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Makenzie Stancliff
Makenzie Stancliff
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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. It’s popular because it combines teen users’ love for social media, music, and creative shorts. They love the authenticity of sharing and creating Tik Tok offers. Dangers are that kids may post and view sexualized or stunt videos and explicit songs, post videos of others without their permission, users are commonly ridiculed and cyberbullied, they may read lewd comments, and there is potential for public direct messaging. Be aware that popular Tik Tok influencers produce highly sexualized content and the “For You” autofeed commonly offers up content that most parents find inappropriate for child viewing. Plus, it’s so fun it’s addictive. Kids can spend hours scrolling endless content. As always, make sure you have familiarity with Tik Tok before you allow your child to use it. And, of course, 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). You won’t want to miss the parent setup tips at the end of this article. Our 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. It’s 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. Users seem to value creativity and authenticity over likes.

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. It is free to use. ByteDance makes its money through advertisements integrated into the app.

How old is old enough for adoption?

Tik Tok’s Term of Service states, “If you are under age 13, 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.” As you know from other GKIS Sensible Guides, 13 years old allows social media apps to be in compliance with the U.S.’s Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). It has nothing to do with child psychology. Nobody assessed that 13 years old is a healthy age for app adoption. That is up to 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). Most parents will find that, even at 13 years old, they are uncomfortable with their kids viewing the sexually explicit and sometimes cruel content easily available on Tik Tok. Follow a few popular Tik Tok influencers to sample what I’m talking about. Of course, every family circumstance is unique. We at GKIS believe that parents are the ultimate authority on your children’s unique traits and “fit” with Tik Tok.

Tik Tok In the News

In December 2019, the U.S. Army and U.S. Navy banned soldiers from using the Tik Tok app on government-owned phones due to concerns that content shared with ByteDance could be used to influence and surveil Americans. ByteDance reports that it stores U.S. user data in the U.S. with backups in Singapore, so it is not subject to Chinese law. But as a security expert told me, “It doesn’t matter where they store the data, it’s how they access it that counts. China is well known for having an excellent ability to steal private data from foreign countries.”

In February 2019, ByteDance was fined $5.7m by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission for illegally collecting personal information from children, like names, emails, addresses, and locations.  in violation of COPPA. The FTC found that Tik Tok failed to delete content from underage children despite receiving thousands of complaints from parents. As a result of the FTC fine, Tik Tok created an experience for underage users which allows them to only access curated, clean videos and not have the ability to comment, search, or post their own videos. Kids can work around this by simply entering a false birthdate.

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. Just because you follow someone doesn’t necessarily mean they follow you back.
  • 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.”
  • You can personalize your “For You” feed by ♥︎ing videos you like or choosing “not interested” on those you don’t.
  • Tik Tok nudges its users to go outside of their groups of friends by immediately introducing them to group challenges, theme hashtags, and videos based on a popular song.

What is included in the personal profile?

  • Tik Tok makes signing up to the app simple. You can sign up with an email, name, and phone number or through your Facebook, Google, Instagram, or Twitter accounts or through your Apple ID. From there, you can choose to sync your phone or Facebook contacts with Tik Tok to see if your friends also have an account.
  • Along with a personal profile photo of your choosing, your profile page can also contain your 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 videoes, they’re 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 and safety options?

Many Tik Tok users love interacting with a large, global audience to spark creativity and enjoy fun feedback. As a clinical psychologist who sees how some of these collaborations with strangers can turn dangerous, I recommend a private account so you can approve or deny follower requests, and only users you’ve approved as followers can see your content. Of course, we encourage parents to discuss the pros and cons of use with their kids to reach a cooperative agreement.

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.”
  • If you change an already-existing account to private, current followers will not be affected.

You can also remove or block followers at any time. Removing them disables their ability to direct message your teen. Blocking them stops them from interacting with or viewing your teen’s content at all.

Opting for Restricted Mode limits content that may be considered inappropriate. Users can also restrict comments to friends only or block them altogether. The can also disable messaging and disable duets.

Tik Tok offers a Screen Time Management mode with a passcode as one of their Digital Well Being offerings.

If you see inappropriate content while browsing the app, you have the option of reporting it within the app. We noticed that the report button is somewhat difficult to find in that it is hidden among other buttons.

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.

Tik Tok is rated a 12+ app store rating. This means you can block underage kids from onboarding the app with Gooogle and Apple parental controls. Tik Tok resources for parents include a Top Ten Tips for Parents primer, “You’re in Control,” safety educational videos, a Safety Center, and an ongoing blog series with helpful tips. The videos can be accessed directly in-app @TikTokTips.

