Have you heard of TikTok? Chances are your grade-schooler has and is probably already using it on their smartphone. TikTok is reportedly the most downloaded app in 2019 and currently has more than 1 billion subscribers all over the world. It is popular with teens and Generation Z.
If you have kids around this age, here are some important things you should know about the popular app:
What you should know about TikTok
Who can use it? Children aged 13+
What it is and why do kids like it?
TikTok is a platform that hosts short-form mobile videos (15-seconders). However, a recent update now allows posters to extend the videos to three minutes.
It merged two websites – Musical.ly, a lipsynching site and the Chinese TikTok (by ByteDance, a company based in Beijing), the mixture of which resulted in the creation of unique, quirky and sometimes even bizarre video content. Aside from lipsynch videos there are themed video challenges, memes, humor, dancing, jokes – and everything in between. Its uniqueness and the creative freedom it allows its users made it into an exciting and addictive platform. One major difference it has with other video apps is its catalogue of popular music, making it free to use. Because of TikTok’s popularity, it has spawned its own celebrities and encouraged mainstream celebrities (like Will Smith, Mariah Carey and Reese Witherspoon, among others) to post content there as well.
You can download the TikTok app and watch content without creating an account. But if you want to create and upload videos, you would have to sign up. Signing up will allow you to comment or like content, follow other users, interact with other users’ content (for example sing a duet with them), invite or find contacts, share your video on other social media platforms, and a host of other options. Content is organized by hashtags and are easily searchable.
Everything To Know About TikTok, The App That’s Everywhere On The Internet | Think | NBC News
What parents should watch out for
TikTok has high entertainment value because content are short and trendy – perfect for audiences with a short attention span. Meanwhile, content creation is literally at the palm of their hands. Shooting and editing are fast and easy on smartphones. Aside from issues with time management, parents should supervise their kids’ TikTok use because of the following:
- Profanity and mature content. Popular songs can be synched with the videos easily. However, the songs are not screened for explicit or sexual language. This can be problematic for young users. Even the “Restricted Mode” which is supposed to screen out adult content is not foolproof. Kids will still be able to view sexual content, explicit language, inappropriate behavior such as bullying, pranks, self-harm themes, intoxication, and the like.
- Online predators. TikTok is also a social media platform which means that users can interact with one another and even collaborate on videos. Online predators may take advantage of this feature to “groom” and manipulate vulnerable youth. There have been reports of young girls having been propositioned or sent sexually explicit materials. Catfishing is also possible since users can hide under fake profiles.
- Peer pressure and search for fame. Just like any other social media app, the number of likes, comments and followers indicate popularity. In their desire to become “TikTok famous” some kids may create risky videos or succumb to peer pressure to do dangerous challenges.
- In-app purchases. Users can make in-app purchases by buying “coin bundles” costing from $5 to $100. These can be used to buy gifts for other users on their live streams. You can prevent your child from making such purchases by disabling this function within the app or on your device.
- Sharing personal information. Personal profiles, even on a private account, can still be made visible to all users. Parents should check the personal information shared by their kids when creating an account.
Preventive measures: Because of such risks, TikTok partnered with the Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI) to create awareness of its safety features. The app now features safety tips, parental guide and educational videos through the collaboration.
What can you do to minimize risk for your kids?
Safe online use advocates such as Common Sense Media recommends the minimum age of 16 years old instead of 13 for TikTok. If your younger kids insist on joining, you can try TikTok’s separate section for users under 13. In this section, kids can only view curated videos. They can’t comment, search or post videos. Their data is also not collected.
Read the app’s Parental Guide section to know the privacy and restriction options for your child’s account. Follow the “how-tos” to learn how to change settings, unfollow or block users, enable the restricted mode, report a comment and set screen time limits.
The best way to keep them safe is to talk to your kids about internet safety. Help them understand online risks. Also discuss concepts of self-worth and help them develop a healthy self-esteem. Encourage other activities, especially sports and outdoor pursuits that will help them develop into well-rounded individuals.
Article updated July 21, 2021
Sources: Parent’s ultimate guide to TikTok, Frannie Ucciferri, Common Sense Media; What is Tiktok? A full guide for parents, Marisa Lascala, Good Housekeeping; and How to use TikTok – Complete 2019 Beginners Guide, Howfinity. Accessed December 12, 2019.
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