What is TikTok? Is it safe?
App Store Description: “TikTok is a global video community. We make it easy for you to watch awesome short videos AND you can also make your own videos by capturing those funny and memorable moments to share with the world. Spice up your videos with our special effects filters, fun stickers, and so much more. Life’s moving fast, so make every second count.” (Apple App Store)
- Infrequent/Mild Cartoon or Fantasy Violence
- Infrequent/Mild Mature/Suggestive Themes
- Infrequent/Mild Sexual Content and Nudity
- Infrequent/Mild Alcohol, Tobacco, or Drug Use or References
- Infrequent/Mild Profanity or Crude Humor
- (These are the same descriptions Apple uses for all social media apps)
Important –> TikTok now has at least as many average monthly users at Instagram. It IS the most influential teen app on earth.
Category: Photo & Video
APP Store age rating: 12+
Related posts about TikTok:
- TikTok Updates Parental Controls
- Instagram: Why do we Give TikTok to our Children?
- What is TikTok Brain?
How to set up TikTok’s parental controls:
The most important piece of information in TikTok is the user’s birthday. It’s almost impossible to change an incorrect birthday (this article explains how to submit a support ticket to request a birthday change). All users ages 13-15 (no one under 13 is supposed to use the app) automatically have the following features disabled (as of January 2021):
- No direct messages (DMs)
- Automatic private accounts
- Comments are limited to “Friends” or “No one”
- No videos can be remixed or downloaded
For users ages 16-17, the default video settings are “Friends” for remixing videos and downloads are defaulted to “off,” but users can changes these settings.
The second most important feature in TikTok is Parent Pairing. TikTok allows parents to “pair” their device with their child’s device in order to control privacy, searching, content, and more remotely from the parent device.
If your child is under 16 but used an incorrect birthday in order to by-pass the controls above, then you can manually find parental controls here:
1. Switch to a private account – this will prevent complete strangers from contacting your child (step 1 in the screen shot above).
2. Change the “Allow others to find me” toggle – an additional layer of privacy to prevent your child’s account from showing up in search results.
3. Opt out of personalized data– this prevents user data from being gathered. And for a company being investigated for privacy violations that’s also based in China, it’s a good idea.
4. Change all SAFETY settings to “friends” – the default safety setting for “who can post comments,” “who can duet with you,” “who can react to your videos” is “Everyone. Although making the account private should ensure strangers can’t find your child, these settings make it so that your child can’t invite strangers in.
5. Enable Time Management and Restricted Mode – you can find these under “Digital Wellbeing” under “Privacy and safety.” These help with screen time and blocking mature content – both require a 4-digit passcode, which means parents can set them.
But, please note, the Restricted Mode settings still allow mature content through. We received this message from a concerned mom:
I see that restricted mode is on and I’ve set all the privacy/safety settings but the videos are all inappropriate so far. During the test run, the first video we watched had questionable content and used super foul language, the second video that we watched was a play on ejaculation, and the third was an ugly video with more foul language at which point I decided that was enough! Do you know if that is just the way it is or if maybe I missed something in setting it up? I’m thinking if it’s just impossible to restrict every “f-bomb” and all the sexually suggestive content…
Bonus: Check “following” and “followers” from time to time – just a good idea for any child who isn’t at least 16 to ensure they’re sticking to your rules (see screen shot above).
What else do parents need to know about TikTok?
Don’t be fooled by the parental controls. Plenty of profane, explicit, suggestive, and toxic content makes its way through the parental controls. They’re a step in the right direction, but don’t believe that TikTok is anything close to a clean experience.
TikTok’s algorithm is shockingly smart. It’s almost scary how quickly it can profile its users with such tiny bits of micro interaction. Our Instagram post on July 24, 2021 explains the WSJ investigation into the highly secretive TikTok algorithm, owned by TikTok’s Chinese parent company, Byte Dance.
TikTok allows direct messages (DMs). Most social platforms do – including Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. This is just a feature to be aware of – not so much because kids might send something dumb, but to make them aware of what could be sent to them by strangers that could be disturbing or exploitive.
Is there pornographic content in TikTok? Yes. There’s always porn on sites where people can upload content. Restricted Mode removes much of the porn. But there is sexualized content everywhere, in addition to foul language and explicit lyrics everywhere. There is a hidden doorway to a Google search through the Help Center in the “Privacy and Settings.” This is why it’s important on an iPhone to set “Limit Adult Websites” in Screen Time. For Android, your best bet is to lock in Safe Search with a DNS block like CleanBrowsing.
TikTok has online shopping. Users can list items they are reviewing in a video, and link it to purchase it off of TikTok. There is also a dedicated “Shop” tab under the search bar where users can find specific products they’re looking for.
The challenges. Some have been deadly. A few are funny. Some are ridiculous. Others are reckless (licking toilet seats during COVID) and a few have actually caused children to die (the blackout challenge). In the race for views, under-developed brains do really under-developed and horrible things. PARENTS – although the outcomes from these challenges is horrible, we shouldn’t be surprised that it’s happening. We would have done the exact same things with our tween and teen brains.
