Since the advent and widespread use of social media, there’s always been a debate about its safety for young kids.
These platforms have made it easier for people to communicate and have fun on the internet, but there’s increasing worry that they’re causing as much bad as good.
TikTok, the contemporary social media platform that popped up recently, is currently drawing more attention than any other platform.
As a caring parent, it’s natural for you to worry about your kids using the platform. Is it safe for them? Read on to find out in this post.
- What Is TikTok?
- How Does TikTok Work?
- Dangers And Risks Associated With Using TikTok
- Is TikTok Safe For Younger Kids (12 And Younger)?
- The TikTok Age Limit
- TikTok Family Pairing And How It Works?
- Safety Tips That Parents Should Take To Safeguard Younger Kids Using TikTok
- The Best TikTok Alternatives For Younger Kids (12 & Younger)
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TikTok is described as a “video-focused social networking service,” and is an international version of the Douyin app in China. Think of it as Instagram, but a different type where you can only upload videos.
The platform was first launched as Douyin in China in 2016 by ByteDance. In 2017, the developers acquired Musical.ly — another Chinese social media platform, — and merged it with Douyin to create what’s now known as TikTok.
At the moment, no social media platform comes close to TikTok in terms of growth. In 2020, the platform recorded over 700 million users and more than 1 billion users in 2021.
It’s most popular among tweens and teens, with 25% of users between 10 and 19, as of 2021. This was closely followed by users aged 20 to 29 with 22.4% and users aged 30-39 with 21.7%.
Find out the best alternatives to TikTok in this post.
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TikTok is available for Android and iOS devices, and downloading the app is free. Users can view videos and access profiles even without creating an account. However, you need an account to upload content, like, follow, and make comments.
Compared to other social media platforms, TikTok is relatively easy to use. Signing up is straightforward as users can use their existing Facebook, Apple, Google, or Twitter accounts.
With TikTok, you can either record a live video or upload a pre-recorded one. Before posting, you can edit the clip by adding sounds, effects, filters, text, and more.
What makes TikTok unique from other existing social media platforms are the templates. Users can choose among 75 different video and image templates for making videos.
TikTok videos can range between 15 seconds and 60 seconds — they are never longer than 60 seconds. Like on Instagram, you can add hashtags using “#” and tag others.
Your followers will see your video in their timeline, but it can also appear on the timeline of non-followers. This is because TikTok’s timeline is divided into two: “Following” and “For You.”
The “Following” section features content from TikTokers you follow, while the “For You” section features randomly suggested content.
Like almost every social media platform, TikTok has an inbox for direct messaging. Also, when people follow you and you follow back, they get added to your friends’ list.
The dangers and risks associated with TikTok aren’t very different from those associated with social media in general.
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TikTok contains all kinds of content, including a lot of inappropriate content. From swearing and insults to provocative content and even nudity, you’ll find it all on TikTok.
This risk goes two ways. Users can view inappropriate content and also, impulsively, share inappropriate content themselves.
The 2020 Silhouette Challenge, where women share sexually provocative videos of themselves disguised in a red filter, is an example.
They put on minimal clothing, like lingerie, or nothing at all, since it’s just a “silhouette.” However, other users came up with a means to remove the red filter and view the original, unedited video.
Although the platform has a strong policy against inappropriate content — like sexually explicit content, for example — this hasn’t stopped users from uploading what they want.
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The silhouette challenge mentioned earlier is an example of how mischievous social media trends can be. With TikTok, challenges and trends have taken to a new height, and there are dangerous challenges on the platform.
TikTok popularized the milk crate challenge in mid-2021. A challenge where people climb high-stacked crates, and humor comes from them falling off.
The vast majority of participants in this challenge did fall, and it led to a multitude of injuries before TikTok removed the challenge. There were even rumors about a death, although it was quickly debunked with news that the victim was not dead but in “critical condition.”
In 2022, a seemingly more dangerous challenge, the Blackout Challenge, emerged. Unfortunately, this time, it led to the death of a 10-year-old.
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TikTok joins the lofty list of social media platforms with privacy issues. As a matter of fact, the platform has been sued multiple times for unlawful use of users’ data. In early 2021, ByteDance paid $92 million to settle a privacy lawsuit.
Like other social media sites, TikTok makes money from targeted advertising and marketing, so it needs information about its users.
Furthermore, ByteDance is a Chinese company, and this has fueled privacy concerns about the TikTok platform. This is the reason why the platform is banned in India and the catalyst of the Donald Trump–TikTok controversy.
Sometimes, governments try to get user data from local companies for political reasons. This is true not only in China but also in the west.
But TikTok assures users all the time that neither the Chinese government nor any other government can get access to user data.
Also Read: Best Free Phone Spy Apps
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In line with the privacy risk, hackers and cybercriminals can steal data off of TikTok.
