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.
Tik Tok is an app that can be downloaded on Android and iOS devices. You do not require a Tik Tok account to download the app or watch videos. Users can use Tik Tok 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, by default, the account will be public. This means that any other TikTok user is able to watch their videos, send them private messages, and interact with posts through comments, reactions, or duets (a feature that allows someone to repost a creator's video alongside their own). Other TikTok users may also have the ability to download, store, and share videos released from a public account, even if they themselves do not have a TikTok account.
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. It also makes 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 users page (yes- event content from people they don’t follow) based upon their anticipated interests and behaviour 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 hospitalisations and one reported death. Posing in sex positions, sharing your ‘body count’ (and no, this is not how many people you’ve killed), and inserting an ice cube into yourself while filming your reaction, are just some of the current less than ideal trends doing the rounds.
Strangers: If their privacy settings are not enabled, kids and teens can be contacted by strangers. There have unfortunately been numerous reports of a predator presence on TikTok. Currently there is an issue with leaked nude images of a well known minor (aka child pornography) being used as the TikTok profile picture by other users.
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?
For younger teens, the account should be set up by and belong to an adult. This will give you control and visibility over who is interacting with your child and their videos, their privacy settings, and what content they are viewing.
Set accounts to private. Instructions on how to do this are available here. If your older teen has a public account, consider having their log in details and installing the app on your phone to permit visibility over what they are posting and who is interacting with them. Ensure that the ability of others to download your child’s videos is off and monitor the comments and direct messages they receive. You can do this by following the instructions here.
Use the ‘Digital Wellbeing’ features to control screen-time and filter inappropriate content. Instructions on enabling these features are available here.
Most importantly, set clear boundaries with your child around how they use the app, supervise, and let them know that you are there to help if they ever need it.
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