Each month, this series will provide important facts and tips surrounding child safety in an effort to support parents and caregivers as they navigate reducing risks and creating the safest environment possible for the children in their lives.
With the short form video app gaining popularity amongst big kids and preteens, parents have a lot of questions about TikTok and how to keep their children safe on the app.
The purpose of this article is to help educate you on some of the TikTok safety features as well as empower you to decide if the app is right for your child and how to best create a safer use of the app that fits your needs.
The way TikTok recommends user-generated content across their platform to app users is through its algorithm, matching up data from a user’s interactions with content as clues for what the user likes and dislikes. This is partially why parents are most often warned of the addictiveness of the app for children. Not unlike all social media apps, the TikTok algorithm’s job is to provide content that matches the user, keeping them on their platform longer. While limiting screen time may or may not be a focus in your family, it’s important to understand exactly what digital content your child is consuming and how to keep them safe.
TikTok’s Safety Features for Younger Audiences
The Apple app store has TikTok rated for 12+ users with a “parental guidance recommended” caveat. In the United States, the app offers users under the age of 13 a “view only” experience which includes additional safeguards and privacy protections including a partnership with “Common Sense Networks” which helps them ensure content remains age appropriate for that user’s app. Additionally, before a parent or guardian sets any of their own parental controls, TikTok’s age restriction-based usage doesn’t allow its younger users access to direct messaging or LIVE hosted videos.
While each of these safety efforts are appreciated, it doesn’t have control over a younger user lying about their birthday upon creating an account, therefore, an adult reviewing all smartphone and app use will always be the best line of defense for access to inappropriate content or use.
Parental Controls You Can Enable
While there are several third party apps you can use for monitoring internet, app and messaging for minors, TikTok does offer a few safety-related parental controls. Here is each explained directly from Common Sense Media’s website:
- Family Pairing – Create your own account, and have your kid’s phone and their login. On both phones, tap the three dots next to the user profile. Then, tap Family Pairing and sync your account with your kid’s via the QR code. (Keep in mind that kids can always re-download TikTok and create a new account using a different phone number or email address, so any controls you enable aren’t foolproof.)
- Restricted Mode – This blocks mature content, but even with the filter on, kids using the app on their own might come across age-inappropriate videos. You can lock the setting with a passcode.
- Screen Time Management – This setting limits users’ time in the app per day. If you’re only enabling this on your kid’s phone, choose a passcode to lock the setting.
Setting Boundaries and Educating Your Child
Beyond the use of a single app like TikTok, it’s always important to educate your children about internet safety in a digital age. Being sure to use age-appropriate language so they truly grasp what you’re sharing is key and provides them with simple specific examples of what harmful things to beware of. Topics to consider include cyber bullying, hate speech, inappropriate sexual content, encouragement of self harm, identity theft and hacking, internet predators and trafficking and more. Creating candid conversations around internet and smartphone use can not only help guide them towards the right behaviors, but empower them to make smart (and not always popular) choices when they feel like something is wrong, as well.
Taking Action When an Emergency Occurs
Despite your best efforts, something can slip through the radar and your child may fall victim to a safety concern. Monitor app access, history and parental controls if you are concerned. Always take your child seriously if they report an uncomfortable online exchange whether between someone they know or don’t know. If there is a problem surfacing from a fellow child or student online, you can contact the school and report behavior immediately. If you believe your child is subject to inappropriate or unlawful internet activity, contact your local law enforcement and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 800.THE.LOST. If specifically reporting online child sexual exploitation, use the electronic Cyber Tip Line or call 800.843.5678.
Helpful Resources to Learn More
- TikTok’s Approach to Safety – tiktok.com/safety