What Parents Should Know About TikTok–and How to Support Your Child’s Safety if They Use it

What is TikTok?

TikTok is a video app. Users create their own videos–the most popular ones are of them lip-synching to popular songs. Like most social media networks, users can search for other videos and interact with them. Videos can be categorized by hashtags–ongoing challenges (like the Cha Cha Slide challenge or the

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Lip Sync challenge) are often popular and encourage users to create videos following specific themes. 

One of TikTok’s popular features is a duet, which permits two TikTok users who aren’t in the same place to do a duet. One of them will post a video, and then a mutual follower can select “start duet now!” and can lip-synch with the first person, using either a split screen or swapping who’s in focus.

Users can livestream, engaging with their audience in real time. Stickers, augmented reality animations, and filters can be added.

Is it safe?

All social media sites have risks when uploading personal data. TikTok lists different rules based on the age of its user: if a user is under 13, they can’t post personal videos or comment, and the videos they are allowed to view are screened to ensure appropriateness. If a user is between 13-15, their account is private by default, other people can’t duet with them, and only friends will be commenting on their videos. Once a user is over 16, they can use TikTok’s direct messaging, livestream, and buy/send/receive virtual gifts. Keeping your child’s account private is one way to ensure you know who is seeing their videos.

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The app features a lot of songs, many songs you’d hear on the radio or Spotify, so you can expect your child to be hearing lyrics that may include sexual or violent content or including swearing.

Are there parental controls?

Yes. TikTok offers Restricted Mode (which screens mature content), Family Safety Mode (which gives you an account to pair with your child’s–this gives you complete control over their settings), or Screen Time Management (which limits your child’s use of the app per day). 

As with any app or social media site, your child can always use a different phone number or email address to create a new account, so keeping conversations open with your child about online safety is still imperative. No parent controls are foolproof.

What if my child wants to make their account public to go viral?

TikTok has some incredible success stories, like Charli D’Amelio, who went viral on TikTok and earned a television deal. Even smaller success stories are compelling–a “minor” celebrity on TikTok can still have over 100,000 followers.

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We all know that social media likes/follows/etc trigger dopamine in the brain, which is a “feel-good” chemical that keeps humans coming back for more. This is not necessarily bad! Humans are preprogrammed to connect with other humans, and that’s good for our mind and body. But balance is important–you also don’t want your child excessively on their phone. 

Ultimately each parent will need to determine how to talk to their child who wants a public account. Some of TikTok’s appeal is in TikTok houses, where large groups of young users collaborate, create, and sometimes earn endorsements, scholarships, or other financial opportunities. Some parents could see this as a fun educational opportunity; some parents could be concerned that their child might share things they shouldn’t to get a larger audience. 

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What age is it recommended for?

According to Common Sense Media, it’s recommended for ages 15+. Parents recommend it for ages 14+, and kids (unsurprisingly) suggest 13+.

Is TikTok actually being used by China to spy on us?

TikTok certainly has some issues with security or privacy–Common Sense Privacy rates it at a 53%, which means it doesn’t meet their recommendations for privacy and security practices, but isn’t considered dangerous enough to not be used. They also illegally collected data on children according to the FTC. 

However, TikTok doesn’t take or use any more data from its users than other social media sites like Facebook, and accusations of it being used to spy on us are likely exaggerated. 

Is there a compelling argument why I should let my child have TikTok?

TikTok encourages vast creativity. There are a variety of ways to create videos and to engage with the videos of other users by remixing, doing duets, and sharing. TikTok boasts meme creation: anyone can take someone else’s video and share their own perspective. This fosters critical thinking as well as creativity.

TikTok has a vast amount of subcategories, which means that every user will find other users they can relate to, and feeling included and like they belong somewhere is critical for adolescents’ wellbeing. For some young people who struggle to make friends in person, an online platform can help them connect with others and eventually build enough confidence to use these skills in person. TikTok also feels more genuine than Instagram to a lot of users. 

With so many users on TikTok, it provides a lower-barrier access to a creative outlet–with some anonymity, it can feel low-risk to a young person to put themselves out there creatively.

Again, in moderation, it’s actually very good for young people to express themselves on social media, engage with their friends, and form new relationships. 

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The drawbacks of TikTok that actually aren’t just TikTok. 

Any app with lots of underage users holds a risk that sexual predators will join. Before your child starts using social media, it would be wise to have a conversation about boundaries, what’s acceptable, and to never share personal information.

Other privacy issues exist besides the safety of TikTok itself. Your young person might not think that their latest video includes your license plate, mailbox, or share other compromising information.

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And lastly, self-esteem is extremely fragile at an adolescent age. Seeing countless videos of beautiful people could affect your child’s self-esteem, as well as any negative online comments they may be subjected to when they post online. This concern exists with all social media; but is worth nothing.

As with all social media platforms, keep an open and honest conversation with your child. Include them in your concerns about TikTok, and ask them if they have answers or solutions to your concerns! Your child will be much more likely to adhere to family boundaries if they had a hand in creating them.

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