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A parenting deep-dive into the trending app
Written by Cyber Expert:
TikTok (formerly Musical.ly) is a free social media app that allows users to create, share, and watch short videos. Videos can be anything from dance challenges, lip-syncing, comedy skits, or viral trends.
TikTok is an app that can be downloaded on Android and iOS devices. You do not require a TikTok account to download the app or watch videos. Users can use TikTok purely as content consumers (people who watch the videos but don’t create and share content themselves) or as creators (people who participate in creating and sharing videos).
When a user signs up to create a TikTok account, the default privacy settings that apply are determined by the user’s age. If a user is between 13 and 15 years old, extra privacy precautions will be available. For example, users in this age category will have their accounts set to private by default (the account can still be made public manually). In contrast, a user who is over the age of 15 will automatically have their account set to public when they sign up. The availability of other privacy impacting features, such as strangers being able to comment on your posts, other users having the ability to download your videos, and who is able to ‘duet’ (create and share videos side-by-side with your videos) your videos, are also influenced by age. For these reasons, it is important to use your child’s actual birth year if/when you sign them up for an
Videos shared on TikTok are grouped by hashtags, which often correspond to trends or challenges. Users can search for content using these hashtags or for specific creators by name/username. Videos are also discoverable through the users ‘For You Page’ (think the Facebook newsfeed equivalent) which is the first page that appears when you open the app.
This depends on how it is being used. Like many social media platforms, there are risks associated with using TikTok, enabling privacy settings and heavy parental supervision are key to managing these risks. Some of the key concerns are:
Privacy: Many young people make the conscious choice to have their TikTok profiles set to public to pursue becoming ‘TikTok famous’ (amass a large number of views and followers). This of course opens them up to having their content viewed, downloaded, and shared beyond their anticipated network. Depending on their account settings, it can also make them contactable to anyone, including strangers.
Inappropriate Content: Alongside dance challenges and humorous skits, TikTok hosts a substantial amount of content that contains sexual themes, explicit language, and drug references. A user doesn’t need to actively seek this content out either. TikTok’s ‘For You Page’ presents videos based on a unique algorithm that pushes content into a user's page (yes- event content from people they don’t follow) based upon their anticipated interests and behavior on the platform.
Parent Tip: If you want to know what type of content your child has been viewing on TikTok, spend some time watching the videos that appear in their For You Page. This will give you an indication of the type of content that they have viewed and interacted with previously.
Dangerous or Inappropriate Challenges: The pursuit of views on TikTok can lead to people doing things, or participating in challenges, that are dangerous or inappropriate. The ‘Skull Breaker’ challenge is a recent example that attracted international media attention after causing multiple hospitalizations and one reported death. Posing in sex positions, sharing your ‘body count’ (and no, this is not how many people you’ve killed), and dancing alongside a moving car, are just some of the less than ideal trends that have done the rounds.
Strangers: Like all social media platforms, if teen’s accounts are not being set up properly, or if they are not being selective with who they allow to follow them, they can be contacted by strangers. There have unfortunately been numerous reports of a predator presence on TikTok.
TikTok requires users to be 13+ to use the platform, however, due to the diverse nature of content that can be discovered on the app (some of which is not appropriate for young users) and privacy concerns, we recommend that users be at least 15 years of age and that there be a high level of parental supervision.
How can I make TikTok safer for my child?
Be involved in the account set up. This way, you can ensue that your child’s account is set up with their correct birth year, that privacy settings are enabled, and that parental controls are properly set up. For instructions on how to set an account to private see here.
Set up Family Pairing. Family Pairing is TikTok’s in-platform parental control tool. It provides parents with some control over managing their teen’s screen-time, direct messaging capability, content suggestions, and more. For detailed information on how Family Pairing works, and how to set it up on your teen’s account, see here.
Ensure that your teen knows what tools are available to them if they see something that they do not like, or if someone on TikTok is bothering them. Information on this is provided here.
Most importantly, set clear boundaries with your teen around how they use the app, supervise their activity, and let them know that you are there to help if they ever need it.
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