5 Things Parents Should Know About TikTok

TikTok is a major phenomenon! It was the most downloaded app of 2019 and has one billion active users. It is most popular with users under 16 years old, which means that parents need to know what it is, how children are using it, and whether or not it’s safe.

What is TikTok?

TikTok, originally called musical.ly, is a social media app for users to create and share 15-second videos of themselves dancing, lip-syncing, doing comedy skits, or participating in challenges that pop up on the platform. Users can add filters, stickers, and all kinds of fun editing options to make a unique video.

Duets and challenges are important aspects of the app. A duet is where a user can take another person’s video and add to it – teens particularly like this ability to collaborate. A challenge, which often involves dancing or singing to a popular song, is when many users all make videos attempting to do the same thing but with their own unique spin, such as dancing up a set of stairs in funny or elaborate ways.

Users can also browse and interact with other users’ content, which covers a wide range of topics, songs, and styles. These videos can be grouped by hashtags. Many challenges or memes go viral and become a trend. There are many teens on the app who are trying to create viral videos in an effort to become famous.

Why do teens love TikTok?

Teens love many things about TikTok, but it’s mostly because the app is so entertaining. The short videos will make you laugh, sing, and mimic the creativity of others. As a result, its content spreads quickly, which also raises the hopes of teens that they can use the app to become famous. But even for those teens who have no interest in going viral, the app offers a creative way for teens to express themselves. They love the special effect filters. Teens are also drawn to the ability to share and collaborate with their friends.

What should parents know about the app?

TikTok requires that users be at least 13 years old to use the app and that anyone under the age of 18 must have approval of a parent or guardian, BUT anyone can bypass this requirement by entering a false birthdate. There’s also a section of the app that’s meant for kids under 13 that restricts access to mature content and comments. That said, here are a few things parents should know if their tween or teen wants to use TikTok:

1. Privacy must be chosen.

Concern. When you sign up for TikTok, your account is public by default, meaning anyone can see your videos, send you direct messages, and use your location information. So, if your child’s account is public, they can receive messages from complete strangers. Parents should also know that when someone downloads the app, they can see ALL content without creating an account. You just can’t post, like or share anything until you’ve made an account.

What parents should do. Parents should make sure that their child’s account is private, though it’s important to note that even with a private account, your child’s profile photo, username, and bio are still visible to all users on the platform. Despite that, a private account will allow only people your teen knows to interact with their videos or message them on the app. If you don’t want to make your child’s account private, you can still change the individual settings on their account for comments, duets, reactions, and messages to “Friends” instead of “Everyone.”

2. Inappropriate content is abundant.

Concern. TikTok’s emphasis is on popular music, so many videos include profanity and sexual lyrics. It’s also very easy to find people wearing revealing clothing and dancing suggestively, although TikTok won’t let you search for objectionable content such as “sex” or “porn.” The app also encourages some themes that are much more mature. For example, one popular “challenge” on the app was the ‘#takeitoff challenge’ which encouraged users to dance to a specific song while discarding layers of clothes.

What parents should do. To limit inappropriate content, parents should use TikTok’s ‘digital wellbeing’ setting, which is passcode protected. Once turned on, you can turn on “restricted mode” which blocks videos that have been flagged as mature or inappropriate. This is helpful, but not foolproof. As with any filter, some mature content will still slip through the cracks. The ‘digital wellbeing’ setting also allows you to set time limits to try to moderate the amount of time your teen uses the app.

Note. In early 2020, TikTok released “Family Safety Mode” in certain European countries. This feature is supposed to soon be available to other countries, as well. Family Safety Mode links a parent’s TikTok account to their child’s account. With the new feature, parents can use their own account to make adjustments to their child’s account settings. Parents can determine time limits for their child each day (with intervals including 40 minutes, 60 minutes and 90 minutes), limit or turn off direct messages, and restrict inappropriate content.

3. TikTok encourages risk.

Concern. Many teens who use the app want to create content that goes viral, gets them a larger following on the app, or receives a lot of ‘likes.’ The problem is that many teens are willing to do a lot to get that attention. They are much more tempted to take risks and/or act differently to try to attract a following. They may not use their best judgment in what they do or share, all in effort to become famous.

What parents should do. Regardless of whether your child is on TikTok or other social media platforms, you should do two important things: 1) occasionally monitor the posts they are making, and 2) talk to them about the types of content that is not appropriate to post and the consequences of sharing that type of material.

4. Cyberbullying is a problem.

Concern. There are two ways that bullying can take place on TikTok. First, everyone can post comments on others’ videos, and some of those comments can be mean, creepy, or downright cruel. Second, when someone duets with or reacts to another person’s video, the videos appear side by side. Some people will take a user’s video and make fun of it in a duet or reaction. Both of these can be devastating for a young person.

What parents should do. Talk to your teens about cyberbullying, from both the perspective of an abuser and a victim. First, tweens and teens should know that something the post online that they think is really funny can actually be very hurtful to someone else, and they should think about how they would feel is someone posted something similar about them. Second, talk to your child about how they will respond if they are the subject of cyberbullying. You want them to agree to tell you if something like that happens.

5. TikTok collects and shares user data.

Concern. All social media apps collect data on their users, and most of them share that data. TikTok is no exception. Their own privacy statement indicates they share user data with business partners, advertisers, analytics, etc. What might be more concerning is that TikTok is owned by China, and in November of 2019, the United States government opened a national security review of the company.

What parents should do. While we don’t know if there’s been any wrongdoing on the part of the app, parents should at least be aware their children’s data is being collected and shared. Talk to your tween or teen about how their data can be used by corporations, sold by hackers, or stolen by criminals so that they are aware. Encourage your child to avoid sharing personal information as much as possible.

Final Thoughts…

As with all social media, TikTok can be a lot of fun, but it also presents safety concerns. If you monitor your child’s account, create privacy settings, and talk to your teen often about online safety, their experience will likely be a positive one.

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