The issue of how to keep kids safe on TikTok is top of many parents’ concerns.
Today I’ll be sharing my guide to getting started and how to keep kids safe on TikTok. I’m also sharing some guidelines on what parents need to know about setting up parental controls and safety features on TikTok.
My first comment is that:
I. Love. TikTok.
I’ve been using TikTok regularly for a few months now, and have even recorded a few TikTok videos featuring Teddy, aka the World’s Most Patient Dog.
On the whole, TikTok is a really fun, positive space that is considerably more wholesome than YouTube, Snapchat or Instagram.
As a creator, TikTok is a much more relaxed platform than YouTube or Facebook. In general, content is created quickly, and posted FAST. Content is short and has to be attention-grabbing, which means perfection is abandoned in favour of humour, creativity and authenticity.
The TikTok platform makes it far easier for beginner creators to reach a large audience, and we’re just starting to see the first branded collaborations on TikTok. In short, I think it’s a massive platform with even more HUGE potential.
What is TikTok?
TikTok is a video sharing app that allows users to create and share short (mostly 15-second) videos and publish them privately, or publicly.
The good news for parents is that TikTok is super easy to use, and explore – this is NOT another Snapchat-style usability nightmare. Flea and I often swap favourite videos and share them to each other via text.
To give you an idea of “typical” TikTok content, here’s a selection of the videos that I’ve liked along with some my teen has liked over the past two weeks. Yes, we like puppies a lot.
In theory, TikTok is home to lip-synching videos, which makes me think of girls pretending to sing pop songs. But as you’ll see from the video above, that’s not QUITE how the kids use TikTok in 2020.
Every video on TikTok has a “sound” associated with it. The sound might be:
- A short clip from a song
- A short voice clip, recorded by another TikTok user or from a TV show
- An original sound created by the person who posted the video
TikTok users create a video to match that sound clip – and you’ll often find thousands of versions of the same idea using the same sound clip. That’s what’s known as a TikTok trend. These can be dances, funny takes on a theme (“why I’m single” or “British school life” for example), or particular challenges and pranks.
What are TikTok Trends?
So, specific songs and clips tend to become associated with particular styles, content ideas or “trends” of video.
For example, one trend features a spoken line: “Tell me, how is your life as a youngster?” Loads of kids use this sound on videos of teens doing stupid tricks, jumps and falls, often at school, or at the park, with friends.
Another trend uses a clip from Eden’s song, “I think I’m catching feelings”. Kids use this clip in prank video clips (eg brushing up against a friend, teacher or other person who has no idea what’s happening, then looking directly into the camera and lip-synching the lyric). I’ve also seen it used by girls taking video of their crush playing rugby or football.
Another hugely popular trend seems to be encouraging your Mum/Dad to dance with you to a song intro, and capturing the moment they realise the song is packed with incredibly offensive swear words. I do sort of love these ones a LOT. Actually I have a soft spot for ALL the videos featuring Mums, Dads and grandparents.
There are dance trends. There are trends about studying and travel and boys who fly across the country to surprise their girlfriend. There are thousands of puppies. And there’s chat about depression, and school, and self-confidence, and all the other things in life that are of interest to young people.
If teens are talking about it, it’s on TikTok.
On the whole, the comments on TikTok videos tend to be far more positive and supportive than the comments on YouTube, Snapchat or Instagram. The biggest issue tends to be people querying whether videos are real or fake.
As a parent, I find TikTok a brilliant reminder of how smart and funny and goofy kids can be. And I sort of love that there’s a platform that celebrates that, and doesn’t expect girls to be perfectly groomed and nice and elegant the whole time (I’m looking at you, Instagram).
Is TikTok Safe for Kids?
TikTok is designed for kids aged 13+ and rated 12+ on the various app platforms.
For me, the biggest concern about children using TikTok when they’re under 13 is the language they’ll almost certainly be exposed to. Lots of videos look fairly innocuous but features very strong language for humour. There’s also quite a lot of references to partying, drinking, sex and the like.
As kids get older, there’s no denying that not all the content on TikTok is heartwarming and fun. So it’s essential to know how to keep kids safe on TikTok.
