You aren’t imagining things. Everyone is talking about the popular video-sharing app TikTok. That’s because it has simultaneously become both a source of entertainment for kids as well as a source of concern for some adults.
The social network, owned by Chinese parent company ByteDance, recently reached 750 million downloads, pushing its popularity ahead of Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Snapchat.
But while kids are busy creating and consuming short TikTok videos, a concerned community of parents, app users, and lawmakers are taking the app to the mat with allegations of censorship, misuse of data, and unlawful foreign influence. Just this week TikTok moderators admitted to limiting the content reach of users with disabilities deeming them “highly vulnerable to cyberbullying,” a policy approach that sorely misfired.
Download TikTok. Simply hoping your child is behaving and steering clear of online danger zones, is not an effective safety strategy. At times it’s best to roll up your sleeves and get in the game. You don’t need to create a profile to browse public TikTok accounts and get a feel for the app’s content and various audiences. The interface is similar to Instagram so using the search bar to type in a hashtag or tapping the familiar “discover” button will expose you to a variety of content. You can also browse trending TikTok videos from your laptop, here.
Understand how your child uses TikTok. You can do this by creating a TikTok account and following your child’s account or by hanging out and watching your child create content, comment on videos, or interact with friends. You can even join in and make a video together. Depending on the age of your child and your rapport, this is the moment you may get accused of being creepy, hovering, or stalking. Don’t sweat it. Ignore the sighs, huffs, and protests. Understanding your child’s digital habits and app use is part of being a parent today — so press on!
Get real about the risks. Don’t allow the fun, creative, and entertaining elements of the app (it is definitely an endless well of funny, clever content) overshadow the potential dangers such as cyberbullying, inappropriate content, explicit lyrics, potential predators, and possible privacy issues.
Read the reviews. The app reviews on Google Play or the Apple Store can be biased. A better source for objective reviews from both kids and parents can be found at Common Sense Media. Reading reviews can save you time (and heartache) by shedding light on lesser-known risks you need to discuss as a family.
5 TikTok safety basics
If you’ve weighed the pros and cons and decide your child can safely maintain an active TikTok account, here are some safety basics to consider:
- Require your child to keep his or her TikTok account private (monitor to make sure it stays private). Change the settings for comments, duets, reactions, and messages to “friends” instead of “everyone.”
- Monitor Direct Messages and Comments since these are the most common ways strangers initiate contact with minors.
- Discuss how to respond to potential cyberbullying, inappropriate comments, or strangers who attempt to connect. Be sure your child knows where to report issues.
- Adhere to age restrictions. Point younger users to the “under 13” section of the app that restricts access to mature content.
- Use TikTok’s new Family Safety mode, which allows a parent to link their TikTok account to their child’s so they can easily monitor content and connections.
Anytime there’s creativity, laughter, and a strong community forming online, it doesn’t take long for the shady side of humanity to show up and try to ruin the fun. By staying on top of app trends and getting involved on the front lines, parents can offer guidance and influence to their kids when they need it most.