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Safety Measures to Keep TikTok Safe for Kids | #childsafety | #kids | #chldern | #parents | #schoolsafey


Parents want to keep their kids safe not only at school, in the playground, and at home but online, too. Gen Z can’t get enough of TikTok. But if you’re worried about what exactly your kids are getting on the platform, you’re not alone.

In 2023, 150 million Americans used TikTok. That makes it one of the hottest social media sites for tweens and teens. In fact, according to Pew Research, in 2022, it was second only to YouTube, with 67% of teens ages 13-17 saying they used the app.

But as kids continue to hit download, parents are still asking the question: Is TikTok safe for kids?

While it may seem like TikTok came out of nowhere, the app actually began in 2014 as a lip-synching site called Musical.ly. In 2018, it was acquired by a Bejing-based company and merged into the Chinese app TikTok, explains Titania Jordan, the chief parenting officer of parental-control app Bark.

Lip-synching is still a major theme on the app, but TikTok’s content runs the gamut. On the platform, you’ll find clips involving taking weird challenges to others that feature songs destined to blow up pop charts.

If it sounds like TikTok is fertile ground for a lot of fun and a good deal of trouble, that’s because it is. No matter which social media platform your child uses—even if it’s a purportedly trustworthy, limited version aimed at children, like YouTube Kids—they’ll likely encounter potential safety issues.

Read on to learn about concerns with the app, plus safety measures you can take to keep kids safer on TikTok.

TikTok Hit With Huge Fine

On September 15, 2023, Europe hit TikTok with a €345 million fine, accusing the company of not protecting children’s privacy. Europe has stringent privacy rules, but, notably, this is the first time the app has faced consequences for violating any privacy laws.

Ireland led the investigation, finding that the sign-up process for teens made their accounts public by default. They say those settings also allowed children under 13 to access the platform even though they aren’t permitted to have accounts.

In a statement, TikTok said it disagreed with the decision. They say that most of the decision’s criticisms are no longer relevant because of measures TikTok took months before the investigation began.

Getty Images

Top TikTok Safety Concerns

As with any social media app or online platform, concerns and dangers are associated with TikTok safety for kids.

Targeted by predators

TikTok allows users to contact anyone in the world, which comes with its own host of hazards. “Like any social media platform that has a direct message or commenting feature, there’s always the possibility that your child could be chatting with anyone, including strangers,” Jordan says.

“TikTok is a platform that encourages performance, and many of its users are excited to showcase their talents. This can make it easy for predators to use flattery and compliments as a way into kids’ lives, making them feel special while putting them at ease.”

Jordan points out that the app’s “Duets” feature, which allows you to remix another user’s video and lip-synch or dance alongside them in a new clip, has been exploited by sexual predators. For kids under 16, the direct messages and duets features are turned off. But for older teens with access to these features, predators may use these to send young creators explicit messages.

Encountering inappropriate content

The app is broken into two main feed sections. The default is “For You Page,” or FYP. This page is the first page to pop up when you open the app and is populated based on what the algorithm thinks you’ll like based on how you use the app.

If you swipe left, you’ll see a more personally curated feed called “Following.” This features uploads from the people you choose to follow. It’s the former public feed that’s particularly problematic, Jordan notes.

“Even if you set your own account to private, you may still be exposed to sexual or violent content posted to the public feed,” she says. “Ranging from overtly sexual TikToks to physically dangerous stunts that kids may want to recreate, to overtly racist and discriminatory commentary, there is a wide range of concerning content on the platform.”

Dangerous mental health conversations

TikToks in either feed might also feature content that’s highly personal or sensitive, Jordan notes. Not only are these videos potentially disturbing to viewers who see them in passing, but reactions to posts might encourage self-harm.

“Kids who admit to depression are often met with dismissive and sarcastic reactions,” she says. “Some are even publicly encouraged to attempt suicide.”

And TikTok addiction has negative downstream effects as well. Research out of China found that depression, anxiety, and stress stemming from TikTok addiction is linked to tied to poorer working memory for teens.

Plus, researchers have found that functional movement disorders presenting with tics are on the rise thanks to social media, primarily TikTok. In 2021, a case report of six teen girls had explosive onset of tic-like movements. All reported exposure to a specific social media influencer before symptom onset.

May cause kids anxiety

TikTok encourages content creation, as users can use the “React” feature to respond to videos they like with their own take (a variation of “duet” only available to older teens). While this set-up could support a child’s artistic impulses, it might also cause anxiety, Jordan says.

“Kids may get sucked into the pressure to create more and better content, and this can cause anxiety, especially if they’re not getting popular,” she notes. “And many chase after that popularity by taking part in challenges, which can often be dangerous.

Take, for example, the “cinnamon challenge,” which encouraged kids to eat a spoonful of cinnamon in under a minute, resulting in gagging, choking, and inhaling the spice. The “choking game” (also called “choking challenge” or “passout challenge”) first emerged in 2008 and then resurfaced on TikTok. The “game” involves intentionally trying to choke yourself to obtain a brief high. When it first appeared, it caused deaths in 31 states, mainly affecting 11-16-year-olds.