In 2021, a cybersecurity firm, Check Point Research, uncovered a certain security vulnerability with TikTok. It was linked to the “Find Friends” feature, which gave hackers access to users’ phone numbers, nicknames, and certain settings for their profiles.
TikTok later announced that the vulnerability had been fixed. However, there were still concerns about other vulnerabilities, which is why users are constantly advised to be careful of what they share on the platform.
Each user’s experience with TikTok is different as it depends on what content they come across.
There’s a chance that your kid will follow only healthy accounts and never come across any unwholesome content. In the same vein, there’s also a chance that they won’t.
Nevertheless, in general, TikTok isn’t a safe social media platform for kids, 12 and younger, to use.
Here are the reasons:
Mainstream social media platforms are mainly used by adults, and they upload all kinds of content that kids shouldn’t see. This is why these platforms usually have a 13-year age limit.
With TikTok, in particular, the risk is relatively higher as it’s solely a video platform. A kid, for example, may read something on Twitter or Facebook and not fully comprehend it.
With TikTok, there’s nothing to read; they see and hear everything, which makes it easier for them to recall. They could easily start depicting what they watch, and if it’s dangerous — like the Blackout Challenge, for example — it’s a huge risk.
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All you need to start viewing content on TikTok is to download the app. As mentioned earlier, users can view videos and access profiles even without creating an account.
This is a huge risk for kids because, since there’s no account to suggest content, the app presents whatever it pleases.
Also, your kid can use TikTok without your knowledge. Perhaps you are monitoring their email and SMS inboxes, and you haven’t seen any messages suggesting ownership of a TikTok account.
Without the app, you can still access TikTok via mobile or desktop browsers without creating an account.
In other words, if you set up every parental control within the TikTok app, your kid can simply launch TikTok in their browser and view whatever they want without worrying about any restrictions.
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Twitter is often said to be the most difficult social media platform to use. Well, you can vote for TikTok as the opposite.
When you launch the app, you just need to press the “+” button at the central bottom part of the screen and use the camera to record videos.
You can upload a video on TikTok with just four taps. It’s easier and faster to use than even Instagram and Facebook. In other words, it won’t be difficult for your child to figure out how the platform works.
Such ease of usability means they can unintentionally upload content.
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Lack of privacy and the possibility of data breaches are already some of the major dangers and risks associated with using TikTok. Perhaps you can manage it by being mindful of how you use the platform, but your kid can’t.
A recent study by URL Genius, a mobile marketing company, revealed that TikTok is the social media platform that tracks users’ data the most.
According to the study, the major problem is that TikTok mainly uses third-party trackers, so you may never know who’s tracking you.
While this is up for debate, it’s a negative sign that TikTok has been involved in different privacy scandals since it went mainstream in 2020.
The platform is still under probe by the UK High Court for “processing children’s data unlawfully.” With all of these, it’s only logical that your child should not use TikTok.
With TikTok’s inbox messaging, there’s the risk of your kid coming into contact with total strangers. It’s the same risk with every social media platform that supports direct messaging and commenting.
However, since the content on TikTok is visual, it’s easy for kids to become overwhelmed by the creators on the platform and develop a connection with them.
If any are ill-meaning, it’ll be easy for them to manipulate kids into doing what they want.
Notably, the TikTok “Duet” feature has been reportedly called out for enabling sexual predation. With “Duet,” your kid can remotely create and remix videos with others, who they may never know.
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Cyberbullying is a major problem on TikTok. The problem persists, although the developers are doing everything they can to stop it.
The majority of the victims are people who create content that others find not good enough. Undoubtedly, the most popular creators on TikTok are highly creative.
Young kids not yet up to 13 years of age have no business on such a platform. These kids can’t create professional content to match the vast creatives on TikTok, which means they can easily become victims themselves.
Not many people get addicted to social media. But, when it happens, it’s usually difficult to break. According to an Addictive Tips survey, TikTok is the most addictive social media platform, which says a lot considering it’s relatively new.
Children under 13 years of age should not have more than two hours of screen time per day, following recommendations by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Exposing kids to too much social media at such a young age could lead to them becoming dependent on these platforms. For instance, it could lead to social isolation or social media depression.
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The minimum age required to create a TikTok account is 13 years. In comparison, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook also have a 13-year age limit, which means TikTok’s age limit follows the industry standard.
Therefore, younger kids, aged 12 and younger, officially shouldn’t be using TikTok. TikTok itself advises parents to prevent their kids under 13 years of age from using the platform by setting up parental controls on app stores.
Furthermore, TikTok will automatically remove any user found to be under 13 who uploads content to the platform. However, kids under 13 can use the TikTok for Younger Users version.
TikTok for Younger Users is an exclusive, limited-use app for users under 13 years of age. If your kid must use TikTok, they must use TikTok for Younger Users.
The exclusive app has privacy settings and extra safety features that make sure kids can only see content that is appropriate for them.
