Any app or game that connects to the internet is a potential risk for kids, but what about the amazingly popular TikTok app? We explain what parents and guardians need to know.
What is TikTok?
- A content creation platform
- The most popular social media app for teens and kids
- Rated 12+ and only allows account creation by kids 13 and older
It used to be called musical.ly, but was rebranded to TikTok back in August 2018 after being bought by Beijing-based startup ByteDance.
TikTok isn't identical to musical.ly, but is very similar. It’s a social media app aimed at teens that allows them to make videos and share them with other TikTok users. Typically these videos involve singing and dance along with their favourite artists’ songs.
The apps includes fun video effects and filters, which is another reason why kids love it.
It also allows for live broadcasts, but you have to have 1,000 followers and be 16 or older to do so.
Plus, direct messages can only be sent by over 16s.
On TikTok's page for parents, it is very clear that you should not allow children under 13 to use the app. But, as is the case with many social media apps, this rule is not well observed and all a younger child has to do to create an account is to select a birth date which would make them at least 13.
Similarly, they could remove restrictions for under 16s by creating an account with a fake birth date, but they can't change this on an existing account.
What's the content like on TikTok?
For the most part, content on TikTok is harmless fun, but that's not to say that your kids won't see inappropriate things or hear bad language.
Videos themselves aren’t curated before they appear on the app, and while you’re unlikely to find anything unsavoury in the ‘Featured’ section of the app, it is fairly easy to find stuff you wouldn’t want your kids to watch.
The library of song clips include lyrics which you might feel inappropriate for young children (they can include swearing and topics you probably wouldn't want kids hearing) and there’s no way to block that: kids can choose whichever clip they want to sing along to.
The app is rated as 12+ and, among other content, can include ‘infrequent / mild sexual content and nudity’, 'infrequent/mild cartoon or fantasy violence' and 'infrequent/mild mature/suggestive themes'.
The other main issue from a parent's point of view is that, like many social media apps, TikTok defaults to posting everything publicly, which means anyone can watch and comment on a video your child creates.
TikTok lets you choose who can comment on your videos, and you can turn comments off entirely in the settings.
If comments are allowed, be aware that they aren’t screened by the app’s maker, a friend or other follower could leave an offensive comment on your child’s video.
We'll explain below how to change the safety settings from these defaults to prevent this.
TikTok privacy changes January 2021
However, as of January 2021, TikTok has made a few changes to improve child safety for under 16s. These include:
- Accounts automatically set to private
- Other users cannot download videos created by under 16s
- Under 16s can choose which of their friends can comment
- They can choose whether posted videos are public or not
- Videos made by under 16s won't be suggested to other users
- Other users cannot 'duet' with videos made by under 16s
Changes for those aged 16-17:
- Videos made by 16-17 year-olds won't be downloadable by other users of the app, but this setting can be disabled
- Only chosen friends can duet with them
If you decide TikTok is suitable, check out our tips for first-time users: How to make videos using TikTok.
Can I make TikTok safe for my kids?
Not entirely, no. The best things you can do are to supervise them when they use the app (which they will hate), and double-check that the account is set to private.
This means only their followers (friends they approve via the app) can see their videos. Once an account is private you (or, riskily, the child) must approve follower requests, which gives more control over who can see the videos.
As mentioned, TikTok is setting under 16s accounts to private automatically, but you can tap the three dots at the top right, then tap Privacy & Safety. Make sure the toggle switch is set so Private Account is enabled.
There are more settings lower down this screen (shown above, right) which let you disable video comments entirely, and do the same for allowing people to duet with you, react to the post, send messages and who can see the video. If you have set it to a Private account, only existing followers and users you approve from then on will be able to see videos posted.
There's also an option to filter comments, and you can set up a list of keywords. If a keyword is in a comment, it won't be shown. It's a shame you can't pick from some default filters: it's virtually impossible to catch all profanities by building a list manually.
It's worth reiterating that once a video has been recorded, it does not have to be posted publicly. When posting, choose the 'Private' option after tapping 'Who can view my video'.
In fact, the video doesn't have to be posted to TikTok at all. Kids can use the download button to save the video to their phone's camera roll, and then you could allow the child to share it with friends and family via another app, such as Skype, WhatsApp or whichever one your family uses.
We recommend signing up using the app's own login mechanism, and not using Facebook, Google or any other social login - this is for security reasons.
Also, make sure your child doesn’t reveal too much personal information when they’re creating their profile.
Ultimately, you need to decide if you’re happy for your child to use TikTok. This may be a simple no, or it could be a ‘yes, but only with supervision’. Whatever your decision, it’s crucial to talk to your child about the risks and dangers of social media, especially its addictiveness.
You should also lay down ground rules with them, and ensure that they understand those are in place to keep them safe.
While TikTok is great fun, and it seems cruel to stop your kids having the pleasure of making videos with it, it's unwise to allow them to use it completely unsupervised.
If you’re unsure yourself of the risks and some sensible ground rules, check out our full guide to keeping kids safe on the internet.