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Is TikTok Safe for Kids? 6 Facts Parents Need to Know

With more than 1 billion active users, TikTok is the most popular social network among tweens and teens. Many parents are trying to figure out why their kids are obsessed with this app. Are you one of them? We explain what it is, how it works, why it’s not so great - and how you can teach your child to use it responsibly.

Stefanie Parth
11/4/2022 • 10 min
close-up of person opening tiktok on phone, brand colors in background

What is TikTok and how does it work?

TikTok is a free social media app for watching, creating, and sharing videos. It started out as Musical.ly and only focused on creating and sharing lip-sync videos, but now TikTok hosts user videos about everything (and nothing, really). Most videos feature popular music and are very short, just a few seconds long.

Currently, a child aged 5 to 15 spends 91 minutes a day on TikTok. Assuming that the average video is 15 seconds long, your child scrolls through more than 360 videos - every day. Incredible, right?!

How does TikTok’s algorithm work? The app has a “for you” page that shows you videos based on the information it has gathered on you. So if you watch a couple of videos on games, TikTok thinks you’re interested in this content and shows you similar videos in the future. Creepy? Yes, but that is why the company is so popular.

So now that you know how TikTok works, let’s answer the main question:

Is TikTok safe for your kid?

The answer is, there is no definite answer.

The minimum age for opening an account on TikTok is 13 (which, by the way, is the law, so they must have this limit). Our general advice is to only allow your kid to create their own account if they are 13 or older and you think they are emotionally ready for one.

That being said, we also know that kids are under a lot of pressure to keep up with the “cool” kids, so you may have endless discussions with your child about it. If that’s the case, it may not be the best idea to completely ban your child from TikTok because they will most likely find a way to gain access without you knowing. What you can do is help them to use it safely.

For that, you might want to be aware of these 6 facts.

1. Your child can easily access TikTok

It is very simple to open an account on TikTok. All your kid needs is an existing email address and they will have full access to the network and can post videos instantly. You should also keep in mind that your kid doesn’t even need an account to view TikTok content. If someone sends your kid a link to a video on TikTok, they can easily open and watch it. It’s also possible to access (limited) content on the TikTok website, which is accessible through any Internet browser.

What can you do?
For kids 13 years and older: Set up their account. Download TikTok on your child’s phone and create an account for them, entering their correct date of birth. This is important because TikTok has introduced some age-based features. For example, only “Friends” or “No one” can comment on their posts for users under 16. This is supposed to prevent direct messages from strangers. Accounts of users under 18 are set to private by default, so you have to actively allow other users to follow you and watch your videos.

For kids under 13 years: Without lying about the age, it’s not possible to set up an account for young children. Alternatively, you can download TikTok on your phone and create your own account. We highly recommend your child only uses the app in your presence. You want to make the account as private and safe as possible? Keep reading for more tips!

2. Your child may watch worrisome content

We’ve used TikTok ourselves and can tell you, it won’t be long before you come across content you wouldn’t want your child to see. They may be exposed to explicit terms in songs, sexual or violent content and videos about sensitive topics. TikTok is also known for censoring content from minorities and people of color, and spreading misinformation. For example, a recent report found that about 20 percent of all videos contain inaccurate information.

It probably won’t surprise you that TikTok has been criticized for negatively impacting children’s mental health and self-esteem. Some videos on the app give off a false impression of reality, and children in particular are likely to believe that people live the perfect, glamorous life. But most of these videos are staged and edited. Still, this can lead to negative comparisons, and there are concerns that TikTok has a negative impact on body image for all genders.

What can you do?
Make sure to enable Restricted Mode, which supposedly filters out age-inappropriate content. You can do this under Menu > Settings and privacy > Content preferences.
Also, check in with your child regularly, show interest, and watch some videos together. If an inappropriate video comes up, talk about it, explain why it is inappropriate, and ask any questions they might have.

3. Your child may engage in dangerous trends

While most trends on TikTok are fun, harmless dance challenges, some of them end up being deadly. One of the most notorious trends is the so-called “blackout challenge” that encourages users to choke themselves with belts or something similar until they pass out. This absolutely horrific challenge has allegedly killed seven kids under 15.

Unfortunately, this is by far not the only extremely dangerous trend on TikTok. Some of them just show up in the “For you” tap in the app, so you don’t even have to actively search for them. This is particularly concerning for children. They might engage in these challenges to impress their friends - or they are pressured into doing them.

