Sometimes it feels like there is a new social media network every day. And kids seem to be creating accounts on all of them, which is probably why they never lift their heads from their phones. The problem of screen time aside, as a parent you also have to worry about the kind of activity they are being exposed to. The best way is to figure out one platform at a time and today, that is TikTok.
This is a raging success with young people of all ages creating, watching, and sharing videos from the platform literally all the time. There are over 100 million users in the US alone and if you didn’t know it already, they are all swooning to videos that are usually a reenactment of the most popular musical hits.
The platform is also very popular because it offers unique opportunities to edit the video and gives a peek into viral dance videos. But a few celebrity appearances have also given this platform a great boost with the users.
Now, like every other platform, TikTok is not free from controversy but it is extremely entertaining. Since your kids are going to be on it for at least a while, it is a good idea for you to learn a thing or two about how to keep them safe when they are using the platform.
That’s because while social media platforms like TikTok offer a much-needed creative outlet, they also come with inherent dangers that your tweens will invariably be exposed to. Whether it is about data privacy or the dangers of oversharing or interactions with predatory strangers, there are a lot of legitimate concerns about TikTok as is the case with many other social media platforms.
But we live in the digital era and it is not prudent or realistic to try to keep your kids off the internet. In fact, it might be dangerous and drive them towards danger. So, here’s a guide that will help you help your child navigate the platform safely.
How Does It Work?
TikTok is home to short videos that are usually under a minute. You will see a range of content from dances to comedy performances to lip-syncing songs on the platform. This is the entertainment part of it and it is mostly harmless. Then there is the educational part which is for the parents. If you go to the Safety Centre, you will see a whole bunch of videos that tell you how users can safely express themselves without getting into trouble. It is a great idea for all parents to start by checking this out.
Now, the minimum age for a user to create an account on TikTok is 13 and once they do, they will have access to popular categories, content creators, and friends. While a lot of people create videos, a huge chunk of them is on the platform only to watch the content others have created.
To create an account, you need an email ID, phone number, or a Twitter/Facebook/Instagram account. Then you will be asked for your date of birth and if you are under 13 years of age, it will display an error message telling you that you’re not eligible. If you are over 13, your account will be created and you get access to feed highlights. As it learns more about your behavior based on your usage, the ‘For You’ section will have more content that is relevant to you.
From here, every user has access to these extremely entertaining short clips that have become a great way for young people to express themselves creatively and passionately. This is also a great way for them to share their thoughts with a community of people who have the same interests. The platform also allows the users to add special effects to make their content more dazzling which is a hard temptation to resist. And TikTok also allows users to share the content on other platforms like Instagram which gives them visibility outside one social media platform.
All of this sounds pretty great. So, what do parents have to worry about? Oh well, unfortunately, there’s plenty. You can also check for popular apps among teens for further help.
What Parents Should Watch Out For?
When it comes to social media, there is virtually no platform that is free of inappropriate content. TikTok is no exception. With a lot of content being lip-synced, it is obvious that there are mature and suggestive themes and swearing. There are also hashtags related to self-harm and more which can be extremely triggering and unhelpful.
Plenty of adults have reported that they found a lot of content that they would not want their children to see. Now, when it comes to the text, you can use filters to keep offensive and spam comments out.
You can also choose to keep away from certain keywords and block accounts as you can do on all the other social media platforms. But the filters don’t always catch everything because the spellings are manipulated to bypass the filters. Mixing symbols with words like sh*t and a$$ is the easiest way to do so.
Then there is the most common parental concern—stranger danger.
The default option for an account when it is created used to be public. This is something parents are usually unhappy about because a lot of children under the age of 13 often borrow a phone to check out the content on social media platforms like TikTok. This leaves them exposed to a lot of potentially unsavory content.
Some parents have also said that young girls who post harmless videos of themselves on these platforms gain a great deal of following within minutes. What is disturbing is that a majority of those followers and those leaving comments seem to be men. Now, keeping this under control is entirely up to the parents and it is not an easy task. Also, check out the internet safety guide for kids for further help.
You can turn off the setting that lets people find your account even though it is “public”. Also, you also have some level of control over who interacts with the account. You can post content and limit the comments only to your friends.
- For that setting, go to Profile -> Settings -> Privacy and Safety -> Who can post comments
- To limit interactions in direct messages, go to Profile -> Settings -> Privacy and Safety -> Who can send you messages
- To limit Duets, go to Profile -> Settings -> Privacy and Safety -> Who can Duet with you
But as of 2021, there has been an update that makes all profiles of 13- to 15-year-olds private. And the content of users who are under 16 is restricted for downloading. This is unless the default settings are changed or updated by the user.
Otherwise, you can also change the account settings to “private” even though that goes only so far. When the account is made private, they cannot be followed and their content cannot be liked or commented upon unless they are approved to follow the account.
- To change these settings, go to Profile -> Settings (on the top right corner) -> Privacy and Safety -> Private Account
With this, only profile information like username, display picture, and bio will be visible to everyone. This is often considered a good way to reduce the risk of stranger danger because every time someone wants to follow you, you will have the choice of accepting or rejecting it.
But largely, parents like blanket settings that take care of the basics. This is why every platform comes up with parental controls at some point. Here’s what they look like on TikTok.
Are There Any Parental Controls?
Yes, TikTok comes with a few parental controls to help you monitor your child’s activity on the platform. The most important one of them is called Family Pairing. This feature lets you link your account with theirs and control their screen time, restricted content settings, and DM (direct message) settings. And in case they change anything, you will get notified. This is officially a surveillance state. So, make sure your child is okay with it by talking to them candidly about its purpose.
