Most experts will tell you that your children and teens’ use of social media should be extremely limited. It’s a wise idea to restrict your child’s online and digital footprint as much as possible in general when they’re young. This can keep people from being able to find them by searching for them online, and you can reduce their exposure to content that’s not age appropriate. While those are things that hold true generally for any platform, TikTok is one that’s seeing a growing amount of concern, in particular from parents and even lawmakers.
The following are some of the key things parents should know about TikTok.
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TikTok is a platform where users share their own videos. Many of their videos are of people lip-syncing to music and sound bites. Users browse and interact with content, and videos can be grouped by hashtags.
TikTok has different sets of rules depending on the age of the user. Users under 13 can’t post their own videos or comment, and the content is, in theory, curated for younger audiences. For users between the ages of 13 and 15, accounts are defaulted to private, and only friends can comment. Other users can’t duet with the videos.
Only a user who’s at least 16 can live stream and use direct messaging, and only users who are over 18 can use the virtual gift features.
There are tools for parents to limit how much time their child spends on the app, and there are also Restricted Mode settings, where you can reduce mature content. There’s also Family Safety Mode, which can be used to completely control a child’s settings.
The Risks of TikTok
As with any social platform, TikTok has risks for young people.
One is that any social platform provides the opportunity for children or teens to connect with strangers. TikTok users under 16 can’t send or receive any private messages,
but the problem comes in when children will use a fake birthdate on the platform to bypass the protections that are built in. Another issue is the collection of data. TikTok has been fined millions of dollars by the FTC in the U.S. for collecting data on children less than 13 years old illegally.
A third major concern is that TikTok often gives rise to dangerous challenges like the so-called Blackout challenge. These challenges can be dangerous or even deadly when children or teens participate in them.
The endless stream of content on TikTok can be addictive for people of any age, particularly young people with developing brains.
The app is designed to encourage spending hour after hour watching videos.
There have been reports of bullying occurring on TikTok. For example, students have been reported for making videos on the platform only to mock their classmates.
There’s also a tendency to do outrageous things on TikTok for likes and followers, and some experts say that TikTok content can negatively affect mental health. For example, children and teens might have access to content that promotes eating disorders or self-harm.
How Can You Keep Your Child Safe?
If your child or teen is using TikTok and that’s something you’re ok with, you should make sure you have limitations in place.
First, you should use the Time Management feature that’s available on TikTok. The Time Management feature lets you limit how much time your child spends watching. You can put a time limit of 40 minutes, for example, and then after that, the app requires a passcode to keep using it.
Ensure that your child had entered their actual birthdate when they signed up for the app, and enable restricted mode. There’s an option you can enable on TikTok known as Family Pairing. With this setting, you can create your own TikTok account and then link it with your child’s so you can monitor what they’re doing and you can manage their privacy settings.
Finally, if you’re going to let your child or teen use TikTok, no matter what settings you put in place or limitations, you still need to be actively monitoring everything they’re doing. The best way to see the same content your child is seeing is to link your account, but even then, regularly check in on what they’re doing on the app and how it’s being used.
Your child should have a private account, and if you ever come across anything inappropriate, report and block users.
The answer to whether or not TikTok is safe for kids really depends, especially on what you do as a parent to monitor it.