What are the risks for use?

Constant Access

When kids are little, parents decide when playdates happen. Once Tik Tok is on board, keep in mind that your kids will have access to their friends whenever they have their device, and other Tik Tok users will have access to your kids. For many, that means 24/7 access. If you’re not OK with that, you’ll have to dock screens consistently or limit their access.

Inappropriate Content

Although the rules state that users younger than age thirteen 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 dangerous stunts, hate speech, and sexualized dancing to explicit music lyrics. Imagine watching your 12-year-old dancing sexy to lyrics that include the n-word, the f-word, p&^sy, and worse.

Cyberbullying

A fun video posted today can feel humiliating when viewed tomorrow. Since moderators can’t oversee all comments on the app, there is 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. Exclusion from posts about friend groups can also be hurtful. Imagine if your child is the one who was left out.

Trends & Attention-Seeking 

Users can produce or view inappropriate Tik Tok’s and often try to attract large numbers of followers with poor posting or comment choices. For example, the trend for “Chop Chop Slide” involves kids filming their parents’ reactions to an unexpected string of very explicit lyrics. Many of these videos of their parents are likely shared without permission. To feed the need for likes, affiliative apps offer the purchase of likes for your posts and to buy more followers.

Stunts & Challenges

Most Tik Tok Challenges are incredibly skillful dance moves. You’ll also see kids singing along with their tongues out and clever facial expressions to vulgar lyrics alone and in groups. Like with the other social media platforms, you’ll also see some winners come up with something like the outlet challenge which involves shoving a penny in a charging cube for sparks. To see what I’m talking about, search YouTube for Best Tik Tok Compilations and prepare to be mesmerized for awhile. The talent Tik Tok inspires is amazing.

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. The tech website, Motherboard, reported a large community of adults soliciting young Tik Tok users for nude photos and videos and even sent videos to the children. Lewd and hateful comments have been found on children’s videos. News reports say that, 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.

It’s Addictive!

Once you test the app, you’ll see how fun it is! It’s hard for users to resist the endless on-demand video content on the Discover page (indexed with hashtags) that is interactive, shocking, funny, creative, musical, and titillating. Be aware that popular Tik Tok influencers produce highly sexualized content and the “For You” autofeed offers up content that is similar to what has been viewed before. Kids spend hours scrolling endless content.

GKIS Parent Checklist for Tik Tok Use:

  • Disable underage use of this 12+ rated app using IOS & Android parental controls.
  • Test Tik Tok by creating an account and using the app yourself for awhile. It’s mind-blowing how creative users can be. It’s also helpful to search YouTube for Tik Tok compilations (e.g., “Tik Tok procreate compilations”).
  • Preset your chid’s account for best content by scrolling the home page liking appropriate videos & selecting “not interested” for inappropriate videos. Although it won’t keep them safe from viewing inappropriate content, it does preset the autoplay to a more positive autoplay pattern.
  • It’s also helpful to block influencers who commonly produce inappropriate content, while also “hearting” topics and influencers that match your child’s interests (e.g., singing, dancing, drawing, procreate, etc.).
  • Make sure you already have a digital contract in place (like our free GKIS Connected Family Agreement). Add it to your 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.)
  • Agree that use is probational and visit Tik Tok’s Safety Center and watch their “You’re in Control” videos together (recognizing that once the content is posted, you no longer are in control).
  • 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. Once you agree on a trial, create a digital poster with a bullet list of the rules you agreed upon and tape it up in your home’s homework or computer space.
  • Limit use with Tik Tok’s Screentime Management feature.
  • Insist on a PRIVATE account so strangers can’t view your child’s posted videos, Select RESTRICTED MODE. Use FRIENDS ONLY for comments and videos.
  • Consider DISABLING messaging and duets at first.
  • Agree to how many personally-known friends are allowed at first to limit exposure while your child is gaining expertise and judgment. Remember, they WILL post, view, and message inappropriately no matter how great you parent. If that’s unacceptable to you, DON’T ALLOW TIK TOK. 
  • Insist that you are friended and you have their username and password for backend control.
  • Set a #TechCheckThursday meeting to check friends, videos, messaging, and to ensure rules are being followed and everybody is safe. This will also keep the cooperative dialogue going.
  • Make a Tik Tok video together. Have fun with it!

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. Share our GKIS Parent Tips on your social media for friends and family. HERE’S THE LINK TO THE IMAGE

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
GetKidsInternetSafe.com

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