Kids and teens all across the world are spending hours and hours filling their time by rehearsing dance moves, memorizing song lyrics, playing practical jokes, and recreating viral video trends. This is all thanks to the newest app to hit the social media frenzy, TikTok. TikTok was originally a music-based lip-syncing app called “Music.ly,” but it’s been on the rise since 2018 after being rebranded under its new name.
The app is unique for several reasons. For one, it’s entirely video-based, similar to the short-lived app Vine, which experienced a boom in the mid-2010s. Also, TikTok was initially created as a lip-syncing app similar to Dubsmash, which also experienced a brief stint of popularity. However, TikTok videos are much longer, lasting up to a whole minute, and the use of music or background sound is not required (although still a very popular format).
TikTok is different from Instagram and Snapchat in its appearance as well as its use, and it’s soaring in popularity, meaning parents of teens and preteens need to understand the social media effects on teens and the precautions they can take going forward. Social media is a key tool for kids to connect and engage with the world around them nowadays, so it’s important to let kids use apps like TikTok, even if it’s only in a limited capacity. Here’s an overview of the newest social media fad along with a set of potential guidelines for parents to follow.
TikTok at a Glance
If you’re familiar with Instagram or Facebook, the TikTok platform won’t be too hard to digest. Users have their own profile which can be listed as “public” or “private” (the same as Instagram). Private accounts are only accessible by approved accounts, but public profiles are open for anyone to see. TikTok feeds are similar to Instagram feeds and Facebook walls, and users scroll through content from other TikTok accounts. The TikTok algorithm fills feeds with content similar to the accounts the user already follows, creating a personalized set of content.
TikTok videos include “challenges,” which are mass-produced video formats that stem from one viral trend. Challenges are often popular dance moves or jokes and can incorporate different songs, effects, and filters. Like most other social media apps, TikTok content varies widely. If you search, you’re bound to find accounts dedicated to everything from comedy to fashion to mental health, which makes it a very engaging platform for users.
There is plenty of teen- and kid-friendly content on TikTok, but the app is meant for users thirteen-years-old and up. Adults are also able to use the app, which means there is plenty of content inappropriate for younger users due to crude humor, explicit language, and sexual content (although TikTok restricts pornography). Here are some excellent parental controls for iPhone, android, and tablets parents can use to ensure their children are only seeing safe and appropriate content on TikTok.
Turn on Restricted Mode
Restricted mode is the most straightforward way to monitor inappropriate content on TikTok. This feature blocks content flagged as “mature” by TikTok, which might include inappropriate language, sexual content, or violence. This is a great feature for parents to utilize in order to keep their kids from absorbing too much age-inappropriate content on the new social media app, but some explicit content might still slip through.
Set a Screen Time Limit
TikTok comes with a setting that restricts the app’s use after a certain amount of time. You can set this limit to be any time from forty minutes to two hours, depending on what you think is right. TikTok, with its short videos, is an incredibly easy app to get absorbed in and lose track of time. If you’re worried your kid will spend too much time watching TikTok videos, using this setting is a great option.
Use Family Pairing
Family pairing is one of the best things about TikTok. Via family pairing, parents can create accounts link to their child’s TikTok to monitor settings, set screen time restrictions, view the same content their child is seeing, and keep an eye on the direct messages they’re sending and receiving. This feature is the perfect way to let kids use TikTok while ensuring parental guidance and protection. If an account seems inappropriate, you can block it; if your kid is spending hours on the app, you can cut the time limit; and if a stranger starts reaching out through instant messages, you’ll be the first one to know.
All social media apps come with a certain amount of risk, but it’s inevitable that your teen or preteen will start using apps like TikTok eventually, whether you approve or not. It’s a better idea to let them create an account under your own parental guidance than have them sneak off and create an account on their own. TikTok’s restricted mode, screen limitation, and family pairing feature make it a great app for parents and kids to explore together!
Andy Earle is a researcher who studies parent-teen communication and adolescent risk behaviors. He is the co-founder of talkingtoteens.com, ghostwriter at WriteItGreat.com, and host of the Talking to Teens podcast, a free weekly talk show for parents of teenagers.