TikTok and COVID-19: What All Parents Should Know

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With COVID-19 keeping many teenagers and young adults locked indoors day in and day out, social media apps are becoming sources for entertainment and connection more than ever before. Kids seem to have their smartphones glued to the palms of their hands instead of supplementing their education. In particular, one app has risen above the rest in 2020s tumultuous early months: TikTok.

Coronavirus has spurred a worldwide TikTok trend, something that might be frustrating to parents who feel they just mastered social media apps like Snapchat and Instagram. Kids are dancing, lip syncing, and taking part in TikTok “challenges” in a global frenzy, and there’s even a chance at fame and fortune in the annals of the app, with certain young people finding celebrity status via their viral videos. It’s been slowly growing in popularity since 2018, and as of right now, it’s the #2 free app on the iPhone app store (just behind Zoom, another Corona-centric trend). With such a massive presence, all parents need to know how the social media effects on teens, and what they can do to help their child use TikTok safely. Here’s a comprehensive breakdown of what TikTok is and what parents can do to make sure their kids are using it in a safe way.

TikTok: Breaking it Down

Remember the app Vine? If you don’t, that’s okay. It was a video-sharing platform that lived a short but lucrative life, and TikTok, in many ways, is its latest reincarnation. TikTok was originally branded as Music.ly (pronounced “musically”) and began as a video-sharing and lip-syncing platform. TikTokkers record videos up to a minute long set to familiar songs and post them to their account for others to view, similar to Instagram. And, basically, that was it.

Nowadays, TikTok is used for far more than lip-syncing. Since its massive rise in popularity, using songs has even become something many people forego. It’s become a social media app akin to Instagram, with content spanning just about every area of interest. Your kids might be creating their own TikTok videos, but it’s just as likely they have, he app to follow popular accounts.

One thing unique about TikTok is the prevalence of TikTok “challenges.” A TikTok challenge could be a popular dance, like the Tootsie Slide, a joke, like the Haribo challenge, or any other popular TikTok video format that TikTok users emulate and post to their account. They’re almost like memes in that they follow the same formats but often take on new users. New TikTok challenges are constantly trending and coming to the forefront of popularity, which is part of what makes the app so appealing to teens during quarantine. There’s always something new to be a part of, and it takes a lot of creative and physical energy to do these challenges.

Overall, TikTok is a chance for teenagers and young adults to show their creativity and connect with other users, just like it’s predecessor apps like Instagram, Facebook, and Vine, although TikTok challenges do make the app more interactive. With proper guidance and supervision, it isn’t something to fret over. However, there are several things parents should know if their teens are using TikTok.

Accounts can be Private or Public

When a new TikTok account is created, the default setting is for it to be listed as “public.” Public accounts are accessible by anyone, even those not listed as “friends” or “followers” (TikTok has both). When an account is public, the user’s content is not only viewable by everyone else on the app, but they can receive messages directly from anybody on TikTok, including strangers. All parents need to make sure their kids understand the risks associated with having a public account before they allow it. Alternatively, parents might require their teens to keep their account on the “private” setting. This is probably something parents of young users should consider preventing contact from possible online predators.

Beware Mature Content

Since TikTok videos are often music-based, there is a slue of profane and sexual lyrics and video content across the app. This isn’t necessarily a new risk from platforms like Instagram and Snapchat but is still something many parents are wary of. Some TikTok challenges might encourage inappropriate behavior, such as the “#takeitoff challenge,” so parents should be wary of what content their kids are seeing on the app and what challenges they’re partaking in, if any.

There is an Age Limit

Technically, TikTok is reserved for users ages thirteen and up, and users under the age of eighteen are required to have an adult’s consent. It’s a simple matter of lying about their birth date, though, for younger kids to join TikTok. TikTok users range in age from preteens all the way through adulthood, so if your teen gets an account, they’ll likely be interacting with and viewing videos from adults as well as their peers.

What Parents Can Do

All of these risks probably sound familiar to parents who watched their kids grow up browsing Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat. The great thing about TikTok, though, are the parental controls for iPhone and android versions of the app. On TikTok, parents can actually do a lot to monitor their kid’s account and make sure they’re using the app safely. Here are three awesome TikTok features parents should understand.

Family Pairing

Family Pairing allows parents to create TikTok accounts linked to their child’s. With a linked account, parents can control privacy settings, see messages, and have direct access to the content their child is seeing and producing on TikTok. Parent accounts can also lock settings with a password and will receive notifications when the settings are changed from another device. This is an awesome way for parents to let their kids have TikTok while still guaranteeing appropriate use.

Screen Time Management

One of the settings parents can control on TikTok is actually how long their kid is allowed to use the app. From a minimum of forty minutes to a maximum of two hours, TikTok can automatically lock itself once a predetermined time limit on the app is reached. This is a wonderful tool for parents who’re concerned their child is spending too much time on the new social media app.

Restricted Mode

Restricted mode blocks mature content. This is a good precaution for parents to take, especially if they can control the setting with family pairing, but inappropriate videos can still slip through. TikTok doesn’t allow pornography, but there is certainly some highly suggestive material many parents wouldn’t be comfortable with their children seeing, so restricted mode is a good thing to implement for younger users.

Test the App

TikTok is by no means meant to be an unsafe or inappropriate online space, and its immense popularity is testament to its reliability. All parents have different standards for what they deem appropriate for their children at different levels, so the best thing to do is download the app and see what it has to offer. Becoming familiar with TikTok will help you understand what your child is seeing and engaging in and help you determine the best precautions to take! Who knows, with so much time on your hands during quarantine, you might even learn one of those nifty dance moves!

Author Bio

Eric M. Earle is the founder of Tutor Portland. He became the premier math tutor in Portland, Oregon. He focuses on improving students’ math grades to better their college acceptance rates.