What a fun and amazing timewaster this app is! Who would have thought that we could spend hours being lured into watching other people mime songs or do funny things? I still laugh at the thought of a video of a guy dressed like his mum freaking out about their messy house - I can just see myself as being the inspiration behind that.
As I regularly have a house full of teenagers and their friends, I see first-hand some of the posts they are viewing. Often after dinner we will get sucked into watching funny or cringeworthy posts and have a laugh together. But I have recently seen the darker side of the app at play via a teenage girl I know; I will call her ‘Sally’. Sally is a nice, loved girl but with very little confidence. She is using TikTok in a way that concerns me for her welfare, and sadly there are many others like here out there. This teenager, like so many others, spends much too much time online. Her phone is like a talisman and is rarely out of her hand. I was alerted to some of her posts by others her age, which makes me pleased that our concept at the Breck Foundation to ‘look after each other’ has been noted and utilised.
Sally’s posts were alarming right from the start. She was putting her innermost feelings out there publicly, for everyone to see: needy, moping, negative videos that are now recorded for eternity. OK, maybe that’s a bit dramatic, but what will happen when a prospective employer or even partner sees these posts from her ‘bad’ days? I personally would run a mile from starting a relationship with someone who videos herself crying, moaning, self-criticising, and in general just having a completely sad and negative profile.
The worrying element from a parent’s standpoint is whether she is ‘crying wolf’ or seriously feels that low and down about herself. It’s important to ensure that children don’t persistently seek attention online as over time their friends will tire of always having to ‘pick them up’ and may not even believe it when there is a situation that does need addressing.
The other concerning issue that I saw was a constant need to be rated, sometimes using quizzes or the current craze for finger games asking followers to ‘grade’ her, do they ‘like’ her? How could she be prettier? What do they think of her? We all love to hear compliments, but it is seriously painful when someone is so openly desperate for attention and affirmation. We need to teach our children to find the good bits about themselves, to recognise positive traits, reflect and see potential. Teach them not to worry about looks or size or even intelligence nor compare themselves to everyone at school and the infinity that is the online world. When I grew up, I am sure I compared myself to the models in magazines, but now young people have a plethora of places to view the beautiful, rich and smart and that ‘competition’ can be intimidating.
But lastly, when a child posts in such a needy way, this is an open door for a predator to take advantage of them by offering advice, support, compliments, friendship: all of the things that child may be seeking. When this comes from a predator it can easily lead to grooming and exploitation. More than ever we need to teach our children the difference between healthy and unhealthy relationships, but also healthy and unhealthy posts. Life is too short to waste time posting constant sadness and self-defamation. I have spoken to Sally and informed her parents, but it is a learned behaviour that may take some maturity to rectify. I just hope that she will grow out of it and find her way before she is taken advantage of or misses out on real opportunities.
Take the time to talk to young people about the apps they use, the games they play and the people they interact with. The more we know, the more we can be aware of what is really happening in their worlds. As for the ‘Sallys’ out there, we need to embrace their needs and be there for them, as they may need more than just a ‘virtual’ hug in these difficult times.