If you have a child or teenager at home, chances are you've heard of the video-sharing platform TikTok. Users can use the TikTok app to create, watch and share videos they've made on their smartphones, even adding special effects to make their videos unique. TikTok has become incredibly popular among tweens and teenagers and is a fun way for young people to express themselves and build a community around their interests. But, is TikTok safe for kids? To help you learn more about TikTok, how it works, what the age limits are and how you can help your kids stay safe, here's our parents' guide to TikTok.
What is TikTok?
TikTok is a free social media app launched in 2016 that lets users watch, create and share video clips on their phones. People can add creative filters and background music to their videos, so it provides a fun and creative outlet for people of all ages. TikTok currently has more than 3.7 million users in the UK alone and is the 7th most active social media app worldwide.
How does TikTok work?
To sign up for TikTok, you need to provide an email address, phone number or a third-party account such as Instagram or Facebook and your age. Once you've logged in to your new TikTok account, you can search for popular TikTok creators, hashtags or specific categories (for example, animals, sports, hair fails) to find videos. You can also use the contacts in your phone or your existing social media followers to find friends who have TikTok accounts. Users typically use TikTok to film short videos or ‘TikToks’ of themselves (up to 15 seconds long) or connect multiple video clips to create longer videos. There are also editing and customisation tools and a huge library of effects, filters, songs and sound bites that you can add to your videos.
Is TikTok safe?
TikTok can be great fun and lets people get creative with their videos. However, as some music videos contain sexual content and swearing, children may quickly encounter inappropriate content. It can be a good idea to sit in on some of your kid's TikTok sessions to get insight into what they're doing on the platform, the sorts of content they're consuming, the videos they make, and whether their behaviour, and that of their peer group, is appropriate.
TikTok offers several privacy control settings to help you create a safer TikTok experience for your children. In 2021, TikTok also added some new safety features for younger users, including:
- Push notifications will be disabled after 9pm for kids aged 13 to 15 and 10pm for teenagers aged 16 to 17
- Teens aged 16 and 17 must physically change their user settings to allow direct messaging. Kids under 16 cannot access direct messages
- When someone aged under 16 publishes their first video, a pop-up message will be displayed explaining their privacy options
Are there age limits for TikTok?
A common question from parents is "how old do you have to be for TikTok?". The TikTok age limit in the UK is 13 years or older. Anyone under the age of 18 needs parental approval before creating an account. However, there's no age-verification process, so a child under 13 could sign up for a TikTok account without being checked.
Can I monitor my child's TikTok?
You can search for and follow your child's TikTok account to see what they post. However, you can't see which videos your child is watching, which accounts they interact with or the comments or messages they send or receive.
You may want to consider sharing an account with your child through TikTok's Family Pairing feature, so you can see what they're watching and posting. It can be a good idea to have regular honest conversations with your kids about social media and your concerns while also asking them what they like to search for and what they enjoy watching. When you take a genuine interest, kids could be more likely to be honest with you about what they're doing on the app and tell you if they encounter anything that makes them uncomfortable.
What privacy settings does TikTok have?
TikTok privacy settings are key to keeping your child's account private and online activity safe. For example:
Making your child's account private is an effective way to prevent them from contacting strangers online. Any videos they share will only be seen by people they have approved as a follower. You can make a TikTok account private by selecting the three-dots on your child's profile page in the top right corner. Then on the Settings and Privacy page, select Privacy and Safety. You'll then be able to toggle the switch to select Private Account. But keep in mind that even with a private account, your kid's username, profile photo and bio are still visible to everyone on the platform.
When you set your child's account to private, you can also change other privacy features such as sending direct messages and allowing comments on your child's videos.
TikTok has a password-protected digital wellbeing feature that alerts users if they use the app for over two hours. You can also switch on "restricted mode" to filter out unsuitable content.
What are parents' main concerns with TikTok?
TikTok offers great opportunities for young people to have fun and be creative. However, there are certain aspects of TikTok that may cause some concern for parents, for example:
Parents have shared their concerns over offensive language being used in some of the videos posted on TikTok, making it unsuitable for young children.
Contact with strangers
Many parents are understandably concerned about the idea of strangers connecting with their children on the app. When TikTok is downloaded, people can see all the content on the app without creating an account themselves, although they cannot post, like or share anything.
Lack of age verification
With no formal age verification process, children under the age of 13 can sign up with a false age, or over 13s can sign up without their parent's knowledge.
Tips to keep your child safe on TikTok
Before you let your child loose on TikTok, check out these tips to ensure they always have a positive experience on the app.
Talk to them about cyberbullying
Unfortunately, cyberbullying is prevalent on many social media platforms, including TikTok. Users can leave hurtful or inappropriate comments, so it's a good idea to talk to your kids about what to do if they experience cyberbullying or see others experience cyberbullying.
Make their account private
To make a TikTok account private, tap on the three dots in the top corner of their account profile page, select Privacy and Settings and then Privacy and Safety from the options. You can then choose whether to have a "Private Account".
Be aware of what your kids share
Talk to your children about what is acceptable for them to post and what isn't. Encourage them to think carefully about everything they post and who might see it.
Get to grips with the guidelines
Like most social media platforms, TikTok has community guidelines for what is and isn't acceptable on the app. Make sure you and your child have read them to know what is and isn't allowed.
Switch on Digital Wellbeing
Turn on Digital Wellbeing and Restricted Mode on the TikTok app.
It's a good idea to familiarise yourself with social media by experiencing it yourself. This will help you better understand what platforms young people are using and what the risks are.
Know how to report and when
Does TikTok have parental controls?
There are some parental controls on TikTok. While you can set time limits and content filters on your child's phone, you can use parental controls directly on their account. On your child's profile, tap the three dots in the top right and select Digital Wellbeing next to the umbrella icon. You can then choose which features you want to enable.
- Screen Time Management: This limits time spent on the app to a maximum of two hours a day, but you can also limit it to 40 minutes if you prefer.
- Restricted Mode: This function blocks mature content, although children using the app on their own can still come across videos that aren't suitable for their age.
Alternatively, there's the option of creating your own TikTok account and using Family Pairing to manage your child's account settings with your phone.