Over lockdown, TikTok became the most downloaded app, with over 104 million installations. You’ve probably heard about it in the news, either for safety concerns or because of its troubles in the US (which is considering banning the app, although this appears to be more politically motivated than by any child safety concerns).
But what exactly is Tik Tok, and what are the concerns about it?
TikTok is a Chinese-owned free social media and video sharing platform aimed at teenagers. It consists of short (15 to 60 seconds) videos of people doing everything from stunts to dances to ‘life hacks’ to lipsynching songs, which is incredibly popular. Children love TikTok because there’s always something funny or new to discover, people to follow or emulate and lots of crazy ideas. If you’re aged over 19 you will probably find it completely baffling!
It’s also true that as with any social media platforms, there are concerns over safety. TikTok has gone some way towards addressing these concerns but there is much more that could and should be done.
For instance, when the app is first downloaded, the settings are automatically on ‘public’ rather than private. This means that anyone can see and search for the content you post and look at your profile. It is very easy to change the settings to private, and indeed this is something I recommend to all the children that I talk to in schools, but we strongly feel the app should be automatically set to private on a first download to protect all who use it.
Although the age rating on TikTok is officially 13, many younger children use the app regularly. Again, this is not recommended as there is plenty of more mature content on TikTok and no way of making sure that younger children will not inadvertently stumble on it. Yet I can guarantee that if I’m talking to a group of year threes, for example, that around half of them will be enthusiastic TikTok users.
The safest way to use TikTok is to share an account with your child and review regularly what they are watching. Also make sure that in settings you apply strict controls to who can send messages to you, or you may end up with inappropriate and unwanted contact. You can block or report users too, so make your children aware of how to do this.
Whether or not you decide to allow your children to use the app, it’s important to keep talking to them about their online lives. Our stance at the Foundation is that children need to become digitally resilient, and to do this they need education, supervision and a gentle guiding hand as they traverse the tricky roads of online life.
To find out more detailed instructions on how to set up TikTok safely click here.