TikTok is a free social media app designed for creating and sharing short music videos. It replaces the Musical.ly app that shut down in August 2018 having all of its 100 million users transferred to TikTok. 

What is TikTok?

Developed in China, TikTok is used for creating, sharing and discovering music videos. It is like Karaoke for the digital age.

Users can watch videos of others or even create their own short video clips. Young people tend to use this app to record videos of themselves lip-synching to the latest music. 

The videos are recorded in 15-second clips and users can add special effects before sharing them on this platform. TikTok also enables live streaming of videos via Live.Me and interaction with the audience via a chat function.

Lip-syncing and dancing videos are the most popular genres on the platform. Just like Youtube, TikTok is an interactive app where you can connect with friends, comment on videos and follow other people on the platform. 

Some kids have gained popularity and fame using this app. For instance, Jacob Sartorious became an Internet sensation from his lip-synching videos. 

Is TikTok Appropriate For Children?

  • When signing up on TikTok, user profiles are made ‘public’ by default. This means anyone can view videos that your children upload, send direct messages to them and access their location information.
  • Popular TikTok uploads emphasize today’s top music which means that some of the lyrics may contain swearing and sexual content that is not appropriate for children.
  • Some of the music videos have mature content that feature revealing outfits and inappropriate dance moves.
  • A report by ABC news found that the messaging feature in the app could enable strangers to send direct messages to children. A father of a 7-year-old girl warned that a predator contacted his daughter through this app.

Age Restrictions on TikTok App

TikTok requires users to be at least 13 years old to access its platform. Under the new EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), Ireland has now set the Digital Age of Consent to 16 years old. Anyone under the age of 16 years old cannot access this platform.

Common Sense Media has recommended that this app is appropriate for those aged at least 16 years old and above due to its mature content and information settings.

What’s The Appeal of TikTok?

  • The videos are very short, 15 seconds in length. It encourages users to be creative with the content they share.
  • It is a mix of singing and acting which can be a lot of fun. Many parents have used TikTok to connect with their kids using technology by lip-synching together.
  • It encourages users to be silly and fun and not to take everything online too seriously.
  • The comment box does remind users to “say something nice”.
  • It is a way to express themselves and create short-form video clips to gain a following and build a community around their passions.
  • It also features some great special effects that users can apply to their videos to make them more unique.
  • You can also cross-post the content on other platforms to share it with more people.

What do other parents say about the app?

Seeing inappropriate content

Parents have expressed concerns around the inappropriate language of some of the videos posted which may make this less suitable for younger children.

Contact from strangers

Predators seeking to connect with children is another risk that parents have said to their children.
For more insight on parent review, visit Common Sense Media.

Protecting Children From TikTok:

  • Ensure that settings are set to ‘private’ so only people whom you and your child know can contact and view their videos.
  • Turn off the location service in the app.
  • Check to see what date of birth they’ve input into their profile to ensure they aren’t presenting as an older person.
  • If your tween wants to use this app, ensure that an adult is supervising the usage. Use music videos that you are familiar with or you would normally listen to anyway.
  • Monitor your child’s account and ensure that they are following accounts that you think are appropriate for their age group.
  • Let your child know that you as a parent have TikTok and will be keeping an eye on their account. 

What should parents be concerned about?

When you download the app users can see all the content without creating an account although they are not able to post, like or share anything until they’ve set up an account on the app.

You can set up your account by using your existing Google, Facebook, Instagram account, via email or phone.

By default all accounts are public so anyone on the app can see what your child shares. However, only approved followers can send them messages.

Users can like or react to a video, follow an account or send messages to each other. There is the risk that strangers will be able to directly contact children on the app.

Children may be tempted to take risks to get more of a following or likes on a video so it’s important to talk about what they share and with who.

To delete an account you have to request a code from the app using a phone number.

TikTok have said:  “Today’s announcement is about going one step further to put in place stronger proactive protections to keep younger members of our community safe.

We look forward to the feedback of our community and all of our stakeholders as we constantly improve with new features and resources to help our community manage their TikTok experience.”

Does TikTok have any safety features?

