Is the TikTok App Safe for Kids?

By on Feb 29, 2020

Everyone’s talking about the TikTok app. In addition to talking, tweens and teens are swiping, laughing, and sharing TikTok videos. Meanwhile, parents are concerned with one thing: Is TikTok safe?

What is TikTok?

Based out of China, TikTok is a video-based social networking app that replaced the Musical.ly app, which ended its digital run in 2017. The app allows users to create an account, make and post short 15-60-second videos, as well as view, comment on, and share videos from other users. According to reports, TikTok has 1 billion active users in 155 countries. Approximately 60 percent of TikTok’s audience is between 16 and 24. Guidelines state that anyone 12+ can use the app, though there’s no age-verification process.

Why Do Kids Love TikTok?

TikTok is the latest and greatest digital hangout that has become the main channel for kids to discover new and creative ways to express themselves. They can follow their interests, be entertained, and be rewarded with views, likes, and shares for their artistic efforts. Tik Tok has built-in editing tools, free music, and dialogue clips, and filters that make creating videos easy for any skill level. Users can share funny sketches, lip-sync videos, and spontaneous, personal raves or rants. According to app reviews posted by teens, TikTok is also a go-to creative outlet, a place to de-stress, and a confidence-builder.

What are the risks?

Apps aren’t inherently risky. Rather, it’s the way individuals use an app that puts themselves or others at risk. That’s why understanding how your kids engage on TikTok, and how to make the experience as safe as possible, is important. Here are some of the risks your child could encounter on TikTok:

Contact from strangers. According to news reports, predators use TikTok to connect with kids. Anyone who follows a TikTok user can privately message them and initiate private conversations outside of the app.

Exposure to mature content and lyrics. Apps attract users of all ages, which means if your child has a TikTok account, he or she has access to the public video feed. With 1 billion users, your child will likely see videos containing sexually suggestive or explicit images and hear explicit lyrics (we saw and heard plenty). They may even unknowingly use music clips for their videos that contain explicit lyrics.

Spam and malware. Recent reports reveal software flaws that could potentially open up TikTok accounts to a range of malicious attacks. Researchers say hackers could have exploited the flaws to send legitimate-looking text messages loaded with malware, made private videos public, and accessed personal data.

Excessive screentime. TikTok is a curiosity magnet for kids, which can lead to excessive screen time, lack of sleep, and a host of other negative outcomes from too much time online.

TikTok safety

Cyberbullying. TikTok users have been known to create “cringe compilations,” which are videos they deem to be odd, uncool, or cringe-worthy. Several of these cruel compilations have been posted outside of TikTok and have gone viral.

Quest for likes. As with any social network, some users can become preoccupied with amassing views, likes, and followers. This obsession can lead to bad decisions, risky behavior (such as challenges), cyberbullying, and sharing harmful content.

Oversharing. Some kids share their daily activities through TikTok videos and inadvertently expose personal information such as their school, their location, home address, and other personal data.

10 Family Safety Tips

Should you allow your child to use TikTok? The answer to that question depends on a few things, including the age of the child using the app and how they use it. Here are a few tips that may help in that decision.

  1. Download the app. The best way to understand TikTok is to download it, create an account, and explore. Take some solo time to search a few hashtags, scroll some feeds, and get a feel for the content. Visit the app’s safety center for an overview of safety tools. Visit the privacy center to see how your child’s data is being used.
  2. Go through the app together. Sit and browse content with your child. Discuss the pros and cons of the content and how it does or doesn’t align with your family’s digital ground rules.
  3. Max privacy settings. By making a TikTok account private, only approved followers (known friends) can view your child’s videos or send your child messages. When an account is public, anyone can comment, send messages, or share your child’s videos.
  4. Explore restricted mode. TikTok has a Restricted Mode for minors that will allow you to filter out inappropriate content.
  5. Explore Family Safety Mode. This TikTok feature allows a parent to link their TikTok account to their child’s to manage screen time, direct messages, set restrictions, and control friend and comment filters.
  6. Control interactions. Users can disable comments on a specific video, block people they don’t know from following them, and report abuse.
  7. Monitor social circles. Kids can change privacy settings and eventually be wooed into making more connections and getting more exposure. Consider monitoring who your child follows and who is following them. Consider the TikTok influencers they follow and the type of content they share.
  8. Monitor screen time. It’s easy to burn through countless hours on TikTok. The app has a digital wellbeing element that alerts users every two hours. Consider filtering software that adds another way to set screen limits.
  9. Talk about being an upstander. Creating and sharing original content online takes courage — and attracts bullies, making TikTok a potentially unsafe environment for kids. Encourage your child to be an upstander online and offer encouragement and support to peers when needed.
  10. Block the app. If you determine TikTok’s content isn’t a good fit for your family or that the risks outweigh the opportunities, both Android and iOS have built-in parental controls in Settings that allow you to block any app (consider rechecking these settings weekly).

One look at today’s headlines, and it’s tempting for a parent to want to delete every app like TikTok. Only we know a similar app will soon surface. Another approach is to jump into the digital mix. Know what apps your kids love and why. Understand how they use their favorite apps and who they are talking to. And, always remember: It’s never too early or too late to start these critical conversations with your kids. You’ve got this, parents!

About the Author

Toni Birdsong

Toni Birdsong is a Family Safety Evangelist for McAfee. She is an author, speaker, and cyber savvy mom of two teenagers (much to their dismay). As a family safety evangelist for McAfee, she focuses on online safety and often speaks to educators, parents, and teens about dodging the dangers online. She is the co-owner of ...

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