Is TikTok Safe? An Expert Weighs In on Whether Kids Should Be on the Addictive App

Unsplash / Kon Karampelas

The internet is simultaneously a beautiful, hilarious, resourceful compilation of things and a very scary dark hole filled with billions and billions of pieces of content. In a time when our kids are using the internet at a younger age than we ever did, there’s a lot to think about when it comes to the sites we allow them on and the apps we give them permission to download and use regularly, like TikTok.

TikTok, a video-sharing app, has swept the internet and captured the attention of kids and teens everywhere – much like Vine did for millennials. But is it a safe app for your young kids to be on? We spoke with Theresa Desuyo, a digital family expert for Qustodio, a parental-control app, to find out what we can be doing to ensure that our kids are using the addictive app safely.

What Is TikTok?

TikTok is a video-sharing app that allows users to create and share 15-second videos with their followers, but as is the case with Instagram, hashtags and public accounts allow for content to be spread widely. Users can follow each other, “like” each other’s content, and comment on videos they stumble upon – aka stomp their digital footprint all over the place.

What Do Parents Need to Know About TikTok?

“Parents should know that while TikTok is a great app when used appropriately, frequently that’s not the case,” Theresa told POPSUGAR. “When used correctly, TikTok can be inspirational for creators and viewers, but it is not uncommon for bullying to take place in the comment sections of a post or content deemed inappropriate for various age groups to be posted. TikTok has also become another platform where predators are able to communicate with teens and young children.”

“While TikTok is a great app when used appropriately, frequently that’s not the case.”

Basically, as with any social media platform, if safety measures aren’t put into place, your child can be in danger of exposing their personal information, communicating with strangers, and demolishing their attention span. “Trendy apps on the market like TikTok are changing at a rapid pace, and while these apps offer kids entertainment and a creative outlet, they can be addictive,” Theresa said. “Each clip is 15 seconds long. We’ve seen that children from 4 to 16 years old use TikTok an average of 60 minutes per day – that’s 240 video clips in one hour.”

Should You Give Your Child Permission to Use TikTok?

In short, it depends on a few factors. Like with other apps, TikTok has a minimum age requirement: users must be at least 13 to use the app, and any teen from 13-18 requires parental permission. Theresa’s first piece of advice to parents is to “be aware of these minimum age requirements and why they’ve been established. Like many social media apps, kids find a way to sign on.”

Whether your child is begging to get a TikTok account or you’ve found that they already have one, open conversation is key. “When deciding if your child should create an account, be conscious of this digital footprint and talk to them about the importance of what they’re putting out on the internet and who can view it. A digital footprint lasts forever, so children need to have a full understanding of what they want their reputation to be like for years to go.”

What Should You Do If Your Child Is Already on TikTok?

If you fall into the group of parents who have just discovered that their child is already on the platform, Theresa suggested reinforcing the importance of parental supervision and explaining to them that you will be monitoring their use “to whatever degree you feel is appropriate.” If you’re stumped on where to begin in terms of talking to your child about all of this, start by sitting down with them and asking them to walk you through how they use the app.

“It’s important to form a relationship built on trust.”

“Experiencing these types of apps alongside your child shows interest, empathy, and would provide a parent with the credibility to make judgements,” Theresa said. “Parents need to play an active role in teaching and enforcing safe and appropriate online behavior and they cannot do that on TikTok unless they see what kind of content their child is viewing, posting, or engaging with. By having an open and honest conversation with your child, you’ll get a better idea of what type of content they are viewing and what type of accounts they’re following. It’s important to form a relationship built on trust.”

What Kinds of TikTok Guidelines Should Parents Put in Place For Their Kids?

For TikTok – and social media in general – parents should consider putting a few guidelines into place, especially when it comes to privacy settings that can protect your child from potential risks. “For younger children, make sure the [account is] set to private. TikTok automatically makes a user’s profile public, where anyone has the ability to see your child’s profile and the content they share,” Theresa said. “For young children and tweens, use the ‘friends’ setting to ensure that strangers cannot send comments or direct messages to your kid, and turn off the location services within the app.”

Additionally, Theresa suggested monitoring your child’s use to whatever extent you feel is fair and necessary.

“Parents can monitor what their kids are doing on their devices and how long they are using them for with parent safety apps like Qustodio,” she said. “The app allows for parents to set a limit on how much time kids are spending on TikTok each day, to ensure they aren’t spending hours at a time on the app. Aside from physical parental supervision while kids are using the app, there is no way to see what videos your kids are watching, or to block videos with explicit, sexual, or violent content. It is important to engage with your kid regularly about their activity on TikTok and stay up to date with what kind of content they’re consuming. [Questions like,] ‘Who are your favourite creators?’ ‘What’s your favourite video?’ ‘What’s the latest TikTok Challenge?’ are all informal ways you can learn what your child is up to on the app.”

“By outlining for your child what kind of behaviour is and isn’t OK on social media, it will save a lot of time arguing with your child.”

Theresa also recommended setting up a social media contract with your kids “to set appropriate limits and expectations.” She added: “By outlining for your child what kind of behaviour is and isn’t OK on social media, it will save a lot of time arguing with your child because the expectations are set out in advance. While social media is almost a way of life for kids, they are not fully aware of the online safety hazards that come with it, so having a contract is an important way to guide them to developing healthy online habits.”

Should you choose to create a contract with your child concerning their social media presence and usage, here are a few things your contract should include and outline clearly:

  • What privacy settings will be placed on their social media profiles
  • That they can only join new social media platforms with your permission
  • That they can’t share personal information online without your permission
  • That sharing or engaging with inappropriate or offensive content is prohibited
  • What times throughout the day social media use is not allowed, such as during family meals.
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