Have you heard of TikTok? If you have teens you probably have, because it is the latest phone app sensation, and like other “social media” apps before it, such as Instagram and Snapchat, it is becoming a bit of an obsession.
So what does every mother need to know about TikTok? I’m glad you asked, because when I heard my own 16-year-old girl going “gaga” over it, I decided to do some research for myself!
Essentially, TikTok is an app that lets users record and post short videos. In that respect, it is similar to the now-defunct “Vine.” Here in the U.S., it started life as another obsession you may be familiar with if you have teens – the lip-syncing website Musical.ly. Musical.ly was acquired by a Beijing-based company in 2018 and merged into the Chinese TikTok.
While you can still find a great deal of lip-synching on the app, video content is basically whatever creators choose — so long as it adheres to a 15-second time limit.
“TikTok, for all of its faults, is incredibly fun — and addictive ,” says Titania Jordan, Chief Parenting Officer of the parental-control app, Bark. “It’s popular with Generation Z in particular because it manages to combine humor, music, dancing, performance, and entertainment — all in an endless scroll of micro-content that becomes tailored to what you enjoy watching thanks to a powerful algorithm.”
There’s also the lure of possible huge fame (Lil Nas X launched the incredibly popular “Old Town Road” on TikTok) with users hoping to earn a spot on the “For You” page, which is broadcast to everyone. Others just want to take part in a running gag. “Meme culture is huge within TikTok, with challenges popping up constantly,” Jordan says. “Kids then try to top the trend with their own take on it.”
Is There a Downside to TikTok?
But with all of this trendy fun, is there a downside to TikTok that parents need to be concerned about? There are. For one thing there is no way for you to filter what you kids can, and cannot see, or contact. While there are privacy features, parental controls don’t exist on the app.
“Users can contact anyone in the world due to the public nature of the platform,” Jordan says. “Although you can block or report others for inappropriate messages, TikTok has no broader parental controls.”
“Like any social media platform that has a direct message or commenting feature, there’s always the possibility that your child could be chatting with anyone — including strangers,” she adds. She further cautions, “And since TikTok is a platform that encourages performance, that can make it easy for predators to use flattery and compliments as a way into kids’ lives, making them feel special while putting them at ease.”
Jordan continues, explaining that you can lock down your own account, but that doesn’t block out content from others. “Even if you set your own account to private, [your kids] may still be exposed to sexual or violent content posted to the public feed,” she says. “This sort of content can range from overtly sexual TikToks, to physically dangerous stunts that kids may want to recreate, to overtly racist and discriminatory commentary.”
And finally, she says there are the problems of social pressure, anxiety, and potential for “cyberbullying” that comes with any social media platform.
“Kids may get sucked into the pressure to create more and better content, and this can cause anxiety — especially if they’re not getting popular,” Jordan says. She adds that “Cyberbullying and trolling are major issues on TikTok. Kids who admit to depression are often met with dismissive and sarcastic reactions; some are even publicly encouraged to commit suicide.”
It’s Not All Bad
On the plus side, if you have a creative child like I do, who dreams of Broadway or TV stardom, TikTok can be a great outlet for all of that creative energy, and the makers of the app are taking steps to foster that in a safer environment.
TikTok recently announced a partnership with the Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI). “TikTok offers a home for creative expression and an experience that is genuine, joyful, and positive, which resonates strongly with FOSI’s mission to encourage families to share their online experiences positively and talk with kids about what they do online,” FOSI said in a statement about the partnership.
Through the partnership, TikTok offers safety tips, a parental guide, and educational videos to learn how to better manage the controls on the site.
What do you think? Do you, or would you allow your teens to use TikTok? Please reply using the comments below.