For busy parents and bad babysitters, TikTok can seem like a Godsend. It’s automatically playing short-form videos can entertain children for hours. But, should they?
There are at least a couple of reasons to think twice before putting the app in front of children, and TikTok is literally the first one to tell you that.
Why Kids Shouldn’t Watch TikTok Unsupervised
TikTok’s Terms of Service say that no one under the age of 18 should use the service without parent or guardian approval. Users under 13 get a more limited experience (they can’t post their own videos, search videos, message other users, or read or leave comments).
Children between 13 and 15 can do a lot of those things but can only directly interact with friends. But, the videos that they see are the same as those seen by adult users.
So, what’s wrong with TikTok videos? The problem isn’t with all videos, but much of the problems arise from the inability of users to effectively screen or filter content.
A Lot of TikTok Content Is Unsuitable for Children
TikTok isn’t intended for children. Unlike other video-sharing platforms, it doesn’t have a curated version for children. This isn’t something bad about TikTok; it’s just not how the app was intended to be used. A lot of TikTok videos are created by adults for adults and there aren’t effective ways to screen these out.
Remember too that some content on TikTok that appears to be geared toward younger children may not be the kind of thing that you want your children watching. A recurring theme throughout this article is that it’s less about TikTok and more about how you may feel about children’s content in general.
Some TikTok Content Contains False Information
As adults, we’re used to “false information” and similar terms referring to potentially malicious political takes. That’s not (necessarily) what we’re talking about here. Political or otherwise, deliberate or otherwise, a lot of “information” on TikTok just isn’t correct.
Some of this content is posted for narrative purposes, sometimes it may be part of a joke, or sometimes it might just be an error on the part of the creator. But, in any case, children often have a hard time telling real from unreal and reliable from unreliable. This can lead to miscommunication at home, with friends, or even at school.
Some TikTok Content Contains Potentially Dangerous Activities
“Dangerous activities” checks a lot of the same boxes as “false information.” The content isn’t (usually) attempting to incite violence but it might be potentially dangerous stunts or pranks.
Some content is also edited in such a way that it is safe for the poster to do, and may look safe for the viewer, but would actually be dangerous in the real world. Some videos can also contain material dealing with thoughts and feelings or other content that may be dangerous for children to encounter without support.
This is also one of the reasons that supervision is key. It’s easier to watch a video with a child and tell them that the depicted activity may be unsafe than it is to stop them from attempting an activity that they saw while you weren’t watching.
What to Do if Your Children Use TikTok
Again, TikTok isn’t the enemy here. It can be difficult to keep children off of the app, even if they don’t have the app. TikTok videos often wash up on other video-sharing sites, like YouTube and Snapchat.
So, what do you do if your children use TikTok? That depends on how old the child is.
Don’t Let Children Below a Certain Age Use the App Unsupervised
This can sound like a tall order but, friendly reminder, it is also the official stance of TikTok, too. After all, a recurring theme in this article has been that even the most questionable content on TikTok isn’t a problem if you’re there to answer questions that may arise.
Even if you are supervising your children while they use TikTok, the videos are so short and play in such rapid succession that it can be hard to do anything about unwanted content. The best thing is to be there with them.
After all, if young children are watching TikTok, they’re probably watching it on your device. And, if you have the app on your device, you probably like TikTok yourself. What might seem like your classic parental oppression could become a bonding activity, not to mention an educational opportunity.
Use Family Pairing Tools and Parental Controls
Watching TikTok with your children is one thing if we’re talking about young kids. If we’re talking about junior high kids, it might not work as well. But that’s okay, there are other solutions—even if the app is installed on their device and not yours.
First off, let them make their own account but make sure that they put in their actual birthdate. As mentioned above, this adds extra protections automatically that can ease your mind without you doing anything.
Next, remember that TikTok has parental controls so you can get more control over what they’re watching. You can use these controls from the TikTok web dashboard even if you don’t have the app downloaded.
It’s Still the Internet, After All
TikTok isn’t evil. Or, at least, no more or less evil than any other corner of the internet.
We tend to think that apps are safer than other online experiences because they can feel siloed into their own little buttons. But, any social app is going to come with the same opportunities and obstacles as any online experience to some degree.
So, when children are involved, approach apps accordingly.
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