Special Note about the “Devious Licks” (and other) Challenge
The “devious licks” challenge caused teens to damage bathrooms. It’s just another example of the negative impact this app can have on young people. Please go here to read more. Remind your teens that many states are pursuing CRIMINAL charges against students who cause damage. These challenges change constantly. For the most recent information about news like this that changes quickly, please follow us on social media, where we post often.
The app’s creator says age 13+ only, please. Although the app isn’t classified as social media, it still must comply with COPPA and underage data collection. Even then, this app is way too addictive for young brains.
Remember – wherever the kids are is where the predators are. For public accounts, there are always going to be trolls. And men looking for pretty, young girls. Parents, just be really open and honest with your kids about this fact.
Related post: Tricky People – Stranger Danger in the Digital Age
Deleting the app. Maybe you decide that even with these parental controls that you want the app deleted. There are a few extra steps beyond just deleting it from your phone and this will actually delete the account. Manage My Account –> Add phone number (if needed) –> Thinking about removing your account? –> Send Code –> Enter number –> Continue (two times) –> Delete Account. Also remember that if your child is using an Apple device, that they will still have access to the app in the Cloud. The most foolproof way to ensure that it is not downloaded again is to turn off the app store. Check out the section “What if an app was already downloaded” in the related post below for more tips!
Related post: 3 Reasons to Turn off the App Store
TikTok relies on #hashtags. We did some searches using some typical offenders like “twerk,” “nudez,” and others within TikTok. Most of the obvious, problematic hashtags didn’t turn up any results, which was a pleasant surprise.
Songs can have explicit lyrics. True, yes. Kids can create their own music videos using any of thousands of popular songs. There’s no way to control this.
There are in-app purchases – be careful! Musers can purchase coins (up to $99.99 worth of them!) and these are shared with other musers to encourage their creativity! How kind. If you’re an iPhone family, be sure to toggle off “In-app purchases” in Screen Time. The mom who emailed us before Christmas in 2020 saying her daughter spent $10k on TikTok did not have a very Merry Christmas.
Related post: iOS Parental Controls – how to turn off in-app purchases
You can link with other social platforms. In the muser’s profile, there’s a spot to add both an Instagram or YouTube account. This is significant, since once that link is made, TikTok gains access to a ton of information, including contacts. Read the privacy concerns below.
Videos are getting longer. In March 2022, TikTok extended the maximum length of videos from 3 minutes to 10 minutes. When TikTok first started, the max length was 15 seconds. The company stated that they wanted to give “our community more time to create and be entertained on TikTok.”
TikTok collects a TON of information about its users. There’s a reason the US Government is investigating TikTok for National Security reasons. Take a look at the types of information it collects from musers (per its Privacy Page):
- Information you give us. You give us information about you when you register for and/or use the Platform, including your name, age, gender, address, email address, social media login details, telephone number and financial and credit card information and your photograph as well as your language selection.
- Information you choose to share from your social networks.If you choose to link your social network or public forum account (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google or WeChat) to the Platform, you will provide us or allow your social network to provide us with information from your social network or public forum accounts, including your contact list.
- Technical Information we collect about you. We automatically collect certain information from you when you use the Platform, including your IP address, location-related data (as described below) or other unique device identifiers, your browsing history (including content you have viewed in the Platform), Cookies (as defined below), your mobile carrier, time zone setting, mobile or device information including the model of your device, your screen resolution, operating system and platform and information regarding your use of the Platform.
- Behavioral information we collect about you. We also collect information regarding your use of the Services, e.g. your comments on our Platform or any other user-generated content and video content that you generate through and broadcast on our Platform. In addition, we link your contact or subscriber information with your activity on our Platform across all your devices using your email or social media log-in details.
- Location data.
- Your phone and Facebook contacts.
- Metadata uploaded with each video.
I think people would be surprised to know that although this is a long list of bullets, it’s actually quite consistent with most social media platforms. But, we believe it’s helpful to show a list like this to kids who use the app to remind them that nothing is private online! Nothing!
The bottom line – is TikTok safe for your kids?
Although the parental controls above are good, recent evidence points to TikTok acting more like malware, collecting as much user information as possible. In addition to the privacy concerns, the TikTok algorithm is so powerful, shaping itself into the most addictive form of content for each user. It can be quite destructive to the mental health and time management of teens.
In our opinion, TikTok is an age 16+ app when you weigh all of the features and risks above.
Now What? Have you Heard of Bark?
Are you interested in having greater insight into the social media platforms that your kids are using? Bark is one of the best platforms we’ve tested. However, TikTok can only be monitored on Android Devices, not on Apple just yet. But they’re constantly looking for ways to dig further into apps like Instagram, Snapchat, and others, to keep parents informed about the information that matters. We trust them and we think you should, too!
Curious how to automatically stay up to date on the latest digital news, like TikTok?
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*There may be affiliate links throughout this post because we’ve tested and trust a small list of parental control solutions. Our work saves you time! If you decide that you agree with us, then we may earn a small commission, which does nothing to your price. Enjoy!