TikTok is a fairly new social media app that allows users to watch, create, duet, and share videos. The app has seen a substantial rise in popularity since the initial Covid lockdown in 2020. We say, “fairly new” because before the app was renamed “TikTok”, it was known as “Musical.ly”. Musical.ly was launched in August 2014 and was later rebranded to TikTok in 2018, however, the app only started gaining traction in 2020. Boasting over 1 billion monthly users, it’s understandable that your child may want to be a part of this online community, but the question remains; is it safe for your child to be on TikTok?
As with most social media platforms, TikTok has a minimum age requirement of 13. If your child is younger than 13 years old, it is not advised that they use TikTok.
If your child is between the ages of 13 and 15, their account will be private by default, meaning that only friends (people they follow and that follow them back) can like and comment on their videos. It also means that other users cannot duet their videos (create a side-by-side clip with your child’s video). They will be unable to access direct messaging and cannot livestream videos from their account.
Users 16 and older can livestream and use direct messaging services. Only users over the age of 18 can buy, send, and receive virtual gifts, which are exchanged during livestreamed videos.
TikTok offers parental controls and time management features. Parents can use Restricted Mode to reduce the amount of mature content their child will be exposed to, or they can use Family Safety Mode to directly link their account to their child’s to control all of their privacy and safety settings. Using the Time Management features, you can set up a time limit for your child on the app. When the timer runs out, a pop-up will appear asking for a passcode to continue using the app.
The app is split into two main viewing sections. The default that appears when you open the app is the “for you” page, where the algorithm provides a wide array of videos that you could be interested in. If you look at the top of the screen, you’ll also see a “following” tab, where you can only view videos from creators that you follow. Although TikTok has content filters that can be used, they aren’t always 100% reliable, therefore if your child is younger than 15, they should be supervised when using the app to avoid them being exposed to any age-inappropriate content.
Some of the content featured on TikTok can be potentially personal or sensitive, including raw discussions of mental health and other health issues. Sometimes when users discuss their mental health they are faced with sarcastic comments, often encouraging self-harm or suicide, and even though the content filters might block out these videos, it is possible that your child could still come across them.
Like many other apps, when your child posts on TikTok, they open up the chance of them falling victim to cyberbullying. According to a study by Security.org in which they studied parents of children aged between 10 and 18, they found that 64% of their children had been cyberbullied on TikTok, with the victims often feeling angry, hurt or scared after the interaction. A majority of the children reported that it had a negative impact on how they feel about themselves.
The best thing you can do as a parent of a TikTok user is download the app for yourself. You may already have an account to use the Family Safety Mode, but you should have your own account so that you know how the app functions and you can ask your child about their in-app experience. It is highly important to have conversations surrounding social media platforms, what your child is doing on those platforms and what type of content they are being exposed to.
TikTok can be a fun and exciting place to view and create content, as well as make new friends from all over the world. If you’d like to know more, you can check out TikTok’s Guardian Guide, but it is ultimately your decision as a parent or guardian whether your child is allowed to have access to the app.