Are your kids enamored by the TikTok app? You are probably wondering what is TikTok and is TikTok safe for my kids to be using? We’ve put together the parents’ ultimate guide to the TikTok app so you’ll learn everything you need to know about child safety using the app and how to have fun with it!
What Is TikTok?
TikTok is a free social media app that allows you to watch, create, and share real short videos. Videos are often recorded to a soundtrack of the top hits in music right from your phone. TikTok is wildly popular amongst kids due to its slick mash up of features of kid favorites. It is well-known as a lip-syncing app where users can watch and record videos of themselves to popular music and sound bites. Users can add hashtags, special effects, and filters to their videos as well.
Similar to the now-defunct app Vine, kids create short meme-like shareable videos ranging from funny to serious. Videos focus on dance, gymnastics, music, lip syncing, pranks, comedy, and challenge style videos. TikTok, like YouTube, is interactive and lets you connect with friends and admirers through likes, comments, and shares, or videos can even be remixed.
In the first quarter of 2018, it was the most downloaded app in Apple’s App store. And in November 2018, it was the most downloaded app in the Google Play Store. The app has a user base of over 500 million active users worldwide, 41% of which are ages 16-24.
Sounds harmless, right? Keep reading.
What Age Is TikTok Recommended For?
TikTok requires that users be at least 13-years-old to use the app and that anyone under the age of 18 must have the approval of a parent or guardian. However there are plenty of young tween users using the app by simply falsifying their birthdays upon signup. If your younger kid or tween wants to use the app, the account should belong to a parent or adult who can monitor what younger users are browsing and sharing. We recommend that the app be used for teens 16 and older due mature content that may appear on the app.
Is TikTok Safe For Kids?
There is such a wide variety of content on TikTok that your child could stumble across. Some of which are videos that are too mature for them to be viewing. Or their innocent videos can be viewed by creepy adults who are trying to locate where your child lives from the information in their bio.
– Adult Content
TikTok features videos of adult content. Including explicit sexual references, language, and lyrics. This mature content can easily be searched and found through the “For You” feed. Children are even being sexualized on the app miming songs with explicit sexual adult language and gestures.
TikTok has a big issue with bullying on their app. Bullying mostly takes place in the comments and in parody videos created to humiliate some users. Most of the bullying is sadly targeted at users with disabilities.
– Self Harm
A lot of content on TikTok is focused on loneliness, self-harm, and depression. While TikTok tries to ban users from searching more obvious hashtag search terms, new variations of hashtags are created daily. Users will comment on videos encouraging children to engage in self-harm acts.
The live streaming side of this app has a risk of users being subjected to inappropriate comments and requests in real-time from predators trying to groom your child. Users who are inappropriate can be reported and banned from the app or from streaming.
How To Make A TikTok Account Private
To make your child’s TikTok account private, go to the user profile page and select the three-dot icon in the top-right corner. Select Privacy and Safety. Next, toggle the switch for “Private Account.”
You can also edit who can send you comments and direct messages, and who can do a duet with you by setting the following:
- Who Can Duet With Me: “Friends”
- Who Can React To Me: “Friends”
- Allow Download: “Off”
- Who Can Send Me Messages: “Friends”
Disabling the downloading setting may not prevent saving and sharing of your videos. It is relatively easy to copy videos with other screen recording methods. So, it is important that your child is only friends with people they know and trust, and that you are up to date on their friends list. Also, make sure the content they are putting out there is respectful.
TikTok warns that even with a private account, your profile information including photo, username and bio will be visible to all users. Make sure that your child is not including their real age, real name, school, or a link to any other social networks linking to their true identity.
Parental Controls with TikTok
TikTok has enabled a Parental Control setting called Digital Wellbeing, which can be locked with a passcode by a parent. The Digital Wellbeing tab has two settings. One to filter adult content called “Restricted Mode”. And the other setting to restrict the time on the app to 2 hours a day, called “Screen Time Management”. It requires the parental passcode to unlock more time on the app.
TikTok has In App Purchases, where users can purchase “gifts” to give to other users. These range in price from $5.00 to $50.00. Popular TikTok “stars” have the potential to earn quite a bit of money through gifts. Parents can disable In-App purchases on their child’s device through parental controls which should block any monetary purchases within the app. This is done through the Screentime Settings on the iPhone, on an Android Device this is done through Family Link.
TikTok and U.S. Users
The owners of TikTok, were fined a record $5.8 million USD (8 million AUS) by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission for not complying with the Privacy Protection law COPPA. The reasons cited were that TikTok did not adhere to the law in protecting users under the age of 13. Prior to 2017, they did not ask for age verification upon sign up. They also did not remove profiles of underage users who clearly stated their age on their public bios. They ignored parent requests to delete under age user videos and personal information. Up until 2016, they exposed children to predatory behavior on the app by giving their location within an 80K radius!
This has resulted in TikTok having to take action and adhere to new restrictions for its U.S. users. These restrictions do not apply to any children based outside of the U.S. They have been forced to take down U.S. underage user accounts, are required to ask for age verification upon sign up, and direct underage users to a safer version of the TikTok platform. They also must remove all videos of users when requested.
Use TikTok with Caution
If you are going to permit your children and tweens to use the TikTok app, then proceed with caution. Make sure to utilize parental controls and more importantly, talk to your kids! Have a conversation with your children about safe practices for using TikTok and encourage them to be creative with the app while maintaining their privacy.