what parents should know about tik tok

Tik Tok: What parents should know

If you have recently heard a bit of banter about the app Tik Tok, it is probably because it has become the number one downloaded app from the app stores, surpassing the downloads of Facebook, Instagram, Youtube and Snapchat.  Tik Tok is a Chinese owned platform that took over Mucial.ly, the lip synching app loved by many, (including many young primary aged girls who loved to create their own music videos).  It has now fast become the new popular short video craze that is enjoyed by a huge audience of all ages,  and the new platform is used to showcase the talent of creative sparks and goofy kids.

What is Tik Tok?

Once you create an account you can go about creating short 15 second videos to music or comedy sketches using a data base of songs, special effects and sound bites. You can perform on your own, create videos with others or even form ‘duets’ whereby you split the screen in collaboration with others. Some however prefer just to be a spectator and solely consume the content rather than create any themselves.

How does Tik Tok work?

Users sign up via a mobile number, email account, or via Facebook or Instagram. Once you create your account you can start searching for videos to watch via categories, popular creators or by using hashtags. You can also use your own existing contacts from other networks or from phone numbers on your device to follow those who may have an account. You can also press the record button to start recording your video, choosing your music and any special effects, then upload to your account. There are lots of themes, skits and challenges that encourage creators to share their interpretations of popular ideas.

What do creators like about Tik Tok?

The content is short and quick to create and consume.  There is a unique type of comedy on Tik Tok which obviously amuses many.  Some say it is easier to amass large followings, much more so than other popular social networks. There have been many Tik Tok users who have found some relative fame and even spawned TV shows as a result of their online success. It is also regarded by some as a place where bullying is less likely to occur (however of course we know anywhere people connect online there is a chance of bullying and there are many parody type videos that can make fun of certain groups in society).

What do we need to be wary of with Tik Tok and younger users?

Like all social networks, Tik Tok relies on people sharing, commenting, liking and connecting. Whenever we have online interactions we do have the chance of negative or dangerous behaviours. Whenever we have people coming together from all sorts of backgrounds and life experience we have the chance of exposure to prejudice, sexist, misogynistic or racist behaviours. We also are exposing ourselves to language that is largely unfiltered and lyrics that can be inappropriate. Recently India banned the downloads of the app due to concerns over pornography and sexual predation. As a result the owners invested heavily in moderators to get dodgy content taken down more quickly and efficiently. But of course wherever there are young people hanging out online there is always going to be a paedaphile or many, lurking around ready to take advantage of the vulnerable. The company has also invested in advanced Artificial Intelligence that ensures we are served up a neverending stream of videos optimised to hold and sometimes hijack our attention.

Is Tik Tok free?

Yes Tik Tok is free to download and open an account. Like every app however, particularly if it is free, you will pay by sharing a multitude of your data and be exposed to advertising.There is also the ability to purchase “gifts’ to give to popular creators by sending them money. Parents should turn off the in app purchases via the settings button on your child’s device to disable this option.

How old do you need to be to use Tik Tok?

Like most social networking platforms, one must be 13+  as this ensures the owners are complying with COPPA (the Child Online Privacy Protection Act that makes it illegal to gather data of minors under 13 years). Whilst this is not always well policed, the owners were recently fined $5.7 million dollars by the US Federal Trade Commission for neglecting that fact. This meant they are ordered to take down any under age user accounts, however this is not part of Australian law, so the restrictions on our young people are not the covered or policed here in Australia. Aside from the legal ramifications however, the age restrictions are there to protect the young people who have not yet the cognitive, social or emotional maturity to manage the people and content that they will likely be exposed to.

How can I use Tik Tok safely?

Like all apps it is not really the technology that makes them safe or unsafe but the people that use them and our behaviours when we use them ourselves that determines our experiences.  But here are some things to be aware of:

  • Accounts are public by default so you may want to go and make your account private. Head to your profile page. Click the 3 dot icon in the top right hand corner and click on ‘Privacy and Safety’. From there you have options to
    • make account private
    • Determine who can post comments (friends, everyone, off)
    • who can duet with you
    • who can react to your videos
    • who can send you messages
    • who can view videos you like
    • you can filter spam and offensive comments
    • filter key words by typing in words you never want to see in your comment section. If someone tries to make a comment using those words, the whole comment will not appear. (this is also available in Instagram)
  • Remember the way a 17 year old or a 25 year old interprets song lyrics can be vastly different to your young child, so they may be seeing sexually suggestive and explicit content regardless of the lyrics.
  • You can delete a video if you later choose to so it disappears from your profile. There are instructions on how to do this under Frequently Asked Questions in the Report a problem section.
  • There is a Restricted Mode that can be turned on under the heading Digital wellbeing. This can limit the content that may not be appropriate for younger users.
  • Also under Digital Wellbeing is a Screen Time Management tab to limit your time on the app.
  • You can now delete an account by going to the manage my account section. (this was not previously possibly with Musical.ly or the early Tik Tok.
  • Users can duet with other users but they both must follow each other.
  • Unless you are on the restricted mode it is difficult to filter content or users so if you are a parent you would want to have access to your child’s account to see what they are posting and sharing and who they are interacting with. It should also be set to private.  Like all apps however, the popularity element can be enticing as they strive for greater reach and attention from other users.

Once again like any social media, there is the ability to see porn, be contacted by strangers, be groomed, cyberbullied and be exposed to all manner of dodgy. There is also the ability to have a bit of fun, enjoy some creative and comedic genius or just inject some goofiness into you day. So be aware and informed and take the necessary steps to make it as safe and as positive an experience as you can.


if you would like me to present to your school or organisation on how to help your kids thrive in a digital world, please get in touch https://themodernparent.net/how-can-i-help/parent-presentations/

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