The “Kiki challenge” encouraged people to jump out of a moving car and then dance alongside it.

Cyberbullying risks

Not unlike Twitter or Facebook, TikTok might lead to cyberbullying and trolling. “When videos aren’t funny or successful, they’re referred to as ‘cringey,'” Jordan explains. “It provides fodder for bullies to make fun of them. People can also create multiple accounts, using aliases to target others they don’t like. Trolling is popular on TikTok, too—especially through the ‘Reactions’ feature.”

According to 2022 findings from Security.org, of all the social networks, kids on YouTube are the most likely to be cyberbullied at 79%, followed by Snapchat at 69%, TikTok comes in at 64%, and Facebook at 49%.

User data privacy concerns

In 2019, the Federal Trade Commission fined TikTok $5.7 million for violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). Later that same year, the U.S. government opened a national security review of the acquisition of TikTok by a Chinese company.

“This is the largest civil penalty in a children’s privacy case in history,” Jordan says. “The law requires companies to obtain parental consent to collect the data of kids under 13, and TikTok did not do so. They also failed to notify parents of exactly how they collected children’s data or allow them to ask to have that data deleted.”

Given the violation, thousands of parents complained, and TikTok launched increased efforts to improve privacy and security on the platform, according to Jordan. Nonetheless, the case is a reason parents should remain vigilant against data abuses, she says.

TikTok Safety Measures to Take Now

TikTok has been taking small steps to make its platform safer for kids. In March 2023, TikTok implemented some parental controls on the app. Among them is an automatic 60-minute screen time limit. However, there is a catch: Teens can extend that time limit once reached.

The app also launched screen time limits that parents can set for their children, and parents can also mute notifications for their children.

The following are TikTok safety measures included in the app:

  • Daily screen limit of 60 minutes (all teens)
  • Accounts private by default (all teens)
  • Teens of all ages can’t host a LIVE
  • Financial transactions feature disabled (all teens)
  • The “Suggest Your Account to Others” feature is turned off (all teens)
  • No FYP feed for kids 13-15
  • No direct messaging access for kids 13-15
  • No duet or stitch features for kids 13-15
  • Their videos may not be downloaded (13-15)
  • Only their friends may comment on their posts (13-15)
  • Accounts for children ages 13-15 will not receive push notifications after 9 p.m.
  • For teens ages 16-17, push notifications will be disabled after 10 p.m.

In addition, “Family Pairing Mode” lets parents link to their teenager’s TikTok account and control content and privacy settings. Here, you can manage screen time, restrict content, limit direct messages, or turn off the feature completely.

Plus, there are also steps you can take as well.

Manage your child’s app settings

While in the TikTok app and from your child’s profile, you’ll see three dots in the upper right-hand corner of the screen, Jordan notes. “Clicking on those dots will take you to the ‘Privacy and settings section of the app,” she explains.

“When you scroll down to the ‘Privacy and safety’ option under “Account,” you will see the option to set the child’s account to private (recommended to toggle that on), as well as allow others to find them (recommended to toggle that off).”

Also, under the “Safety” section of that same screen, you can customize who can post comments, who can Duet with your child, who can react to their videos, who can send them messages, and who can view videos they liked, she says. You can choose from “Everyone,” “Friends,” and “Off.”

“Keep in mind that your child may open the app and change these settings at any time, which is why it’s important for you to also view the ‘Digital Wellbeing’ section of the ‘Privacy and settings’ screen,” Jordan says. This offers a passcode-enabled screen time management system, as well as a restricted mode, to limit the appearance of inappropriate content.

It’s also important to remember that the app is meant for kids 13 or older. “Check that your child’s TikTok account has been set up using the correct date of birth,” advises Jo O’Reilly, digital privacy advocate at ProPrivacy. “Some children might set their account up with a fake age, to appear older than they are, and this makes it more likely that they will be exposed to content that is not suitable for them.”

As an extra step, you can use an external app, like Bark, Secure Teen, or Norton Family Premier, to further safeguard and monitor your child’s safety in the TikTok app.

Talk with kids about internet and TikTok safety

Jordan encourages parents to have open, honest, and ongoing conversations about what’s happening in this digital space. “If your child uses the app and you have not yet sat down with them to look at it together, that would be a great first step,” she says.

She did this with her tween son, and they skipped past inappropriate posts and discussed why sharing certain content on the platform isn’t wise. “We also discussed why it’s so important to have a private account and only connect with people you truly know in real life,” Jordan says. They also talked about how screenshots and screen recording tech can mean something seemingly impermanent might become a meme that haunts you.

Understand TikTok yourself

Laura Bedrossian, vice president of social strategy at integrated marketing communications agency Hot Paper Lantern, reminds parents that knowledge is power.

“If your kid is on any social media platform, make sure you as a parent or guardian have some understanding of it,” she notes. “Download the app yourself and see what it’s all about so you can answer questions or even ask your child about what they’re seeing on an app. Keep an open and honest discussion about their—and your—digital literacy and footprint.”

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