Parents can now receive email alerts if their children are cyberbullied, through an app created by a group of Thunder Bay, Ont., software developers.
The BullyGuard app monitors text messages for words and phrases that might raise red flags and emails parents if anything turns up, co-creator Adrien Ladouceur told CBC.
"So say it's your son or daughter [and] they're texting someone. The word 'suicide' came up. The parent would get an email saying, 'Hey, this word was flagged ... This is the time that it came up. This is the person who it was sent to or it was sent from. Maybe you should know about that.'"
The app does not save or forward the text message itself.
"The parent would need to talk to the child or go and read the text on the original device to find out the nature of the conversation," Ladouceur said.
"We don't look to determine if it's a big issue or not. We're just trying to make sure there's that early warning system, [and] that the parent is always kept in the loop of what's going on.
"In the end, you're not going to find a computer program that will stop cyberbulling. The only thing that can stop cyberbullying is communication," Ladouceur said.
He noted "the problem is much bigger than what happens on the device.
"The problem is the people who need to know aren't in the know. Bullying happens when people, who try to do something about it, don't know about it."
In addition to monitoring text messages, the app notifies parents if Bully Guard has been disabled.
App inspired by personal experience
BullyGuard's approach is different from that of other anti-bullying apps in that its focus is on letting parents know what's going on with their children, Ladouceur said.
It was inspired by a colleague of one of the developers who discovered that her daughter had been cyberbullied for two or three months.
"She was so shocked because she had such a good relationship with her daughter. She figured, 'Well my daughter can tell me anything,'" Ladouceur said. "And it really didn't turn out to be the case where the daughter was trying to hide something. It was more [like] ... she was kind of embarrassed."
One parent whose child has been bullied said the app could help him help his daughter.
"When you see her moping around, you know what's actually going on and [you can] try to coax them to talk about it," said Ron Juillette. "That's not something the kid's just going to come up to you and talk about."
The app is available on the Google Play store, costs $4.99/month and can be used on up to six devices. A yearly subscription is $49.99. An iPhone version of the app is in development.