Within TikTok you can switch between two main feeds. First is the “for you” page – videos that TikTok thinks you’ll like based on what you already watch. Then there’s a “following” feed, featuring channels you already subscribe to.
Outside of the main feeds, users explore content in two main ways. First, kids can can find content by searching for the sound clip used. And second, content can be explored by clicking on a hashtag.
It’s hashtags that can cause most concern, with lots of content around self-harming, suicide and depression that isn’t particularly hard to find. Over time, TikTok learns your preferences and shows you more of the sort of stuff you watch most – potentially causing issues for vulnerable teens.
Bullying, trolling and grooming all happen on TikTok. It’s not uncommon for people to post ‘reaction’ videos that can be very sarcastic, or hostile, and private chats can easily tip into bullying. There’s a “duet” feature where users can invite someone to jointly make a video, and this feature has caused some concern with older men “dueting” with younger girls on suggestive videos.
It’s worth noting that there have been concerns over TikTok itself – the company was recently fined by the FTC for violating children’s privacy laws. Since then the company has made a concerted effort to share more content about how to keep kids safe on TikTok.
How to Keep Kids Safe on TikTok
There are a few features within TikTok that it’s worth parents knowing about if you want to know how to keep kids safe on TikTok. Many of these are explained in detail in TikTok’s Safety Centre, which can be found in the TikTok account settings.
- Private account: If your child has a private account, nobody can follow them without their consent, and their content, profile and location won’t be publicly visible. This can be enabled in the ‘privacy and safety’ part of the account. Separately you can turn off the option that might suggest your account as one to follow.
- Choose their Correct Age: TikTok recently amended the app settings so that kids under 16 can’t send or receive messages. So it’s VITAL that if your child is under 16, this is captured accurately when they set up their account.
- Safety Settings: Within the safety settings on TikTok, you can choose who can see your posts, who can comment, and send you messages. It’s also possible to filter comments for spam AND to add keywords that should trigger a comment filter. As with other social networks, you can also block and report users who are concerning for any reason.
- General Rules: In general if kids are on TikTok and using an account, make sure they are hiding their location, and their account is set not to accept messages from just anyone. If they’re posting content, make the videos private, and disable the ability to download videos or for other users to request ‘duets’ with them.
- Report: TikTok has algorithms that assess videos and can post a warning on content that it deems potentially harmful or dangerous. On any video clip you can click on the “share” button and choose to report the video.
- Dangerous Content: Where videos feature dangerous stunts, TikTok will also add an on-screen warning against trying to copy what’s being seen in the video. On many occasions, I’ve seen users complaining that video were taken down by TikTok for showing potentially dangerous content.
- Limit Screen Time: TikTok recently introduced a feature where parents or kids can set a screen time limit for TikTok. Once this time limit is reached, the user has to enter a PIN code to continue watching TikTok. The passcode must be reset every 30 days. This feature is ideal for TikTok because it is exactly the sort of app that you can fall down a hole of watching videos and before you know it, several hours has gone past.
- Restricted Mode: In the app’s Digital Wellbeing section is an option to turn on Restricted Mode. This mode limits the appearance of content that may not be suitable for all audiences. Like the screen time control, it’s controlled by a PIN and is valid for 30 days.
- Safety Videos: Within the Safety Center there are some really useful safety videos explaining to kids how to be mindful of issues like bullying, online safety. There is also a Parents’ Guide and links to Internet Safety organisations with more detailed, specific advice on safety issues.
Keep Teens Safe Online
- 10 Ways Kids Get Around Parental Controls
- How to Set up Parental Controls on an iPhone
- How to Manage What Films Children Watch Online
- Why I don’t regularly monitor my teen’s Internet use
- What Tween Girls are doing on Instagram
My absolute top tip for how to keep kids safe on TikTok is to use EVERY security and privacy setting to reduce the odds of kids seeing damaging content. And don’t forget the most important thing you can do to protect kids online is just to talk to them.
TikTok is an absolutely huge platform and in general it’s a really fun, positive space. But like all online communities, there are users who are predatory or aggressive, and it’s wise to keep an eye on the content kids are watching, and posting. If you’ve got tips about how to keep kids safe on TikTok I’d love to hear them in the comments, or feel free to ask questions!