And after learning more about Bark on their website, my husband and I agreed we were ready to try it out as a family.

What is the Bark Phone?

The Bark Phone is a smartphone with built-in parental controls. Plans, which are separate from your existing phone plans, start at $29/month and include unlimited talk and text. Bark’s monitoring tool scans your child’s texts, emails, social media and apps for digital dangers and sends you alerts accordingly. It’s not a kiddie phone, but rather, a state-of-the-art Samsung that allows you to add and remove parental controls as you see fit. And if your kid is a hacker like mine, you can rest easy knowing there is no way for kids to delete text messages without permission, download workaround VPNs or change the parental controls you set. Bark is so confident you will like their product that they allow you to try it risk-free with a 30-day money back guarantee.

How Does the Bark Phone Work?

When we “unboxed” the Bark Phone, we saw a sleek black Samsung that came with a USB-C charging cord and a protective black case. The next step was to download the Bark app onto my iPhone and to activate the kid phone. Admittedly, we had a little trouble with this, so I emailed customer support and they were so responsive and helpful, we were up and running in no time. I loved that they were really on top of it and provided almost immediate solutions when we needed assistance.

We decided that for now, we would only allow talk and text, as opposed to access to apps and social media. The parent app gives you the ability to approve or block all of the child’s contact requests so you can know exactly who they are communicating with. It also allowed me to go through and set screen limit times and best of all, I was able to see my kid’s location. This, and being able to reach my child, was one of the best benefits.

How Is the Bark Phone Different from Other Kids’ Phones?

A Bark Phone is different from other kid phones like the Gabb because it does have the option of internet (but you get to decide on access). Additionally, the Gabb does not allow you to block callers, which felt pretty important to me. And it goes without saying, but the Bark Phone is different from just handing your kid an iPhone because it gives you the ability to control it. Case in point: the first day my kid had the Bark Phone, the app alerted me to text messages being sent and received that were flagged for bullying, profanity and sexual content. When I reviewed said messages, I saw that it was mostly harmless kidding around that middle schoolers do, but still, not appropriate. Therefore, even though my kid was at school, I was immediately able to put the phone on “pause,” meaning they could only use it to reach emergency contacts (me and my husband). Later, we had a discussion about appropriate use, took the phone away for two days and hopefully taught an important lesson in responsible communication.

The Pros

I strongly believe that just handing over a smartphone to a tween or young teen is like giving them the keys to the kingdom. Bark allows us parents a level of control that I have not seen on any other device. (Even though my kid is begging me to add Snapchat to the phone, the answer, at least for now, is no.) In today’s world of bullying and predators, I love being able to monitor everything without worrying about my child deleting things (or being pressured to do so) and I love being able to track his whereabouts.

The Cons

According to my kid, the downside is that it’s not an iPhone, but to be frank, I don’t care. I was prepared to get a flip phone, and this phone is way more functional and cooler. And as a parent, the only con is seeing my 12-year-old walk around with a phone period. (To combat this con, we had him sign a phone contract which includes not being on the phone at the dinner table, religious school or right before bed.) At the end of the day, this phone is gold, but you still have to be the parent.

Bottom Line

If you are wanting to keep tabs on your child and have the ability to be in touch, and you’re concerned about social media, endless text messages that you would otherwise not be privy to and basically everything on the world wide web coming at your youngster 24/7, I would highly recommend the Bark.

Freelance PureWow Editor

Ronnie Koenig is a writer with 20+ years’ experience who got her start at Playgirl and went on to write for Cosmo, Redbook, The New York Times, The Atlantic and many others. She’s...