Any app or game that connects to the internet is a potential risk for kids, but what about the popular TikTok app? We explain what parents and guardians need to know.
What is TikTok?
It used to be called musical.ly, but was rebranded to TikTok back in August 2018. You'll notice in the app store that TikTok is published by musical.ly.
TikTok isn't identical to musical.ly, but is very similar. It’s a social media app aimed at teens that allows them to lip-sync, sing and dance along with their favourite artists’ songs and share the short videos with friends. It includes SnapChat-like effects and filters, which is another reason why kids love it.
For the most part this is harmless, but the app includes a library of song clips that could include lyrics inappropriate for young children and there’s no way to block that: kids can choose whichever clip they want to sing along to.
The app is rated as 12+ and, among other content, can include ‘infrequent / mild sexual content and nudity’, 'infrequent/mild cartoon or fantasy violence' and 'infrequent/mild mature/suggestive themes'.
One risk is that the music itself isn't restricted to clean lyrics, so can include swearing and topics you probably wouldn't want kids hearing.
The other main issue from a parent's point of view is that, like many social media apps, TikTok defaults to posting everything publicly, which means anyone can watch and comment on a video your child creates.
As comments aren’t screened by the app’s maker, another user could leave an offensive comment on your child’s video. It’s the same with other apps including Instagram and Twitter where anyone can view your content and follow you. We'll explain how to change the safety settings from these defaults to prevent a lot of this.
Videos themselves aren’t curated before they appear on the app, and while you’re unlikely to find anything unsavoury in the ‘Featured’ section of the app, it is fairly easy to find stuff you wouldn’t want your kids to watch.
On TikTok's page for parents, it is very clear that you should not allow children under 13 to use the app. But, as is the case with many 'social' apps, this rule is not well observed and all you have to do to create an account is to select a birth date which would make you older than 13.
Can I make TikTok safe for my kids?
Not entirely, no. The best things you can do are to supervise them when they use the app, and ensure that the account is set to private. This means only their followers (friends they approve via the app) can see their videos. Once an account is private you (or, riskily, the child) must approve follower requests, which gives more control over who can see the videos.
To make an account private, tap the three dots at the top right, then tap Privacy & Safety. Toggle the switch so Private Account is enabled.
There are more settings lower down this screen (shown above, right) which let you disable video comments entirely, and do the same for allowing people to duet with you, react to the post, send messages and who can see the video. If you have set it to a Private account, only existing followers and users you approve from then on will be able to see videos posted.
There's also an option to filter comments, and you can set up a list of keywords. If a keyword is in a comment, it won't be shown. It's a shame you can't pick from some default filters: it's virtually impossible to catch all profanities by building a list manually.
It's worth knowing that once a video has been recorded, it does not have to be posted publicly. When posting, choose the 'Private' option after tapping 'Who can view my video'.
In fact, you don't have to post the video at all. Use the download button to save the video to the phone's camera roll, and then you could allow the child to share it with friends and family.
We recommend signing up using the app's own login mechanism, and not using Facebook, Google or any other social login. Also, make sure your child doesn’t reveal too much personal information when they’re creating their profile.
Ultimately, you need to decide if you’re happy for your child to use TikTok. This may be a simple no, or it could be a ‘yes, but only with supervision’. Whatever your decision, it’s crucial to talk to your child about the risks and dangers of social media and the internet in general as well as laying down ground rules with them, and that they understand those are in place to keep them safe.
While TikTok is great fun, and it seems cruel to stop your kids having the pleasure of making videos with it, it's unwise to allow them to use it unsupervised.
If you’re unsure yourself of the risks and some sensible ground rules, check out our full guide to keeping kids safe on the internet.