The TikTok app is the latest and greatest thing in social media for meme-happy tweens and teens. TikTok is relatively new on the scene, however. That leaves many parents wondering why kids love it so much, and if there are safety controls for its youngest users.
First, a bit of history: In 2017, the China-based tech giant ByteDance purchased the music video app Musical.ly. ByteDance allowed users to continue creating 15-second music videos on the platform until August 2018, when they merged Musical.ly’s base with their existing video app TikTok.
Though videos are still limited to 15-seconds, the current app goes beyond lip-syncing and karaoke-inspired videos — including content with language and themes that aren’t necessarily suited for kids under 18. That’s why TikTok recommends no one under the age of 13 downloads the app, and Parentology suggests setting up TikTok parental controls.
What Are Kids Doing on TikTok?
Most parents aren’t on the app, giving kids much more freedom to express themselves. Meara McNitt, Social Media Strategist at Online Optimism, tells Parentology many teens are using TikTok much as they do platforms like Facebook and Instagram: to create and share funny and entertaining content with friends.
“For example, lots of teens are making content in their cars in the drive-thru, or behind the scenes when work gets slow,” McNitt explains. “The types of videos are different, as well. TikTok allows users to reuse audio from original videos, so lots of memes are born, reimagined and recycled for months on the same audio with different formats.”
That’s not all they’re doing, McNitt says. Via TikTok, users make videos of themselves singing in their car, performing skits, capturing funny moments, even recording existing videos from Snapchat to share with a wider audience.
What’s inspiring these 15-second videos? Doug Brennan, tech expert and administrator for the Digital Addicts Blog, tells Parentology this can range from national lip-syncing challenges to locally-based initiatives. “Content is typically based on whatever is trending in their area.”
Any time you have young users creating and consuming content, it raises questions about privacy and safety. According to Bloomberg News, ByteDance was fined $5.7 million by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) earlier this year after discovering Musical.ly had illegally collected data from its underage users. This heightened concerns among parents about the app’s safety for children under the age of 18.
While no safety measure is foolproof, Brennan advises parents to monitor challenges their children are participating in to ensure they’re age appropriate. He also recommends taking full advantage of the app’s built-in privacy controls and security settings.