Then there is the matter of suggestive content. This can be tricky because it is not exactly a violation but is also hard to regulate. Since TikTok is about videos and music, a lot of profanity finds home here quite easily. And it is said that the app encourages this which means it is not hard to find this stuff on TikTok.
But not to worry. There is a feature called Digital Wellbeing which sets a limit on the amount of time your child can spend on the app. This means you don’t have to tell them to get off their phone, TikTok will do it for you. This feature also makes sure that videos that have been labeled inappropriate never reach your child. But it is always good to keep an eye because users are constantly finding ways to bypass these filters. You can also check out the guidelines for setting up parental controls if one is using Google chrome browser.
You can also be direct and enforce TikTok’s Community Guidelines which are based on machine and human-based moderation. Like other platforms, users can report stuff that is believed to violate the app’s general guidelines. This is how you do it.
- For general issues, Click on Me at the bottom right corner -> click on “…” at the top right corner -> Report a Problem
- If you have a problem with a profile, click on their Profile -> Click on “…” on the top right corner -> Report
- If you just want to report one video, Click on Share -> Report
- Also, if it is a message, open that particular conversation -> click on the top-right icon -> Report
- If it’s a comment, click on the comment -> Report
Impact on Mental Health
Now, kids love spending hours at a time on social media platforms and TikTok is most definitely on top of that list. That is because there is a lot of fun stuff on this platform that is not just upbeat but also inspires your child’s creativity. There is absolutely no questioning that aspect of social media. They also get to interact with people from all over the globe who share these interests and exchange ideas with them.
And let’s not forget that the world is all about making and watching videos right now. So, the editing skills your kids learn from the app might not just be a fun thing for them but also turn into a viable career option if that’s what they want. The output, if you have ever seen these videos, is actually quite professional which is a self-esteem booster for a lot of tweens. And even when it does not pan out to be anything else, it is a great place for young people to express themselves in any way they choose.
But when the children are very young, it is only natural for parents to worry about the impact social media has on their mental health. This is particularly worrying because it is a new problem that this generation is the first to face. By now, you know for a fact that there is a dark side to these apps and as parents, it is your job to protect the children without crippling their creative outlets.
The simplest one is that since it is an audio-visual outlet, the external validation they get seems great on the face of it. But there is a possibility that they start valuing themselves only based on the numbers that these platforms offer. Also, let’s not forget harsh comments and reactions which might hurt the child and have, in the past, led to many unfortunate consequences.
In a world where we are only starting to address body-image issues, visual-heavy platforms have a greater role to play in terms of restricting negativity. Oftentimes, it has a direct impact on their confidence levels, can potentially lead to anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues.
So, even if your child just wants to have fun on TikTok, there are a few conversations you should have with them before the account creation. Let’s look at those.
Tips: How to Safely Explore TikTok with Your Children
Here are three things that will keep your child safe not just on TikTok but on other platforms too.
#1 Explore It with Them
This is a great way for both of you to learn about the platform and also spend some time together. Exploring the app with them does not mean you tell them what to do and what not to do.
Take this opportunity to understand the kind of subjects they have an interest. Unless something seems inappropriate, let them navigate the platform. Ask questions and explore them together while gaining insight into what they like on the internet. Obviously, there will be things they won’t check out while you are over the shoulder. But use this chance to learn about your child’s interests.
Whether it is music or games or interacting with certain groups, these initial sessions will tell you a lot. And if you find inappropriate content, make sure you both learn how to report it. This is also a way for you to introduce the concept of blocking accounts and content that is not suitable. You must also talk to them about why it is important to use these features. It’s a good habit to develop early on.
And let them know that they can always talk to you if they see something online that upsets them.
#2 Check Out Family Pairing
Formerly known as the Family Safety Mode, this is the feature that lets you connect your account to your child’s account. We’ve discussed this earlier.
It lets you control of:
- your child’s screen time on the platform
- who they are talking to through DMs
- the type of content they can see
- general privacy settings of the account
- enabling/disabling likes and comments on their posts
- what they can search
But it is important to do this with their consent. You want to explain to them why you have a better understanding of the dangers of browsing without restrictions. You also want to explain the dangers to them without getting too graphic so that they know this is not for them… not yet anyway.
At the end of the day, you are right to worry about screen time. But you should be more worried about what they are browsing the internet for during this time. It’s one of the most important conversations you will ever have with your tween.
#3 Talk to Your Kid about Sharing Content
That conversation about the DOs and DON’Ts on the internet also includes what to share and what to hide. It is important for them to understand that just because others do it, they don’t have to.
But you must start with basics like not giving strangers your phone numbers or address just because they interacted a few times. Be patient while explaining these points and remind them why they don’t do this with strangers in real life. Tell them that the principle holds even for strangers or acquaintances online.
Here’s what they should not do:
- Share personal information like phone numbers, address, and name of their school
- Share anyone else’s personal information
- Click on links for private group chats
- Send/share certain kinds of pictures and videos of themselves
The Bottom Line
The internet is a great gift. We cannot keep children away from it for too long because eventually, they will need it for school. The best you can do is tell them what’s what, keep an eye on their activity online and hope that it inspires them rather than cause problems.
Maryam has been teaching IT as a school teacher for over a decade, and her main subject of choice is Internet safety, especially helping parents keep their families safe and secure online. When Maryam is not teaching or writing she is a big fan of the outdoors, the complete opposite of staring at a computer screen for hours.