TikTok Update: Dangerous Viral Challenges & Age Restrictions

TikTok Update: Dangerous Viral Challenges & Age Restrictions

It’s popular. It’s uplifting. It’s creative. It’s entertaining. It can also be risky.

All these words equally describe TikTok, the wildly popular social network that allows teens to create and share videos and find critical connections during isolating times. So what makes TikTok both amazing and potentially risky at the same time? It isn’t the app itself but, rather, the way some kids choose to use it.

Several of those risky behaviors making headlines lately include the all-too-familiar topic of viral challenges. The secondary risk? Underage users’ common practice of bypassing TikTok’s age restrictions, which can put them in harm’s way. In 2020, TikTok classified more than a third of its 49 million daily users in the U.S. as being 14 years old or younger.

A recent webinar hosted by Cyberwise featuring Rick Andreoli, Editor-in-Chief at Parentology, and Pamela Rutledge, director of the Media Psychology Research Center, highlighted the risks of some of the latest challenges. (Listen to the full discussion here). Here are just a few of the many challenges parents should know about.

Popular TikTok Challenges

The blackout challenge. The draw to this challenge is somewhat new to TikTok but familiar in the online challenge realm. It involves users live-streaming themselves as they cut off their air supply to the point of losing consciousness. Sadly, this challenge recently had deadly consequences for a 10-year-old TikTok user, according to Newsweek reports. The incident prompted an outcry for the platform to ban users with unconfirmed ages.

Skullbreaker/trip jump challenge. TikTok users carry out this challenge in various ways, but one of the most common includes three friends side-by-side. As the video begins, everyone jumps or dances as pre-planned, only one kid is targeted to go down as the other two swipe the legs out from under them, causing either a face plant or a backward fall. This popular challenge has resulted in several medical emergencies.

The outlet or penny challenge. Fire officials have issued public cautions around this challenge, which involves sliding a penny into a partially plugged-in phone charger or cord. The goal? See who can record and post the biggest sparks or, yes, flames.

Coronavirus challenge. Here’s a challenge that thankfully didn’t gain too much traction before TikTok banned it. It was created by several “influencers” and encouraged TikTok users to post videos of themselves defying the Coronavirus by licking public objects — such as toilets and grocery store items.

TikTok Safety Basics  

  • Oversee apps, add parental controls. TikTok advises parents to “oversee your teen’s internet use, including any apps they may download . . . the full TikTok experience is for users 13 and over . . . use parental controls to simply block our apps from your child’s phone.” (We couldn’t agree more, TikTok!)
  • Adhere to TikTok age restrictions; explore options. Kids may view age restrictions as just another silly rule standing in the way of their fun. This is where you can talk about the very real dangers being reported and why the age restriction exists. Too, explore other connection options on TikTok designed to equip younger users. For instance, TikTok has an “under 13” section of the app that restricts access to mature content. Another option is to open a parent/child-owned TikTok account using the new Family Safety Mode. This will allow you to teach a younger child how to use the app safely — and talk about potential danger zones.
  • Adjust Settings. Consider requiring your child to keep their account private (circle back to ensure it stays private). To make an account private, change the Settings for comments, duets, reactions, and messages to “friends” instead of “everyone.”
  • Open a TikTok account. To gain a better understanding of the TikTok culture, open your own account and look around. Let your child know you have an account but think about refraining from following them or commenting — this is their hangout. A personal account allows you to monitor video content, friend groups, and comments, often where cyberbullying or other red flags tend to surface. This will give you the understanding, context, and specifics you need to talk with your child if needed. Remind them regularly where to report any issues.

A final reminder for parents is this: Challenge yourself to let go of the assumption that your child won’t try foolish things online. Smart kids also make unwise choices — a possibility that’s easily provoked in an environment where influencers, likes, and peer comments can disguise danger. It’s easy to forget that during the teen years, reason and evolving identity are at constant odds, which means emotion can suddenly commandeer logic. For parents, this means that by getting involved in your child’s digital world, you have the chance influence and guide them when they need it most.

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