Is TikTok Safe? What Parents Should Know About the Popular App

Enjoying its status as hot app of the moment, TikTok is currently the top phone app and a firm favorite of kids and teens. Forty-one percent of users are between ages 16 and 24. Following in the wake of Vine, TikTok allows users to record videos and share them widely. Some users gain hundreds of thousands of followers and become “TikTok famous.” But is TikTok safe for kids?

What Is TikTok Used For?

TikTok, previously called musical.ly, is an app where users record and upload videos of themselves singing, lip-syncing or talking, often labeled with a hashtag or in response to a challenge. Users interact with and comment on each other’s videos and send direct messages to one another.

TikTok friends can also record duets together, meaning two users who follow each other can lip-sync to the same song from different locations. Seems harmless enough, right? 

Features to Watch Out For

When your child first creates an account, the settings are by default set to public. This means anyone can view their content, send them messages and see their location. We recommend updating it to a private account (under the Privacy and Safety section of the settings) or using the Friends setting so that only friends can view your child’s content and send them messages.

To make sure your child doesn’t allow strangers to see their videos and information, check the list of users who are following them. If there are any followers you don’t recognize, look up their usernames on Spokeo. Though Spokeo does not currently have data from TikTok, people often use the same username across multiple platforms, which means you might find other accounts they have created that can help track down their identity. (It’s probably a good idea to audit their followers on a regular basis, as even if their profile is set to private, anyone can request to follow them.)

Since many of the app’s users are teenagers, also keep an eye out for mature content like sex, drugs and profanity. Like on other social media apps, celebrities, news outlets and other entities are now creating corporate profiles to share content on TikTok. Depending on the age of your child, you may want to monitor the videos they are viewing.

Safety Features and Strategies

Earlier this year, TikTok was fined for illegally collecting data from kids under 13 without the consent of parents. This included personal and location information. Since then, the company has introduced a different app experience for kids under 13 that doesn’t collect data, only allows them to create videos (but not upload them for followers to see) and only gives them access to videos deemed safe for children. 

Make sure your child has their real age on their profile to keep them safe from data sharing. Also keep in mind that users over the age of 13 could sign up for this more limited version by lying about their age.

TikTok also has a Digital Wellbeing feature that sets a time limit on use, called Screen Time Management, and prevents some mature content with Restricted Mode. However, these features aren’t always foolproof, and kids can often figure out how to change their settings. We recommend sharing an account with your child if they are under 13 and monitoring your own comfort level with their activity.

Deleting Your Child’s Account

If you ultimately decide you aren’t comfortable with your child using the app, you may decide to permanently delete it. You can do this by clicking on the profile tab and then the three-dots icon, which brings you to Settings. Click on Manage My Account and then Delete Account.

Got more questions? Read more of our tips for keeping your kids safe online.

Katrina Ballard is a communications manager in Washington, D.C. She holds a master’s degree in public administration and has written extensively on technology, business and more.

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