The fact that parents have to be wary of their children’s behaviors on online social platforms is far from news. Dating all the way back to the earliest days of Myspace, meeting and connecting with people online has created a window for risk. Since then, teenagers and young adults have seen their fair share of social media apps, platforms, and forums. Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, Tumblr, and Reddit might be familiar to parents, but another app has jumped to the top of the social media storm.
TikTok has been steadily rising in popularity since 2018. Initially becoming a hit in China with the name “Music.ly,” the music-based app has hit western countries and helped the app reach the second highest spot in Apple’s “free apps” section of the app store. For parents of older teens and young adults, TikTok might not be something to worry about. After all, if their kids have previous experience staying safe on apps like Instagram and Snapchat, TikTok will seem pretty straightforward. However, for parents raising preteens and younger teenagers, it’s important to know the parental controls for iPhone, android, and other phones and tablets when it comes to TikTok.
Here’s a quick summary of what the app is, how it’s used, and what parents can do to make sure their kids are staying safe and consuming appropriate content.
What is TikTok?
TikTok is a social media platform based on recording and sharing videos set to music (not all videos require the use of music, but the app was originally a lip-syncing platform akin to Dubsmash). Videos can be up to a minute long, and a variety of effects and filters let users edit their videos however they want. TikTok users scroll through a video feed and have their own profile where other people can see videos they’ve created and posted.
On TikTok, users can find just about anything when it comes to content. There are comedy accounts, art-based accounts, professional and brand accounts, and personal accounts (which is likely what your teen or preteen uses TikTok for). TikTok is well-known for spurring “challenges,” viral video trends that users emulate and post to their own profile. Challenges are usually fun and harmless activities like dance moves and practical jokes and participating in them is part of what gives TikTok such a massive appeal.
In general, TikTok is like any other social media platform in that it’s meant to be used as a creative and personal space by users who want to share and explore their interests. However, the music-based nature of the app means there is a good amount of sexual, mature, and explicit content for parents to be mindful of, plus potential predators. This isn’t unique to TikTok as all parents need to approach the social media effects on teens with a certain amount of caution. The good thing about TikTok, though, is that the app comes equipped with tools for parents to monitor what their children can see and do on the app. Here are some great parental tools for parents nervous about their young teens on TikTok.
Use the Family Pairing Setting
One awesome thing about TikTok is that parents can have their own TikTok profiles that link to their child’s account, almost like a debit card attached to a parent’s bank account. Using Family Pairing, parents can set privacy settings, see what content their kid is producing on their profile and seeing on their feed, and read all direct messages sent to their child. They can also control whether the profile is “private” or “public.” Public accounts allow anyone (even strangers) to see a profile. Family Pairing is a great start for parents who are nervous about letting their young teens get involved with social media for the first time.
Manage Screen Time
Through Family Pairing, parents can also set time limits for how long their child is allowed to use the app. Since kids are known for becoming entranced with their phones for hours at a time, this is awesome news. The TikTok format of short, digestible videos makes it especially easy to lose track of time on the app, so this setting is great for parents worried their kids will spend too much time on TikTok.
Turn on Restricted Mode
While lots of the content on TikTok is totally fine, there are certainly accounts and videos do not age appropriate to teenagers and preteens. What restricted mode does is block mature content? This includes sexually suggestive content, violent content, and explicit language. This is a great start, but some content might still seep through. TikTok technically has an age restriction of thirteen years old but is also used by adults of all ages, so turning on restricted mode is a good move for parents who don’t want their teens seeing things above their age limit.
TikTok should be approached by parents the same way any social media app should be. Caution is good, but kids today use social media to connect and express themselves. Completely disallowing an app like TikTok might backfire and cause teens to sneak around and create a private account. Letting them make a profile under your watchful eye is a great way to go, and TikTok makes it easy!
Andy Earle is a researcher who studies parent-teen communication and adolescent risk behaviors. He is the co-founder of talkingtoteens.com, ghostwriter at WriteItGreat.com, and host of the Talking to Teens podcast, a free weekly talk show for parents of teenagers.