Dr. Tracy Bennett
Dr. Tracy Bennett
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Tik Tok is a social media app that allows users to create and discover short videos made and posted by users. Dangers are that kids may post and view inappropriate or sexualized visual content, choose a song with explicit words, video and post peers without permission, peers can ridicule them for their post, and there is potential for the public direct messaging. This GKIS Sensible Guide provides information that parents need to know to make an informed decision.

What is Tik Tok?

Tik Tok is an app that allows users to create 15-second videos on any topic. The app is based on a previously popular app called Musical.ly, which is no longer available. Tik Tok users can post videos they saved on their phones and add sounds, parts of songs, special effects, and filters. Recently, Tik Tok added a new feature that allows users to record their reactions to other Tik Tok videos. The app also includes a feature that notifies users when they’ve spent more than two hours on the app.

How long has it been around and how popular is it?

Tik Tok is developed by ByteDance, a Chinese Internet technology company. It was first released in September 2016 for IOS and Android. Tik Tok’s global offices are located in Los Angeles, London, Dubai, and Tokyo, among other places. As of October 2018, Tik Tok was downloaded 80 million times in the US and 800 million times globally.

How old is old enough for adoption?

Tik Tok’s Term of Service states, “If you are under age 18, you may only use the Services with the consent of your parent or legal guardian. Please be sure your parent or legal guardian has reviewed and discussed these Terms with you.”

Before you make your decision, keep in mind that before 13 years old, kids still have limited ability to understand potential consequences and lack impulse control. In Dr. Bennett’s book, Screen Time in the Mean Time, she recommends no social media app adoption until at least the second semester of sixth grade, when kids have more social experience for creative problem solving and are no longer transitioning into middle school. (If the seventh grade is a transition year in your community, she recommends waiting until spring semester for the introduction). Of course, every family circumstance is unique. Many wise parents will forbid Tik Tok altogether, for great reasons. We at GKIS believe that parents are the ultimate authority on your children’s unique traits and “fit” with Tik Tok.

If your child wants a Tik Tok account, GKIS recommends that you:

  • Require your child to create a persuasive PowerPointthat covers risks, benefits, and privacy and protection features so you both know the in’s and out’s of Tik Tok’s features before you agree to it. For more information about how to create and judge a persuasive PowerPoint about a social media app along with other useful screen safety strategies, check out our Connected Family Online Course. The course was created to optimize healthy screen use while protecting kids and teens from digital injury. The best part about the course is it brings parents and kids closer with more cooperative negotiation around family screen rules.
  • Add it to your free GKIS Connected Family Agreement as an “OK” or a “not yet,” so parameters, rules and regs, and etiquette issues are understood. (If you haven’t downloaded it yet, enter your name and email on our GetKidsInternetSafe home page and it will be emailed immediately.)
  • Make sure when it is adopted that the account is set to private and you agree on the number and nature of followers and frequency of posting.
  • Insist that you are friended and you have their username and password for backend control.

What are Tik Tok’s popular features?

  • After opening the app through your smartphone, you have the option of looking at the videos of those who you follow, what’s featured, and videos under hashtags.
  • You can follow friends and other Tik Tok users. Those you follow will show up under “following” on the home page of the app. With a simple scroll, you’ll be introduced to the thousands of videos Tik Tok users create.
  • Tik Tok makes signing up to the app simple. You can sign up with an email, name, and phone number. From there, you can choose to sync your phone or Facebook contacts with Tik Tok to see if your friends also have an account.
  • To make a Tik Tok video, click the square button with the plus sign. Once there, the app will ask you if you want 15 seconds, 60 seconds, or photo templates. You also have the option to add sounds, upload photos or videos, and add effects. Users can also adjust the speed and add filters. Tik Tok provides sound categories like “Trending,” “Country,” “Furry Friends,” “Sweat It Out,” and even “Munchies.”
  • There’s a search feature that allows users to browse through various hashtags. They can also search through categories like “top,” “videos,” “sounds,” and “hashtags.”

