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What is TikTok?

By: Neil Mitchell

Time to brush up on your 15-second dance moves.

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If there’s a pre-teen in your house, there’s a good chance you’ve been hearing about TikTok videos. The social media app is getting more attention and more downloads these days than Instagram and Facebook, and it’s internationally popular—especially with kids ages 8–12. Even late night talk show hosts are getting in on the game. And tech and media watchdog sites like Common Sense Media are keeping an eye on the app, too.

Yet, what is the creative value, and what are the parental controls with TikTok? And what do parents need to know about the new video-sharing app?

What is TikTok?

TikTok is a social media app designed for creating and viewing short-form videos. Formerly known as Music.ly, it features content created by the community, primarily lip-sync videos, loops, memes and comedy pieces. The bite-sized content (3–60 seconds in length) is ready-made for increasingly short video attention spans—Magid’s 2019 Mobile Lifestyle Study found 30% of kids 8–12 watch short video clips six times a day or more compared to just 12% of total mobile video viewers. Intended to be easy to watch, binge and explore, TikTok offers a seemingly endless inventory of videos relatable for many teens and pre-teens.

What are the age requirements?

Most social media services require users to be 13 or older. The TikTok terms of service do not specify an age requirement, but those who indicate that they are under the age of 18 are required to obtain parental consent to use the app. While children under the age of 13 can download the app and have access to view video content, they are not allowed to upload videos, create a profile or message other users. They can only view videos. Age is self-reported by users.

What are the safeguards?

The five user protections and safeguards outlined below are the standard for trusted social networks. Know what they are and how to use them for any social network your child accesses. Note that TikTok now offers all of these features. Links provided below are to the relevant settings within TikTok. 

  • Account Privacy – Setting your account to private allows only your followers to see your videos.
  • Contact Management – Privacy controls offer options for allowing community members to comment, direct message or duet with you.
  • Restricted Mode – This permits you to manage your child’s experience by filtering potentially inappropriate content in addition to the app’s interface. You can take the following steps to turn on Restricted Mode in TikTok: 

1. Open the app and tap the Me icon in the lower right corner of the app.

2. Tap the three-dot icon in the upper right corner.

3. In the Privacy and Settings menu, tap Digital Wellbeing.

4. Turn on Restricted Mode.

  • Inappropriate Content Reporting – Content that does not comply with community guidelines can be flagged by users.
  • Safety Center – A robust safety destination that provides guidelines, parental tips and safeguard information, how-to’s and FAQs. We recommend visiting the TikTok Safety Center for complete information on the app’s privacy settings, safety features and additional resources.

Talk to your kids about their social apps and how they use them.

The best way to ensure an app is safe for your kids is to be familiar with it and how your child uses it. This seems simple, but kids often have hours of experience with an app that adults haven’t heard of or know how to use. However, while kids may know how to use apps, they still need your mentorship, as explored by Devorah Heitner in Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive (and Survive) in a Digital World. Encouraging your kids to share content they like with you will help you understand how they engage with the service and prepare you to identify and address any parental concerns.

Set limits and restrictions.

Banning your child from an app is generally not an effective solution since it can cause more frustration than compliance. If safety or excessive use are concerns, try to set limits or dangle access to the app as a reward. This can establish parameters while keeping your kids’ social experience positive.

Engaging your child with tech can yield great benefits, but only you know the right parenting decisions for your kids. Putting forth the effort to ensure that your child’s engagement with social media is safe will result in a positive digital experience for them and your family.

For related media inquiries, please contact story.inquiry@one.verizon.com

About the author(s): 

Neil Mitchell is media consultant, focused on digital and online safety. He has been working with Verizon on online safety issues for over a decade.

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