What Every Parent Needs to Know About TikTok

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If you're a parent of a teen or tween, you've probably heard of TikTok—the latest app that is taking the Internet by storm. In fact, TikTok is one of the hottest and fastest-growing social media apps around. So, if your tweens are claiming that everyone has it, they are not far off.

According to the analytics site SensorTower, TikTok surpassed 2 billion downloads in 2020 and was the most downloaded non-gaming app in the world. But, what is this app really and how safe is it? Read on to learn everything you need to know about TikTok.

What Is TikTok?

Developed in China, TikTok is a free social media app that is designed so that users can create and share short music videos. When the app, Musical.ly, shut down in 2018, all 100 million of its users were transferred to TikTok. And from there, it took off.

TikTok is like karaoke for the digital age. Users not only can watch other people's short lip-sync and dance videos, but they also can create their own short video clips.

Typically, the videos are recorded in 15-second clips and users can add special effects before sharing them on the platform. Users also can live-stream their videos via Live.me and interact with their audience via a chat function.

Just like YouTube, TikTok is an interactive app that allows people to connect with friends, comment on videos, and follow one another. Some kids are even gaining Internet popularity by using the app.

What Parents Need to Know

While most TikTok videos are harmless, creative fun, there are some real concerns that parents need to be aware of if their kids are using the app.

For instance, TikTok has a dark side in which it has become a vehicle that attracts sexual predators who prey on young people.

In fact, there are countless reports of older men lurking on the app sending unsuspecting teens and tweens explicit messages. In some cases, predators are even remixing videos and dancing along with the young people. They used to be able to do this with the "duet" function but TikTok now gives the user the ability to determine who can do a duet with them.

And because TikTok is designed for engagement, its algorithms steer people to video content via a "For You" page. So, if sexual predators just keep liking videos of younger girls, those types of videos are going to keep coming up in their "For You" pages.

They don't have to do much to receive a steady stream of young victims' right to their app. Here are some other concerns with the app that parents need to be aware of.

Defaults to Public User Profiles

When someone signs up for TikTok, their user profile and account are public by default. Therefore, in order to protect your teen's privacy, you need to be sure they change the privacy settings on the app.

While some kids may balk at this requirement, you don't want to give sexual predators, cyberbullies, and Internet trolls easy access to your teen's content.

Contains Questionable Content

Just like any other social media platform, there is bound to be inappropriate content on the site. And because TikTok is mostly based on music videos, there is plenty of profanity, suggestive clothing, and sexualized dancing on the app.

Additionally, there are some challenges and other games that are being played on the site such as #takeitoff, which encourages users to dance to specific songs while removing layers of clothing.

Collects User Data

While it's nothing new to discover that a social media app collects data on its users, it's always important that parents remember this aspect before allowing kids to download the app.

In fact, TikTok was recently fined $5.7 million for violating the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). This law requires companies to get parental consent to collect data on kids under 13 and TikTok did not do so.

They also failed to notify parents of how they were collecting children's data or allow them to have that data deleted. TikTok has since improved its privacy and security on the platform, but parents should still read through the app's policies to be sure they align with their desires.

How to Keep Kids Safe

If your teen already is using TikTok, or if you are considering allowing your tween to download the app, there are some steps you can take to keep your kids safe while using the app to interact with their friends. Here are some suggestions to get you started.

  • Read through all the privacy and security information provided on the app's web page
  • Turn off the location service in the app
  • Ensure the settings are set to private so that only people your children know can view their videos and contact them
  • Download the app to your device and let your child know you are watching
  • Make sure you understand how the app works and what privacy settings work best for your goals
  • Have an open dialogue with your kids about the app and how to stay safe online
  • Supervise their usage of the app and review their videos regularly to ensure they are not crossing any lines or putting themselves at risk
  • Monitor your tween's account to ensure they are only following appropriate accounts
  • Teach your child how to stay safe online including how to handle strangers who reach out to them
  • Talk to them about ways in which they can manage their content online including turning off comments or limiting who can see their videos
  • Discuss good digital etiquette and how to watch out for bullying
  • Monitor your child's screen time on the app and utilize the app's digital wellbeing setting

A Word From Verywell

Remember that any social media platform can become a tool for cyberbullies and sexual predators. For this reason, it's important to discuss these dangers with your kids before allowing them to download this app or any other.

Additionally, it's important to stay actively engaged with all your teen's social media accounts. Doing so is the best way to keep them safe.

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Article Sources
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  1. SensorTower. TikTok Crosses 2 Billion Downloads After Best Quarter For Any App Ever. Published April 29, 2020.

  2. SensorTower. Top Apps Worldwide for May 2020 by Downloads. Published June 2, 2020.

  3. Federal Trade Commission. Video Social Networking App Musical.ly Agrees to Settle FTC Allegations That it Violated Children’s Privacy Law. Published February 27, 2019.