What is TikTok and why is my kid so obsessed with it? We’re here to break it down and help you keep your kids safe online and on the app.
Parents are all pretty accustomed to using social media. But we’re betting you’re not super comfortable with TikTok just yet. This one is different from anything Gen Xers or even Millennials are accustomed to. So, What is TikTok and why are your kids so obsessed with it? We’re here to explain and share some online safety concerns, and how you can address them.
What is TikTok?
The app itself revolves around sharing short-form (15-seconds-ish) video clips, set to music. TikToks—the videos themselves—get voted on by loves, comments, or shares, which are all pretty standard and similar to Instagram. If you hopped on right now, you’d find everything from funny parodies to how-to videos to lip-syncing battles and viral memes.
One of the unique aspects about TikTok is that it’s so centered around music. Next to the options to love, share, or comment is an icon of a spinning record with music notes. This represents the song excerpt the user is playing in their TikTok. You can click on it to see the track’s name and artist, as well as a feed of other TikToks that also feature it. That’s because it actually started out as a lip-syncing app for teenagers called Musical.ly. Creators are also able to edit as they record videos, which is a feature that doesn’t exist on other social apps.
But there’s another unique feature to TikTok that parents should be aware of. There are two streams of videos for any user: Following and For You. The Following stream only shows videos posted by people you follow. Whereas the For You video stream is generated by an algorithm with videos that TikTok thinks you’d like based on the personal information you’ve provided and what you’ve previously viewed. For kids and teens, the For You stream is potentially problematic. Here’s why.
The Dangers of TikTok for Kids
Here’s the hot take from this article...if there’s one thing you learn, this is it: The main reason kids, teenagers, and adults alike enjoy TikTok is because of the opportunity for their videos to go viral. But that can only happen when privacy settings are wide open. Keep that in mind as we explain the potential dangers of TikTok for kids.
1. Easy Access to Inappropriate Content
TikTok accounts are public by default, so anyone can see your profile and view the videos you post. Your kids will need to adjust those privacy settings by tapping the three dots in the top right corner of their profile. But remember, part of the allure of TikTok is going viral, which can’t happen when a user is in private mode. So, kids can often be enticed to remove private mode for the purposes of popularity.
Even when your kids’ account is set to private, they can still view anything happening in that For You stream. Unfortunately, that could be anything. Freedom of expression—especially in the form of making jokes or grand statements—is the entire point of the app. Sometimes that might be overtly sexual content, sometimes it’s angry videos inciting violence, or it could even be discriminatory narratives. If a kid views one video that falls into these categories (or others), the algorithm thinks that was their preference, and it will continue to serve those types of videos up in the For You stream.
Where kids flock, so do predators, and, sadly, predators do exist on TikTok. The minimum age requirement to join TikTok is 13, but there’s certainly no maximum. A commonly voiced concern is around the ability for anyone to send direct messages to users 16 years old and up. Direct messaging is automatically turned off for registered accounts between the ages of 13 and 15. But when messaging is enabled, strangers can strike up a conversation with teenagers over TikTok at any time. And again, the incentive for keeping settings more open is always ”going viral”.
There’s also a feature that allows TikTokers to “duet” with other users, and it’s become an easy way for predators to reach kids who have this feature enabled in their settings. The duet feature has historically been a great way to go viral, so it can be super tempting for kids to enable a duet with strangers. A duet is basically when someone is lip-syncing and dancing, and another user records themselves doing the same thing and shares it so that it appears side by side with the original video. The key to safety with duets is to limit the settings to “only your friends.” If you’re using TikTok’s Family Pairing, you can adjust the settings for reactions and duets on your profile and it will apply to your kids’. We’ll talk more about Family Pairing momentarily.
Unfortunately, almost every social media platform creates an easy climate for cyberbullies. On TikTok, that’s typically through the reactions feature and especially in response to duets. Because users can respond in video form, the bullying isn't limited to written words, which can have an even heavier effect on kids. On TikTok, the reactions can get brutal. Reported video reactions include users responding to videos they dislike by pretending to suffocate themselves, hang themselves, or telling the creator to kill themselves.
The best option to prevent the possibility of bullies responding to your kids is to make sure their account is set to private. Users can lock their account and make themselves unsearchable, but, as with many of the TikTok privacy features, doing so will stop their videos from growing in popularity. And, for kids, that almost negates the point of TikTok altogether.
How to Keep Your Kids Safe on TikTok
If you want to allow your kids the creative freedom to use TikTok, the most important thing you can do to keep them safe is maintain control of their privacy settings. And there’s a way to do that. It’s a feature called Family Pairing, which allows you to link your account to your teen’s account, and set controls to apply to their app usage. When Family pairing is enabled, you’ll be able to set limits in the key areas your kids need them. We’ve pulled this list directly from TikTok’s website to explain the parental controls offered through Family Pairing.
- Screen Time Management: Decide how long your teen can spend on TikTok each day. You can set your teen's screen time limit directly from your own account, and if your teen has multiple devices, the set time limit will apply to each device individually.
- Restricted Mode: Restrict the appearance of content that may not be appropriate for all audiences.
- Search: Decide whether your teen can search for content, accounts, hashtags, or sounds.
- Discoverability: Decide whether your teen's account is private (your teen decides who can see their content) or public (anyone can view their content).
- Suggest account to others: Decide whether your teen's account can be recommended to others.
- Direct Messages: TikTok users become eligible for direct messages at 16. Parents may restrict who can send messages to the connected account, or turn off direct messaging completely. Please note: direct messaging is automatically turned off for registered accounts between the ages of 13 and 15.
- Liked Videos: Decide who can view the videos your teen liked.
- Comments: Decide who can comment on your teen's videos.
In order to set up Family Paring, you’ll need the mobile app on both devices. You and your kid will need to be logged in. Then, on both devices, navigate to the Content & Activity settings to begin pairing the devices. Next, scan the QR code that is displayed from your account in-app to pair the accounts and turn on Family Pairing features.
How Circle Parental Controls Helps Make TikTok Safer
Unfortunately, TikTok's parental controls are only available for the TikTok mobile app. So, if your kids are accessing TikTok from a browser or another device, they may not have the same filtering restrictions or privacy settings established within the app or through Family Pairing. You need to keep your kids safe online when they’re using TikTok, not just when they’re using the app.
With Circle, the TikTok app and website can be filtered by your kids’ unique user profiles. You can limit their access to both the app and website by length of time they’re allowed to use the app, by certain times of the day (like when they need to be doing schoolwork…) or, if you need the app to be unavailable altogether, you can do that through custom filters.
Plus, when a profile is set up, and you’ve entered your kids’ ages, all inappropriate content within any app or website will be filtered by those age settings. Using the combination of Circle AND TikTok Family Paring is a solid plan for keeping your kids safe on TikTok.
Learning About TikTok Keeps Your Kids Safe
Realistically, if you’re reading this, you’re already asking all the right questions. And that’s the first step towards keeping your precious kids safe on apps like TikTok—knowledge is power! To learn more about how Circle can help you keep your kids safe online, visit our features page.