By Tracey Dowdy
Social media trends move faster than your toddler sneaking the treat you forbid them to eat. Don’t feel bad if you can’t keep up – that’s the nature of social media and toddlers.
One of the newer and most popular (over 100 million users) is TikTok – Real Short Videos, an app that lets you watch, create, and share 15-second videos from your phone. Users love it because it’s free, and allows them to add a soundtrack – including current chart-topping music – to create music videos with themselves as the star. It was the most downloaded free iOS app over the first half of 2018, and in September 2018, TikTok became the most-downloaded free app on Apple’s U.S. App Store. In October 2018, it ranked first on Google Play.
Originally marketed as musical.ly in the U.S., it became TikTok when it merged with Douyin, a Chinese app that offered many of the same features. It combines elements of other popular sites and apps like the lip-synch app Dubsmash, create short videos as they did on (no longer available) Vine, and is interactive like YouTube or Instagram, allowing users to connect with friends and build a fanbase through likes, comments or duets.
So how does it work? To create an account, users (ages 13+) sign up with a phone number, email address, or through Facebook, or Instagram. Once you’ve created the account and log in, users can search for popular creators, by category, or hashtags to find videos. Users can connect with friends already using the app through their phone contacts or social media. You can make the account private by going to your profile page and selecting the three-dot icon in the top-right corner. Tap Privacy and Safety. Then, toggle the switch for “Private Account.” You can edit who is allowed to send you comments and direct messages, or who can do a duet with you.
Because the app uses popular music across genres, not all content may be appropriate for kids. Though the app doesn’t allow you to use search terms like “sex” or “porn,” there is a sexual content with users wearing revealing clothing and dancing provocatively that may not be appropriate for younger users of the app.
TikTok has some safeguards in place through its Digital Wellbeing features. Once turned on, it limits the amount of time users can spend on the app as well as filtering some videos that may be inappropriate for tweens and early teens. To activate Digital Wellbeing, tap the three dots at the top right of your user profile. Then, tap “Digital Wellbeing” beside the umbrella icon. Kids can’t disable these settings without a four-digit passcode. Parents can also set Screen Time Management which caps use of the app at two-hours a day, or they can activate Restricted Mode, which blocks some content.
Like every social media app, there’s room for abuse and the risk of your child being exposed to content you’d prefer they not see. No matter how many safeguards these apps put in place, the best defense is a parent actively monitoring what the child is doing online. There’s no way to watch them every minute of the day, but it’s still a good idea to share that TikTok account with younger users. Ask them about their favorite creators and familiarize yourself with what they’re posting. If they are exposed to objectionable content, don’t panic. Have a conversation about what they saw, and talk about how the content doesn’t match your family values. These age-appropriate, honest conversations about respect for themselves and others is the surest way to ensure your children will develop a healthy worldview in the midst of all that’s available online.
Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.