The growth of TikTok has been astonishing. Today, the platform has approximately 800 million active users – 30 million based in the UK. TikTok appeals to the short attention spans of young people, with 35% of users being between 20 and 29 years old worldwide.
While the platform is undoubtedly popular, TikTok has received criticism recently for several issues, including the safety of users and censorship accusations.
So, this guide explains how you can keep your children safe when they use TikTok and describes some of the things you can do if you’re concerned about their app use.
What is TikTok?
TikTok is a video-sharing social networking site owned by ByteDance, a Chinese company. The main purpose of TikTok is to enable users to create short videos for entertainment purposes, spanning genres including dance, comedy, and education. Most TikTok videos are between 15 and 60 seconds in length.
TikTok is a progression of a Chinese app called Douyin, which was initially released in 2016 and quickly became popular in Asia and Russia. As other parts of the world caught onto the viral popularity of many short videos on Douyin, TikTok was rolled out in various parts of the world, including Europe and the United States.
By October 2020, more than 2 billion people had downloaded TikTok – a quarter of the world’s population. Despite its incredible success, TikTok has drawn criticism for censorship and disinformation. It’s even been described as a vehicle for Chinese propaganda.
The app has been banned in certain countries, notably India. Still, TikTok is super popular today, and given its prominence with young people, parents need to take steps to keep their children safe when using the app.
What is the Age Restriction on TikTok?
Officially, you must be 13 years old to use TikTok. However, to download the app on the Apple and Google Play stores, the age limit is set at 12, which can lead to confusion. To be on the safe side, you should only permit your child to create a TikTok account when they are at least 13 years old.
If your child is between 13-15 years old, they are only permitted to maintain a private account on TikTok, and other platform users cannot download and save content posted by users under the age of 16.
TikTok sets out some helpful community guidelines that are worth reading as a parent, and the platform’s age-appropriate policy is also a good resource for parents who are worried about their children’s use of TikTok.
Safety Concerns on TikTok
As is the case with all online platforms, there are several legitimate safety concerns for TikTok users, ranging from phishing attacks to fraud. With that in mind, here are some TikTok safety concerns to be aware of if your children start using the platform this year.
Security and privacy
TikTok users are vulnerable to phishing attacks and fraudulent practices by cybercriminals. This might be in the form of direct messages or due to a security breach on the platform. As such, it’s super important for your children to be responsible with their login details and private information on the app.
If you suspect fraud on TikTok, our helpful resource explains the steps you can take.
There is evidence supporting the notion that TikTok censors content produced by some users. For instance, some posts by political activists and campaigners have been down-weighted, while specific hashtags are repressed.
Therefore, you should be mindful of censorship on TikTok and realise that it’s not as free and fair as it may seem when you create an account.
Lack of transparency
TikTok has also been criticised for its lack of transparency and refusal to deal with payola. Again, this can be problematic for users if you’re not aware of the issues, and it’s important to bear these things in mind when educating your kids about TikTok safety.
TikTok Safety Tips
Now that we’ve run through what TikTok is and some of its potential issues, it’s time to turn our attention to some TikTok safety tips to help protect your kids while using the app.
How to keep your child safe on TikTok
Helpfully, there are several things you can do to keep your child safe on TikTok, including:
Check your child’s privacy settings and make sure they are set to private
Although TikTok automatically sets all accounts of under 16s to private, be sure to head to your child’s settings to ensure that their account cannot be discovered by people to whom they are not connected.
Monitor your child’s activity on the app
As a parent, ensure you regularly view the videos your children share and that they’re not revealing personal information.
Children may accidentally reveal personal information about your home or family that you don’t want to be out in the world, which is why it’s so important to monitor their posts.
Teach your child about internet safety and how to spot potential dangers online
Parents are responsible for educating their kids about the dangers of the Internet, including how to spot spam and potentially dangerous accounts. Encourage your kids not to disclose sensitive information about themselves and ask them to report any suspicious messages directly to you.
Teach your child about cyberbullying
Children from all around the world fall victim to cyberbullying, and it can result in serious consequences. Explain some signs and symptoms of cyberbullying and how they can identify it. Again, ask your kids to report any incidents directly to you.
Keep the lines of communication open with your child and talk to them about their activity on TikTok and any concerns you may have
While your kids won’t be willing to disclose everything they get up to on the Internet, they will be happy to draw on you for advice and to report anything suspicious if you treat them with respect. Help them understand that you’re looking after their best interests and are keen to help them use TikTok safely and responsibly.
Report any harmful content you see on TikTok to the platform
If you or your kids notice any suspicious activity or behaviour, report it directly to TikTok and allow the moderators to investigate and take the appropriate action.
Safety tips for all users on TikTok
While the above tips are specific primarily to children, the following TikTok safety tips apply to all users:
Be aware of the personal information you are sharing on the platform
If you share any personal or financial information on TikTok, you increase your risk of falling victim to a cyberattack. Always double-check your content to ensure you’re not giving out sensitive information, and think twice about sharing anything sensitive with other users.
Be careful about the videos you are watching on TikTok
In spite of the TikTok Community Guidelines, some people still post graphic, offensive, and violent videos on the platform. So, be careful with the videos you regularly watch and report offensive or inappropriate material directly to TikTok.
Be aware of the people you are following on TikTok
It’s easy to find people to follow on TikTok, but you need to think carefully about the videos you want to see on your feed. Helpfully, you can easily block users posting inappropriate content, which is important to ensure you’re not easily influenced by dangerous content.
Keep your account private
While some people make their TikTok accounts public to grow a following and monetise their TikTok accounts, it’s best to keep your account private to protect your online safety and security.
Be careful about the links you are clicking on
Some people share malicious links on TikTok and other social media sites to steal information from unsuspecting users. So, if you encounter a questionable link, don’t click on it and block the user who has shared it.
Be aware of the challenges you are participating in
TikTok is a great place to find online challenges to participate in, but some can be dangerous (the skull breaker challenge). Ensure your children are aware of the risks and are not influenced into participating in challenges that are dangerous or exploitative in any way.
Be careful about the comments you are leaving on other people’s videos
Every TikTok user has a responsibility to use the platform considerately. So, when leaving comments, remember the adage – if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all!
Keep your password safe
When you create an account on TikTok, take advantage of two-factor authentication, which adds an extra layer of security to your account. If you think your account has been compromised, log in and change your password immediately.
Be careful about the videos you are downloading
On TikTok, you can download certain videos to watch when you’re offline. While doing so is usually fine, some videos might contain malware, so make sure you trust the source before downloading it from the TikTok app.
Be aware of the ads you are clicking on
Again, some of the ads on TikTok might be misleading or dangerous to users, so be mindful of the advertisements you click on. If in doubt, don’t go there!
Be aware of the content you are creating
Young people love TikTok, but that’s not to say that all of the content is appropriate for those under 16. When creating content, be mindful of your language and avoid insensitive and inappropriate language and imagery. Your account might get flagged if you flout TikTok’s guidelines.
Keep your phone updated
As with all apps, TikTok often releases new updates and patches, so make sure you update your phone regularly. New updates contain bug fixes and prevent you from falling victim to certain scams and cyber threats.
Use a VPN
One way to avoid TikTok’s strict censorship laws is to use a VPN. A VPN allows you to log in from a different IP address, ensuring you can access and share the content you want.
The bottom line is that TikTok can be safe for you and your children, but you need to be mindful of how you use the app. If you’re concerned about TikTok, you can always delete it! But the above tips should help you use it responsibly.
For more information about protecting yourself online, check out our fraud prevention guidelines.