Notably, TikTok for Younger Users doesn’t allow the sharing of personal information, and there are major restrictions on user interactions.
Your kids will be unable to share their videos, message others, keep a profile, have followers, or comment on others’ videos. They can only view and enjoy specially curated TikTok content.
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TikTok Family Pairing is an effort by the developers to help parents monitor what their kids are doing. Note that family pairing is recommended for parents to manage their teenage kids. Kids under 13 must still use the Younger Users version.
With family pairing, you can link your account with that of your kids to know and control what they do on TikTok. There are three aspects to it: Screen Time Management, Restricted Mode, and Direct Messages.
Screen Time Management lets you set how long your kids can spend on TikTok each day. Even better, TikTok randomly features short videos at the top of the screen, reminding users to take a break and do something offline.
With Restricted Mode, you can prevent specific content types from popping up on your kids’ screens. Even without family pairing, these settings are available via Digital Wellbeing controls in TikTok’s settings.
Finally, the Direct Messages option allows you to choose which accounts can message your kids, or you can turn off messaging completely. Generally, direct messaging is automatically disabled for users under 16 years on TikTok.
Connecting other accounts to Family Pairing is simple. You either type in the username and approve it from the other device, or you scan the QR code.
As a parent, here are measures you can take if your child must use TikTok to ensure that they have a healthy experience.
As explained previously, TikTok has various privacy and parental options that parents can use to manage what their children can view. If your younger kid must use TikTok, you must employ these controls.
You must not skip the Family Pairing and Digital Well-being controls. In particular, you should set up Screen Time Management and Restricted Mode.
These controls are activated with a password that you’ll set, and your kids will be unable to breach the settings.
Ultimately, it’s ideal that your younger kid uses the TikTok for Younger Users version. It isn’t as “fun” as the main TikTok platform, but it’s safer for kids.
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TikTok is all about viewing, uploading, liking, and commenting on videos. If you use the platform with your kids, you can be sure that they’re not viewing any unhealthy content.
This means you’ll make videos with them and scroll through the feeds with them. Of course, you’ll have to sacrifice your time, but it’s worth it for the safety of your kid.
You get to ensure they follow the right accounts, don’t upload any harmful content, don’t view any harmful content, and don’t make or read inappropriate content.
Using the TikTok platform with your kid is also an opportunity for both of you to bond.
If your child is up to 10 years, at least, you can try talking to them about the dangers of TikTok, and social media by extension, when used inappropriately.
Explain to them why it’s wrong to share or view certain content or make certain comments. Discuss the possibility of meeting ill-meaning strangers as “friends” and why they shouldn’t share sensitive information with anyone.
You can encourage them to come to you for help if they encounter any unusual content or experiences.
There are over a hundred social media platforms out there, with some being exclusively for kids. Therefore, if your kids must use a social media platform like TikTok, here are the best alternatives for younger kids:
Zigazoo launched with an unofficial moniker as “TikTok for kids.” The platform is exclusive for kids and provides a safe environment for them to explore their creativity.
Zigazoo was built by parents who didn’t like the available social media platforms for kids. In fact, they first built it for their kids.
Signing up on the platform is impossible without parental consent. Hence, you’re the one to create accounts for your kids, and you can do that using your phone number, or Google or Apple accounts.
2. YouTube Kids
TikTok and YouTube are both video-centric social media platforms. YouTube Kids is a kid-friendly TikTok alternative app that even 4-year-olds can use. You can create up to eight different profiles with one account.
The platform contains lots of creative and playful videos for kids. Despite the built-in controls, it still lets you customize your child’s experience with parental controls.
You can limit screen time, monitor what your kids watch, block videos you don’t like, and report inappropriate videos to improve the platform.
You can also use the Approved Content Only mode to limit your kids’ timeline to select videos.
3. Grom Social
Grom Social is a kid’s safe COPPA-certified social app. The app targets users between 6 and 16 years old, which makes it a perfect TikTok alternative for your kids.
Just like TikTok, your kids can record and upload videos on Grom Social. However, it can only be viewed by kids, like themselves.
Grom Social works with parental approval. Therefore, when creating an account for your kids, you’ll have to provide Personal Identifiable Information (PII) as proof.
Once set up, you can monitor everything your kids do, including their communications, friend requests, and other connections they make.
Social media can be overwhelming as it’s a different world on its own. It’s easy for kids younger than 12 to be wrongly influenced, which is why TikTok has a 13-year age limit — the same as Instagram and Facebook.
The question of whether TikTok is safe for kids depends on what content they can access. With parental control and family pairing options, you can optimize your kids’ TikTok feeds to contain only healthy content.
However, officially, kids not yet up to 13 should use the TikTok Younger Users version rather than the main TikTok version.
Tom loves to write on technology, e-commerce & internet marketing.
Tom has been a full-time internet marketer for two decades now, earning millions of dollars while living life on his own terms. Along the way, he’s also coached thousands of other people to success.