What is included in the personal profile?

  • Along with a personal profile photo of your choosing, your profile page can also contain a bio, the number of people you follow, who follows you, and how many Tik Tok videos you’ve liked. If you have uploaded Tik Tok’s, the videos displayed on your profile too.
  • The top left has a button for searching for friends on the app. The top right is a button for the settings. When you click on “edit your profile,” you have the option of adding your Instagram username or your YouTube channel, which will be public to those who can see your profile.

What are the privacy options?

  • You can make your profile private so no one except you and your friends can see your videos. However, current followers will not be affected.
  • To do this, click on the Settings button at the top right corner on your profile page.
    • Click on Privacy and Safety
    • The first option is “Private Account” or “Allow others to find me”
  • As with most social media apps, the company collects information, including your name, email address, and phone number. They may also collect any messages you send through the app to friends. This is part of their privacy policy.
  • If you see inappropriate content while browsing the app, you have the option of reporting it. The report button is difficult to find and is hidden among other buttons.

What are the risks for use?

Inappropriate Content Potential

Although the rules state that users younger than age eighteen shouldn’t be on Tik Tok without parental guidance, anyone can simply lie and accept the terms of conditions without informing their parents. Sometimes the content may not be filtered, and any kind of inappropriate content may pop up. Of particular concern is sexualized dancing to explicit music lyrics. Several songs consist of sexual language or explicit words that users may use in their videos, to either dance to or sing to.

Cyberbully Potential

Since moderators can’t oversee all comments on the app, there is a potential risk for cyberbullying. Since being creative requires risk, public ridicule now or later is a real concern. Often the ridicule happens when the Tik Tok video is shared on other social media platforms, like Instagram or Twitter. The best way to prevent this would be to keep the account on private and add only people whom you know or are friends with. However, keep in mind that cyberbullies can always screenshot from a private account and share publicly. Users can turn off comments to prevent or stop cyberbullying on their content.

Making Poor Decisions

Users can produce inappropriate videos, make inappropriate content, or view inappropriate Tik Tok’s. For example, there is a trend going around Tik Tok where children and teens take the sound of the song “Chop Chop Slide” that consists of several explicit words in a row. The users film themselves singing the song with their parents in view to video record their reaction. What ends up on the internet stays there forever.

Attention-Seeking Potential

Users often try to attract large numbers of followers with poor posting or comment choices. Numerous other apps are affiliated with Tik Tok that offer the purchase of likes for your posts and even buy more followers. Users often see what videos are trending and have a lot of likes, then recreate those videos even if they are inappropriate.

Online Predators

If your child’s profile is set to public, anybody signed into the app can view your child’s videos, comment and message your child. Hundreds of inappropriate comments have been found on children’s videos. While Tik Tok has attempted to remove those comments after being reported, several inappropriate comments were left on videos. The owners of the accounts that left those comments were not suspended from Tik Tok and were allowed to continue commenting.

GetKidsInternetSafe rates Tik Tok as a red-light app due to the easy access to strangers, inappropriate content, bad judgment while posting or live streaming, and potentially harmful comments. Because the app has millions of users, it is difficult for Tik Tok moderators to weed out all of the unacceptable content. But there is also a legitimate argument for creative and fun sharing with a private profile. If you do opt to allow Tik Tok, be sure and get your child’s username and password and monitor posts.

Thank you to CSUCI intern Makenzie Stancliff for co-authoring this article. To read about a concerning live streaming interaction I witnessed between a 12-year-old girl and countless commenting strangers, check out my GKIS article about the Dark Net and Nude Selfies.

I’m the mom psychologist who will help you GetKidsInternetSafe.

Onward to More Awesome Parenting,

Tracy S. Bennett, Ph.D.
Mom, Clinical Psychologist, CSUCI Adjunct Faculty

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