The most popular social media apps are always changing, and it can be a challenge for parents to keep up. Currently, a video-sharing app called TikTok is one of the most prevalent, especially among teens.
Given the social app's rise in popularity – and recent media attention surrounding potential privacy concerns – many parents are probably wondering if TikTok is safe for their child. Like any social media app, TikTok can pose some risks to children and teens.
While every family may have different rules when it comes to technology, it's important for parents to be clear about those expectations with children. Learn why it's important to be aware of your child's online activities and how to encourage online safety in the digital age.
What are the dangers of TikTok for children and teens?
TikTok shares many of the same dangers as the wider Internet. For instance, there is always potential that your child will be exposed to age-inappropriate content like explicit lyrics, dangerous stunts or sexual content. If your child spends too much time on TikTok, it could also interfere with other things they should be doing for their development, like reading or playing outside.
Additionally, by using apps, it's important to be aware that you are sharing personal information, and that can come with some risks. One of the unique dangers of TikTok is how easily it allows users to create and share visual content.
Kids may not realize that when they put a video out, they are telling people on the Internet things about themselves. A video tells others what they look like, their age, sometimes where they live and other personal information.
The private message and comment features also allow potential predators to connect with your child while posing as a younger kid. They may use these features to build trust with your child, which could lead to physical danger. Even older children, who may be aware of general privacy risks, may act too impulsively when posting videos that could affect their future.
Lastly, some children may turn to social media apps like TikTok because they are seeking affirmation or praise online. If a video doesn't perform well or generates negative comments, this might lower their self-esteem and/or make them feel lonely. This is one way that too much time on TikTok may affect a child's mental health, just as too much time on the Internet can.
What is a safe age for TikTok?
While full use of TikTok is technically limited to ages 13 and up, children can easily get around that by putting in a false birthdate. Even though the app makers recommend that all users be older than 13, that doesn't automatically mean your teenager is ready for TikTok.
Age is just one factor. Every parent has to decide at what age it is safe for their child to access the Internet.
You should consider your child's level of responsibility, self-regulation and impulsivity. Keep in mind that even older teenagers are still developing self-regulation, so they still could post things on TikTok they later regret.
How can I keep my child safe on TikTok?
For younger children, parents can turn on parental controls so they can restrict what content children can view. However, don't just set the controls and never check in with your child again. If children delete the app and reinstall it, those controls will be gone. Parents should regularly check the app to ensure the controls are still in place.
For any age child, talk to them about setting their privacy controls as strongly as possible. You can create an account yourself to learn about what controls exist and how the app works. Just because you have an account does not mean you need to follow your child's account, but at least it can give you the knowledge and experience with the app to help your child set it up safely.
Talk to your child about the app's potential dangers, such as meeting random strangers or posting content they may regret. Have a conversation about what limits should be set on TikTok use, such as what kind of videos are okay to post and how often they can use it. With older children, you can have a conversation to agree on reasonable limits as well as reasonable consequences if the rules are broken. However, as the parent, you should have the final decision, even if your child is not pleased with the rules you feel are necessary to keep them safe.
When setting limits and rules, ensure your child knows there will be no negative consequences if they come to you with safety concerns.
As your child uses the app, you should stay up-to-date on their activity with it by showing a genuine interest in their TikTok videos.
Ask them to show you their favorite videos. Talk with them about what they enjoy about the app. Offer to help film videos for them. These are all opportunities to get a better feel for what they are doing while also giving them positive reinforcement for being responsible, safe, and maybe even creative or artistic.
You can also ask about any friends they've met online and what types of videos they share. These questions should be out of legitimate interest and not to pry into your child's privacy – unless, of course, you have reason for concern.
Though you should work with your child as much as possible to stay safe online, you can also choose to limit their access when worried about their safety. If you feel your child has posted something inappropriate or is not using TikTok safely, it's okay to remove their access to the app or, if necessary, switch out their smartphone for a simple flip phone.
At the end of the day, you are still the parent. Social media apps are a privilege and not a right for children. Your child's safety is the most important thing.