Keeping Kids Safe on TikTok
Whoa, whoa, whoa!! What’s all this talk about TikTok? If your teen has a smart phone, chances are they know and use TikTok—an app for creating short videos using favorite songs to share with their world. Who is watching? It really could be the world or it could just be your child’s friends, family, and acquaintances. Here are a few suggestions on how to keep your kids safe on TikTok. (The app, Musical.ly merged with TikTok in the summer of 2018).
Get your Bearings (a quick explanation of the app)
When you open up TikTok, you are instantly watching short and entertaining videos from users around the world, even without creating an account. The app autoplays videos that you may like, based on your searches. Anyone can become an instant viral star in their 15 second video by lip-syncing to a trending song, showing their honed dance moves, daredevil tactics, comedy routines, or by just living life. Special effects add to the playfulness of this social media platform.
In-app purchases allow TikTok stars to make money, and sometimes a lot of it. If your teen likes a video, they can use their purchased coins to send emojis to the video creator. Popular creators are called “Musers.” So, if you buy 100 coins for $0.99, who gets a piece of the financial pie? From every dollar, 50% goes to the video creator, 30% to the app store (Apple or Google), and 20% to TikTok.
What to Worry About and How to Move Forward
As with any wide open social media platform, there are things you and your child need to think about to ensure they stay safe on TikTok. But don’t worry. You can do this! It was a brave move to choose to have a child. Now you just have to continue to do the “hard things” with them like talking about pornography, inappropriate language and lyrics, online trolls and fake accounts, inappropriate virtual communication with adults, and the need for self-discipline in embracing technology. To help you get started, here are some things that may be concerning about TikTok and some thoughts on how to move past them.
Explicit Content: Since the world is open to their view, content that users see on TikTok is generally at a PG-13 rating. If they are randomly scrolling or searching, your teen will likely inadvertently watch videos that will include profanity, violence, self-harm, and sexually suggestive songs and movements. Although TikTok blocks hashtags that bring up concerning content, the app warns that their service is not for anyone under the age of 13. If your child is going to use TikTok, the best thing you can do is have an open, frank conversation about what kinds of content are appropriate for your family and what kinds aren’t. It’s a well-documented, psychological truth that kids crave boundaries (even if, at first, they are really hard for them), and there’s no time to start like the present!
Stranger Danger: Because TikTok is a wide open platform, you never know who may be on the other side of a video you post. Luckily, in TikTok’s Privacy and Safety settings, you can turn off “Allow Others to Find Me” which will keep your kid’s videos from streaming on to random strangers’ phones. This setting also turns off the pop-up recommendations that your kids receive to follow strangers. Additionally, though you can’t wrap your kids in bubble wrap to keep them safe, the TikTok’s “Private Account” feature can help facilitate a conversation where you can decide together who can view their TikTok videos. This mode gives only “approved” users access to see your child’s videos. You can also adjust preferences related to who can send them messages, comments, and reactions. Above all, your greatest protection is in agreeing with your child that a good social media experience relies on how you work together to stay safe and have fun.
Who are They Following? With the explicit content warning above, you may already be worrying about who your child may be following on TikTok. But don’t worry. You don’t have to wonder about this one! Get to know the cast of characters from your teen’s favorite Muser channels by inviting them to share their “Following” list with you. (It’s as easy as tapping “Following” at the top of the screen.) Watch a few seconds to get a flavor of the videos and swipe up to watch the next video in the feed. You’ll feel a lot better about what your kids are doing on TikTok if you know what they’re consuming. Just ask for regular updates. Make discovering what’s cool on TikTok one of the things that you and your kids do together.
Cyberbullying: Because commenting on videos is part of the experience on TikTok, your child may receive some bad reviews. Talk through this with your teen and help them understand what to do about it. Your most important message may be that you want to know when someone is being unkind online. Teens who talk with their parents about bullying are less likely to adopt dangerous behaviors that can result. Cultivate a spirit of openness in your family, and it will pay dividends in the long term.
How to Keep Up with Your Teen
Whew! You got through the tough stuff. Now, let’s talk about how to have some fun with your teen in the TikTok world! Here are five ideas to help you get started:
1) Be their Videographer—Brainstorm and create a video with your teen. (It’s only a 15 second video, so calm your anxiety.) Come up with a song, a camera angle, a “costume”, and begin rolling in 3…2…1.
2) Do a “Challenge” Together—TikTok promotes community challenges for users to create their own versions of nostalgic sit-com intros, music videos, dance steps, etc. Find one your teen (and their friends) want to do and help them create their version.
3) Search #Hashtags Together—Get a bowl of popcorn, some sodas, and take a moment to search TikTok hashtags with your teen. You’ll learn a lot about what is current, stylish, and happening in the teen world today.
4) Be a Groupie—Show your support by commenting on the videos your teen and their friends create. Be their biggest fan, their most enthusiastic audience member, and a prominent promoter of their art. In years to come, they may not remember the song lyrics they sang to, but they’ll remember your interest in their interests.
5) Be a Good Leader—Since TikTok is essentially a worldwide game of “follow the leader,” help your teen lead out in promoting fun, amazing content. Help them dream up awesome opportunities, compliment them on their talents, and influence them to create things that would make you and your family proud.
You may be concerned about TikTok, and that’s good. Parents have a responsibility to protect their kids. But instead of just saying, “no” each time a new social platform comes along, start by taking a deep dive with your child. Learn about why your kids are excited about TikTok and other platforms that come along. Explore their world with them! Help them learn, grow, and create. You’ll be surprised at how your relationships are strengthened and how much more connected you’ll feel. Good luck, Musers!