The parental guide to the popular short-form video app.
TikTok is currently the hottest social app for kids and young teens, but is it safe? Weighing up whether the app is appropriate for your child is a tough call, especially if you have no first-hand user experience of TikTok. That’s why we’ve created this checklist to help you learn more about parental controls, data privacy, setting boundaries and harmful trends to assist you in making an informed decision.
TIKTOK FAST FACTS
Let’s start with the basics: what is TikTok? The app started its life as Musical.ly – a lip-synching site. It was purchased by a China-based company and merged into the Chinese app TikTok. The app quickly became one of the world’s most popular social apps and, as of October 2020, had surpassed over 2 billion mobile downloads and had an estimated 1 billion monthly active users.*
The format is simple: a constantly updating carousel of short-form videos covering every topic and trend imaginable. The platform is populated by viral stars, musicians, celebrities and ‘regular people’ creating entertaining videos and has become the ‘go-to’ source for what’s hot and what’s not.
TikTok’s terms of service state that you can only use the platform is you are 13 years or older. Previously, new users signing up to the app would automatically have their account set up as public, but TikTok have introduced new measures to protect younger users which means that anyone under the age of 18 will have their account set to private by default.
As with any social app, it’s always worth checking the age requirements before allowing your child to download it. It’s also a good springboard for a conversation about why you can’t allow a child who is younger than 13 to use the app. You can talk to them about why some content isn’t suitable for younger audiences and suggest an alternative, more age-appropriate social media app such as PopJam, which is moderated and COPPA and GDPR compliant.
This helpful checklist will help you support your child when they’re setting up and using TikTok. By being aware of the following, you can help steer your child towards a more positive online experience:
1. SETTINGS & PRIVACY
Before making your decision, it’s important to sit down with your child and talk about how they can stay safe online. Setting up the account together is the best way to ensure you and your child are comfortable with navigating the app and, most importantly, have the correct privacy settings activated. Talk to your child about the importance of privacy online and why it can be dangerous to share their private details with others.
TikTok have announced the following settings to further protect and keep young users safe from cyberbullying, fake news, inappropriate content and to encourage healthy use of the app:
- Tackling fake news and misinformation: A new fact-check feature that will confirm and remove content if false (as of Feb 2021). Read more here.
- Prevention of bullying feature: Creators are now able to control what comments can be posted on their content before it goes live. In addition, users who comment will get a prompt advising them to reconsider their comment if it’s inappropriate (as of March 2021). Read more here.
- Tightening the options for commenting on videos created by those ages 13-15: Younger users can now choose between “friends” or “no one,” and the “everyone” comment setting is being removed.
- Changing Duet and Stitch settings: The broader TikTok community won’t be able to use those features with content created by people under 16, though anyone can Duet and Stitch with eligible content from users over 16. For users aged 16-17, the default setting for these features will now be set to Friends.
- Removing the ability to download videos created by those under 16: For users ages 16-17, this function will now be set to “off” by default, with the option to allow downloads of videos if a user chooses.
- Setting: “suggest your account to others” to “off” by default for accounts ages 13-15.
- Bedtime block on app alerts – TikTok has announced a feature that prevents teenagers from receiving notifications past their bedtime. They will no longer send notifications after 9 pm to users 13-15 years old. But for 16 and 17-year-olds, notifications will not be sent after 10 pm.
These are all positive steps to make TikTok a safer online space and it’s worth talking to your child about why these restrictions have been implemented. Talk to your child about staying safe online and the dangers of online bullies, scammers, predators and fake news and misinformation. You can find a handy guide to staying safe online for kids here.
2. SETTING BOUNDARIES
It can also help to talk to your child about how they plan to use the app and the importance of setting boundaries. For example, you may want to restrict their use of the app to an hour in the evening after homework or prefer they use the app at the weekend. Chat to your child and come to an agreement you both feel comfortable with.
You may feel more comfortable allowing your child to use the app under TikTok’s Family Pairing setting. This allows you as the parent to access and control the settings on your child’s TikTok account remotely. You can set screen time limits, disable direct messages and turn on the Restricted mode. To set this up, you would need to create your own TikTok account. Whether you intend to use the Family Pairing setting or not, it’s a good idea to download and get to grips with the app yourself to get a clearer picture of the type of content your child will view and how the settings can be adapted to create a safer environment for your child.
3. INNAPROPRIATE CONTENT
Despite you and your child’s best intentions and the implementation of many security settings, there is always a chance your child may accidentally view inappropriate or upsetting content. This, unfortunately, is a drawback to many social media apps and sites, and even if you do all you possibly can to avoid this happening, it can still occur. Speak to your child about what to do if they see something upsetting online and encourage them to keep an open dialogue with you. Let them know that they can come to you at any time and that they won’t be in trouble. You can read more about supporting your child when they’ve seen something upsetting online here.
4. HARMFUL TRENDS
As a parent, it’s important to be aware of potentially harmful trends that circulate on TikTok. There are challenges and trends that encourage negative or dangerous behaviours and while TikTok trends are ever-changing, the following red-flag trends have raised the most concern and can seriously harm a child’s mental and/or physical health and wellbeing, with some even resulting in death:
- The silhouette challenge: users create images or videos that are edited using a filter so they appear as a silhouette. Many are sexualizing themselves with this challenge. Filters can also be removed by others, so users must be careful about what they are wearing behind the camera.
- The blackout challenge: this ‘challenge’ has been around before TikTok existed and involves users interrupting their oxygen until they get close to losing consciousness. This challenge has led to the recent deaths of multiple children aged 9-12.
- Back-cracking challenge: a user cracks the back of their friend without any training. Medical professionals warn that this can twist and pull on the spine, resulting in long-term damage.
- Nutmeg challenge: consuming large amounts of nutmeg has been shown to affect the nervous system, potentially causing hallucinations. However, research shows it can also cause dizziness, nausea, drowsiness, dry mouth, confusion, and seizures.
- Full face wax trend: presented as a skincare routine, users cover their entire face with wax. There is risk of suffocation if the wax enters the airways. Because wax is designed to harden, once in the airways, it can only be removed surgically.
- The magnet challenge: using small magnetic balls, users pretend to have piercings on their ears, noses, and lips. More extreme versions see users swallowing these magnetic balls so that they can stick magnets on their skin and be ‘magnetic’ themselves. This has resulted in serious hospitalisation and surgery to remove these harmful magnets.
It’s important to discuss these harmful trends with your child before allowing them access to the app to make them aware of the dangers they could face if they were to attempt these trends themselves. Now is a good time to chat about the other pitfalls of social media, including trolls and how to protect their own body image and mental health by unfollowing individuals or accounts that make them feel less than happy with their own body. Keeping an open and honest dialogue with your child throughout their use of social media can help you keep in touch with their mental wellbeing and in-the-know with any worries they may have. Talking to teens can be difficult but making yourself available and reassuring them that you’re always ready to listen can help to keep the lines of communication open. Learn more about how to really hear your teen here.
For more advice on social media and your teen:
Should I Let My Child Join Snapchat?
*Source – Business of Apps (TikTok Report)