What can you do?
Talk about it and ask them to check with you first before doing a seemingly harmless challenge. If they do, make them think through the challenge. Why do they want to do it? Is it safe? Where could things go wrong? And even if it is harmless, make them realize that this video could be seen by A LOT of people. Is it worth it?

young people are recording their dance challenge for tiktok

While most trends on TikTok are fun dance challenges, some of them can be dangerous.

4. TikTok is collecting your child’s data

Like any other social network, TikTok collects information about each user so their algorithm can detect what you’re interested in. But apparently, TikTok goes even one step further. The company is accused of illegally collecting data from children under 13 - without their parents’ consent. This data included information about the children’s sexual orientation, religious and political beliefs, as well as their race and health status. Considering that 18 million users in the US alone are 14 and younger, you can see why TikTok has a vested interest in children’s user behavior.

What can you do?
Honestly, not much. That’s how TikTok works, and everyone who creates an account agrees to their Terms & Services, stating that they collect your data. If you want to know what TikTok knows about your child, go to Profile > tap the 3-line icon in the top right > Settings and privacy > Download your data.

5. Your child may encounter strangers

Once you have an account on TikTok, users can follow your account, react to your videos or send you messages. So keep in mind that strangers are able to message your child directly on the app - and some have malicious intent, perhaps asking them for explicit photos or sending a link with a virus.

Unfortunately, there are numerous articles confirming a sheer imaginable number of hateful content and comments on TikTok. Especially if your child likes to post their own videos, they may receive hurtful messages and become a victim of cyberbullying. This can have lasting effects on the victim’s mental health.

What can you do?
Check that their account is set to private so strangers can’t send your child direct messages or view their content. To do this, go to Profile > tap the 3-line icon in the top right > Settings and privacy > privacy > turn on “Private Account”. We recommend that you also take a closer look at the other privacy settings and adjust them according to your preferences.

Explain to your child the reasons behind the privacy settings. Why is it important? What could happen otherwise? Tell them about the potential risks, such as cyberbullying, and reassure them that they can always turn to you for help.

6. TikTok can harm your child’s development

TikTok is a distraction. Kids (and adults!) watch a video or two, get lost in them and BOOM! an hour has gone by. Think of what your child could be doing in that hour! Play outside, read a book, do homework, etc. What’s most concerning is how this affects a child's brain development. Since most videos are only seconds long, kids can’t grow their attention span. What does that mean? They never really learn how to focus on a task.

Since the start of the pandemic, an unusually large number of teenage girls have developed tics, a movement-disorder. After a while, experts figured out what most of them had in common. Guess what? Yes, TikTok. Turns out that most of these girls may have been triggered by watching videos that featured people with Tourette’s syndrome.

What can you do?
Set a limit. Since everyone can fall into the TikTok hole and waste too much time watching videos, we suggest you introduce a time limit. Screen time limits are a great way to establish a healthy digital routine.

How to set time limits with Ohana

  1. On your device, go to your child’s profile in the parenting tab.
  2. Scroll down to Settings and select Time Limits.
  3. Set a daily time limit to your preference.
  4. Enable Activate time limit.
  5. Whenever your child is on their phone, this activity will count towards the time limit.
  6. Once your child has reached the time limit, their phone will automatically go into Locked mode.

Tip: In Locked and Focus mode, you can only exclude apps from being blocked, so TikTok won’t be accessible in these modes anyway.

We recommend using Ohana together with the Family Pairing feature in TikTok. Family Pairing allows you to link your TikTok account to your child’s. This way, you can set safety settings such as Restricted Mode for your child’s account from your phone.

How to set up Family Pairing in TikTok

  1. In the TikTok app, go to Profile at the bottom.
  2. Tap the Menu button at the top.
  3. Tap Settings and privacy, then tap Family Pairing.
  4. Tap Parent or Teen.
  5. Follow the steps in the app to link accounts.

You can find more information here.

How to block TikTok with Ohana

  1. From your device, go to your child’s profile in the parenting tab.
  2. Scroll down to Settings and select Apps.
  3. Tap on Manage blocked apps.
  4. Scroll down to the Social category.
  5. Select TikTok and tap on Done in the top right corner.
  6. You’re all set! TikTok is now blocked in every mode.

How to block the TikTok website with Ohana

  1. From your device, go to your child’s profile in the parenting tab.
  2. Scroll down to Settings and select Web Content.
  3. Tap on Manage websites.
  4. Tab on the Plus Icon next to Blocked Websites.
  5. Enter tiktok.com, press Add and then Save in the top right corner.
  6. You’re all set! TikTok’s website is now always blocked.
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