When the COVID pandemic started back in 2020 and we were stuck in our homes, many of us turned to hobbies to fill our time. Some of us learned how to make ceramic bowls, while others disappeared into the mountains for some well-needed time with Mother Nature. Others, like me, downloaded TikTok.
TikTok is pretty trendy right now, and as we learned from 2018’s Tide Pod challenge, some trends aren’t the healthiest. But the parenting game is changing, and social media is becoming a regular part of kids’ lives. If you have kids, I’m willing to bet that they’ve asked for a TikTok account at least once.
We at Troomi believe that educating parents is the best way to empower kids. So let’s learn together a little bit more about the social media app that’s running rampant ‘round the world!
What is TikTok?
Simply put, TikTok is the newest social media trend. What Instagram and Facebook are for Millenials, TikTok is for Gen Z. It’s a video sharing app that lets people of all ages create, watch, and share short-form videos right from their phone.
TikTok began its journey as the popular lip-syncing app musical.ly before it was purchased by a Chinese company, ByteDance. ByteDance merged musical.ly with Chinese social media app Douyin, and thus TikTok was formed.
I don’t know if you know this, but TikTok is massively popular. As of October 2020, TikTok had surpassed over 2 billion downloads worldwide, and that number is only growing. To put it into context, take the population of the entire United States and multiply it by six—still more people have downloaded TikTok. It’s about 25% percent of the world’s population (if my math is correct)!
How Does TikTok Work?
First, users create an account by signing up with either a phone number, email address, or through their Facebook or Instagram account.
On TikTok, content creators (called TikTokers) film videos (called TikToks), usually accompanied by popular songs or sounds, then post them on their account for people to see. TikTok videos’ content ranges from lip-syncing and dancing to acting out comedy sketches, with a few painting tutorials or a day-in-the-life vlogs in between. Other users can then like and comment on videos, or else “stitch” or “duet” a response.
Like most social media, TikTok uses a highly advanced algorithm to determine what type of video might appeal to a specific viewer, which it then places on an endless stream of videos called the For You Page (commonly abbreviated as FYP). While users can follow family and friends, the endless nature of the FYP means that not every video users see will be by someone they follow.
The algorithm is super specific, as I can attest. Spend five minutes scrolling through my TikTok FYP, and you’ll know that I’m an MA student in Old Norse literature who loves hiking, linguistics, and 70’s inspired synth-pop music. A little creepy that it knows all that, right?
Is TikTok Safe For Kids?
Once your kids reach a certain age, they may start asking you for social media accounts. But is TikTok safe for 9 year olds?
According to Common Sense Media, TikTok is suitable for kids 15 and up. Of course, not everyone on TikTok is going to be over 15. As such, the app has some inherent rules that kids have to follow:
- Users under 13 cannot post videos or comment, and their FYP is curated with age-appropriate content. Of course, inappropriate things may still slip through the cracks.
- Accounts of kids aged 13-15 are private by default.
- Only users 16 and over can livestream or send direct messages.
- Only users over 18 can buy, send, or receive virtual gifts.
Why Is TikTok Bad For Kids?
At the end of the day, TikTok is social media, and social media is inherently risky. While teens may be responsible enough to enjoy it appropriately, we don’t recommend it for kids. Here’s a few reasons why:
- TikTok exposes kids to adult themes and inappropriate content. Many videos on TikTok emphasize creativity and share interesting information, but not all of them. Some videos may share information that kids aren’t quite ready to hear or see yet.
- Kids’ self-worth may start being based on likes and comments. Social media lends itself to a pretty toxic culture of comparison, and if your kids see their friends getting more likes or comments than them, their self-worth may plummet.
- Some TikTokers encourage dangerous conversations about mental health. There are a lot of TikToks that discuss mental health in a productive and engaging way, reminding kids of their self-worth. However, other videos may encourage kids to self-diagnose themselves with rare mental disorders, a theme that this article in the Wall Street Journal explores.
- As with all social media, TikTok may lead to cyberbullying. Like many things, bullying has gone digital. While TikTok has some rules in place to curb cyberbullying, it can still happen. Remind your kids to be kind online! After all, you may not see their face, but it’s a real person on the other line.
How do I keep my kids safe on TikTok?
If your kids are on TikTok, there are some things you can (and should) do to keep them safe:
- Do some of your own research! I’m one of the last people to advocate for social media, but here’s one time that it may be worth a download. Get a TikTok account for yourself, then do some exploring on the app so you know what your child is watching. You never know, there may be some parents on TikTok that can give advice on how best to protect your kids.
- Use TikTok’s restricted mode. The video-sharing app has a restricted mode that blocks mature content. Go ahead and turn it on, but remember that technology isn’t perfect, and some mature-themed videos may slip through the cracks.
- Make your child’s account private! Like most social media, TikTok has some privacy controls that limit who can see your child’s account. Make sure to turn their account from public to private. This way, only people who you let follow your kids will be able to see their posts.
- Have an open dialogue and encourage conversation about the app. The best way to build trust with your kids when it comes to social media is to have an open and honest conversation about an app’s benefits and detriments. Lend a listening ear, and let them know that they are always welcome to discuss anything they see on the app with you.
- Take a look at the TikTok Guardian’s Guide. TikTok has created their own little info portal for parents that is worth taking a look at. Check it out for a little more info from the developers themselves, as well as some additional resources.
With Troomi, You Don’t Have To Worry About Social Media!
Social media like TikTok can be educational, informative, and entertaining. However, it can also be pretty harmful to kids’ self-esteem. That’s why Troomi decided to create a new, kid-friendly smartphone that eliminates social media altogether. With a Troomi phone, you don’t have to worry about social media influencing your child’s life! Click here to learn a little more about our top-of-the-line smartphones.
Then, click here to check out the Troomi blog and read some more great articles about parenting and technology. You won’t regret it!