If you are a parent of a tween or teen, you have probably heard about an app called TikTok. Maybe your child watches or creates videos on it. Or maybe you have heard about it from other parents or on social media. And I’m sure by now you are wondering, what exactly is it and is TikTok safe for your child to use?
Two of my three children (the 12 and 13 year old) have the TikTok app. They asked if they could download it and it seemed harmless enough, so I let them do it.
Full disclosure, I was busy when they asked me and in a bad parenting moment, I did not research it before I let them download it. But YOU are here, reading this, so I’m going to assume you are more on the ball than I was.
My TikTok awakening
One afternoon, the two of them were sitting on the sofa together and actually letting me get some work done without constantly interrupting me. About 90 minutes into the blissful silence, I started wondering what exactly they were doing. What had them so enthralled that they stopped fighting and left me alone for a little bit? What could they possibly be up to?
So I asked them to show it to me. And I have to admit, I got sucked into TikTok very quickly. I lost thirty minutes of my life watching videos that ranged from a dog on a scooter, to tweens poorly lip syncing and professional dancers wowing me with their skills.
This led me to believe that maybe I should investigate TikTok and see if it is safe for my kids (or maybe just pay more attention to them – again, I’m a bad parent sometimes). After doing some research, here is what I found.
What is TikTok?
TikTok is a free, social media app, which means you, or your children, can download it to your phone or other mobile device. The app is extremely popular with tweens and teens (it currently has over 500 million users) because it lets kids video themselves lip syncing and dancing to popular music. Then, they can share these videos with their friends and watch other people’s (including celebrities) videos too.
You may remember hearing your kids talk about musical.ly, which was very similar. In August of 2018, musical.ly dissolved when it merged with TikTok. After the merger, the popularity of TikTok soared. And similar to Youtube, it has even produced a few internet sensations.
TikTok is on an upward trend that does not appear to be slowing down anytime soon. It was the third most downloaded app in the world during the first quarter of 2019 and is available in over 150 countries. The average user logs on almost every day and spends close to an hour per day on the app.
TikTok is recommended for ages 16 and up. Children 13 and older can join, but anyone under the age of 18 needs parent permission. However, we all know how easy it is for kids to navigate around this by entering a false date of birth and it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, for TikTok to enforce these rules.
How does TikTok work?
My 13 year old daughter gave me a basic tour of the app and honestly, it’s pretty simple. You start by downloading TikTok and setting up an account. Add some basic information and a picture and you are all set.
If you are familiar with Instagram then TikTok will be easy for you because it is set up similarly. On the home page, you are shown videos posted by the people you follow or videos that TikTok thinks you would like. Just swipe up to scroll through the suggested videos and make sure to “like” your favorites by clicking on the heart icon.
There is a also a “Discover” section to help you find people to follow, where you can search by hashtag or username. New content is constantly being uploaded and pretty much anything you can imagine is on there.
Things you should know before you decide if TikTok is safe for your teen
This probably goes without saying (since we have already established that YOU are a rocking parent), but be involved. Check up on your child regularly. Look at what they are posting and who they are friends with on TikTok. Talk to your tween about accepting friend requests from strangers, which we all know is never a good idea.
Set the account to private. When your child sets up an account, it automatically defaults to a public account. By setting it to private, only your child’s friends can see what they are posting. And again, remind your tween or teen to be aware of who they are accepting as a friend on social media apps.
Be aware that the app uses popular music and curse words are not edited or bleeped out. Also, some songs may contain sexual lyrics, which is why the app is recommended for ages 16 and up.
The types of videos are also not censored. While you won’t find sex tapes, there is definitely some suggestive or sexual dancing and movements. Some people wear revealing clothing too or make obscene gestures in their videos.
Kids can add real money to their virtual wallet and spend it on in-app purchases. They can also earn virtual money by inviting their friends to sign up. They can redeem the virtual money for gift cards from places like Uber and Sephora.
Is TikTok safe?
Yes and no. As with any social media app, parents need to be involved and knowledgeable. There are definitely steps you can take to help protect your child, but there HAVE been reports of child predators using the app to target kids.
In that respect, it’s not any different than other social media apps, like Instagram or Facebook. Talking to your children and explaining the importance of privacy settings and only interacting with their friends that they know is the best way to combat these risks.
There have definitely been some growing pains for Tiktok though. In February of 2019, the creators of Tik Tok settled with the Federal Trade Commission for 5.7 million dollars for violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). To summarize the lawsuit for you, TikTok was taking information from children under the age of 13 without parental consent. In addition to the fine, they also had to remove all videos from children under the age of 13.
So overall, TikTok is as safe as any other social media app. Take the proper precautions, check up on your kids and monitor their accounts. And while you are at it, make sure to check out the talking dogs (my personal fave).
Here are some other posts you might like:
- Everything you need to know about Juul and your teens
- How to stay sane while raising teenagers
- How to get your teenagers to talk to you
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