TikTok: The Time is Now

Alright, parents. If you have been reading and keeping up with our blogs over the last few months, you know that we have targeted dozens of apps to address their dangers and really to just make you aware of what is on your child’s phone. So, here is yet another app that we really do not recommend for children. It is called TikTok, a click-share app in which users can share 3-15 second videos of themselves or up to 60 second looping videos. While it sounds innocent enough, there are a few red flags.

First, there are only two privacy settings. The user can be completely private or completely public. And let’s be honest, it’s called social media for a reason. If your kids can’t share their videos with their friends, then what is the point. So, the likelihood that your child will choose to have the privacy settings on is slim to none. It is highly more likely that they will keep their account public and either disregard the dangers or assume that they can handle them. What could possibly go wrong?

The second issue I have with this app is that, because it is most likely going to be left public, your child’s account will be out there for anyone and everyone who has a TikTok account. If that doesn’t hit home, let me put it a different way. TikTok is a GLOBAL app—not just the United States—the entire world. This means that anyone in the world who has a TikTok account has access to YOUR child. Parents, it may be time to really start paying attention to your child’s phone.

The third issue I have with this app is two-fold. The first part of this is that, because TikTok is owned by a company based out of China, it was only recently held to US standards of privacy. For exemple, Bytedance, the company that owns TikTok, recently settled a $4.5 million lawsuit with the US for violations of child privacy. In the US, it is illegal to farm data from a child under the age of 13, according to COPPA (Child Online Privacy Protection Act). This is not the case in China; so when the app first launched in the US, child privacy was not a concern. The second part of this issue is that news organizations have literally interviewed 9-year-olds who have had users on TikTok try to farm their sensitive information.

Now, TikTok is technically not for children under the age of 13. Why? Probably so that it doesn’t violate COPPA. However, there is no age verification, and the same news organization has trained 3rd, 4th, and 5thgrade classrooms in which multiple students either had TikTok or were very aware of it. Now, obviously, awareness is not the issue. Participation is the issue. And when children, who are naturally trusting, have access to an app with as few controls and regulations as TikTok has, there are a multitude of opportunities to take advantage of that innocence.

So, enough with the doom and gloom. What can you do, as a parent or caregiver?

First, you need to work on YOU. You need to be aware of what is going on in the social media world. Follow this blog. Attend social media safety trainings. Watch YouTube videos about any new app you see on your child’s phone. Become an active participant in your child’s and honestly in your own social media safety.

Second, you need to work as a family. Don’t hide this wealth of information from your kiddos. Share with them the information you gather. Explain your concerns with the apps and set social media guidelines as a family. Friend each other on social media platforms, and research together any new app your child wants to download. Make your children willing participants in their own safety. Explain to your children that there are people out there who will want to take advantage of their naturally more trusting nature and fish for sensitive information. Explain that they should NEVER give that information out and make it clear that you are a safe place to come to if they encounter something uncomfortable on any social media platform.

Third, work on your schools. School age kids spend between 4 and 12 hours at school every single day. Peer pressure becomes a real challenge and fighting the “everybody else is doing it” battle is a lose-lose situation. However, if you can talk to your administrators about prioritizing internet safety and possibly providing a training for teachers, parents and students, you may just be able to change the culture of the school. And that is something that will work for you in your fight to keep your children safe online, rather than against you.

You. Your family. Your community. Together we can make all the difference. (Yes, it is cliché, but you know it’s true.)

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