If you're not exactly sure what TikTok is, consider yourself in good parenting company. Big Little Lies star and mom-of-three Reese Witherspoon wasn't sure until she enlisted the help of her 15-year-old son, Deacon Phillippe, to explain the whole phenomenon. The hilarious results spurred a deeper interest in the trend, with some parents wondering: Is TikTok safe for kids?
It's first important to know what TikTok actually is. Simply put, it's a social media app for creating and sharing content — think short lip-syncs, comedy bits, and talent videos, according to Refinery29. And it's big, boasting 500 million users worldwide.
Secondly (and perhaps most importantly), TikTok is rated for kids 12+ on Apple's app store and has a "teen maturity" label on Google Play. Furthermore, there's reportedly no safety system in place to ensure that kids who download TikTok are actually of the appropriate age, according to Learning Lift Off. This means that kids can be vulnerable to a wide variety of inappropriate content, like music with explicit lyrics or mature subject matter. Common Sense Media rates it safe for users 16+ years of age, which is a decent jump from Apple's 12+ recommendation.
This all being said, it's important to note there is a separate section of the app for users under 13 years old, where age appropriate videos are curated. Additionally, users cannot comment, search, or post their own videos.
Still, don't let this section provide you with a false sense of security. Seemingly anyone can bypass this area by changing their birthdate, giving them access to the entire TikTok catalog, according to Common Sense Media.
Although these potential pitfalls might be alarming to parents, there are measures you can take to protect your child. Take TikTok's Digital Wellbeing setting that was launched in 2018, for instance. This setting manages time spent on the app, and after two hours, users can no longer log in to view videos until the next day when the time is reset, according to Internet Matters. This feature can be overridden, but only with the manual input of a parental passcode. Restricted Mode, also password protected, aims at filtering out inappropriate content.
Furthermore, open communication about rules and expectations are a good place to start, according to Web Watcher. Explaining that while apps like TikTok may seem like innocent fun, there are always risks involved when coming into contact with strangers online. Downloading and exploring the app yourself will also help you understand what your child may encounter while online.
And while it might sound invasive, have your child share their TikTok password with you so you can check up on what they've been up to, according to Securing Tomorrow. The thought of having a parent inside their social media world might be enough to deter potentially risky behavior.
Bottom line, the internet can be a scary place. And putting yourself out there, no matter how savvy your teen might think they are, presents a slough of possible issues, all the way from reviewing questionable content to communicating with potential predators. The best bet for safety? Keep an open line of communication between yourself and your kids. Furthermore, don't hesitate to reach out to a trusted professional when dealing with social media safety concerns.