Like Facebook and Instagram, it has a digital wellbeing element (which is password protected) which alerts users who have been on the app for more than 2 hours. You can also turn on ‘restricted mode’ to filter out inappropriate content on the app.

Set your account to private

Also, you can set an account to be private so that all videos can only be seen by the creator and no one else on the platform. With a private account, you can approve or deny users and limit incoming messages to followers only.
Please note that even with a private account, your child’s profile photo, username, and bio are still visible to all users on the platform. You can manage who can comment, duet and direct message your child on the app.

As of late 2019 the following features were rolled out globally:

Live streaming: The minimum age limit to host a live stream will still remain 16.

Additionally, users wishing to use the live streaming feature will need to have a track record of creating quality content that follow TikTok’s Community Guidelines. Users who want to live-stream will be required to have a certain number of fans before they can use this feature.

As of 16 April 2020, the following features will be rolled out globally within the next few weeks:

  • Family Pairing (previously Family Safety Mode): TikTok’s new Family Safety Mode which will be rolled out globally in the next coming weeks, is an in-app feature designed for parents to help keep their kids safe whilst using TikTok.
  • Changes to the virtual gifting policy: The new policy will only allow those over 18 to purchase, send or receive virtual gifts – read more here.
  • You’re in Control Education series: TikTok are continuing this series to help TikTok user understand how they can filter comments, choosing a private account, restricting duets and much more.
  • Opening a Trust and Safety Hub in Dublin: The Trust and Safety Hub is designed to strengthen TikTok’s policies, technologies and strategies.
  • Voluntary Principles: Supported by Five Eyes nations globally, to counter online child exploitation. Read more here.
  • Changes to Direct Messaging – Now, only those aged 16 and over will be able to send and receive Direct Messages.

Internet Matters CEO Carolyn Bunting adds: “The safety of children and young people online needs to be a priority for organisations across the industry.

The disabling of direct messaging on the TikTok platform for under 16s is a significant move in prioritising the safety of their young users and we are pleased to see the protection of their younger users taking precedence in their product changes.

TikTok provides fantastic opportunities to be creative and have fun, especially in these unprecedented times and it is encouraging to see them invest in a number of initiatives that help to create a safer environment for young people.”
Be sure to update the TikTok app to ensure you are kept up to date with the latest features.

How to report inappropriate content on the TikTok app?

You can report content that doesn’t follow TikTok’s community guidelines within the app, click here to find out how to do it on the app.

You can delete followers or ‘Fans‘ by choosing the fan you’d like to remove and selecting ‘Block’ from the menu of options.

6 things you can do to keep them safe on the app

1. Talk to them about Cyberbullying

Users can leave comments on videos posted so, this may leave your child open to receiving negative messages. Giving them guidance about what to do if they are cyberbullied or see others being cyberbullied will help them to keep themselves safe.

2. Set their musical.ly account to private

Go to their account profile page and tap on the three dots in the top right corner.  Then select “Privacy and Settings”.  From the options select  “Privacy and Safety” options and toggle “Private Account” on / off.

3. Make sure they are Share Aware

Help them to think more carefully about what they post and who it may be seen by so that they protect themselves.

4. Get familiar with the community guidelines

To make sure you know what is and isn’t accepted on the app you and your child can read through the community guidelines to help them to be informed about what they can and can’t do on the app.

5. Be aware of explicit songs on the app

Some of the songs featured on the TikTok app may have explicit language and sexual content that may not suitable for your child. It is best to review the app together with your child beforehand.

6. Turn on Digital Wellbeing settings on TikTok app

To enable “Digital Wellbeing” select the three dots from the right-hand corner. From the options select “Digital Wellbeing” under the app settings. Tap “Turn on” and set a passcode and toggle “Screen Time Management”.

You can also set the “Restricted Mode’ in the same way to restrict inappropriate content on the app.

Remember that any social media platform can be a source of cyberbullying and a ground for sexual predators. TikTok, like any other app, can present such dangers to your child. Always monitor their account and speak to them regularly about what they do or read online.

Credit: Internet Matters and Good Digital Parenting