What is social media app TikTok and is it safe for kids?

What is social media app TikTok and is it safe for kids?

TikTok is one of the hottest social media apps on the planet right now, and kids are flocking to the platform in droves.

Recent stats suggest it has more that 500 million active users worldwide, and we’re not surprised, given its totally addictive format.

But if you’re a parent, you might be wondering exactly what youngsters are doing on there, and more importantly, if there are any safety concerns you need to be aware of.

How does it work?

TikTok is a video app that allows users to create and share short videos with special effects, music and filters. It’s often referred to as a ‘lip-syncing’ app as many users choose to sing and dance along to popular music tracks, although others act out comedy sketches, magic tricks, viral challenges and funny pranks.

Much like Twitter’s now defunct app Vine, TikTok gives youngsters the opportunity to express themselves in creative ways. Videos last for up to 15 seconds and collaboration is a major part of the app. You can duet with other users by replying to their video, or upload your own sounds which other users can use too.

New sounds can go viral and spawn thousands of reactions in just hours. Take Kylie Jenner for instance. An office tour video she shared on YouTube – in which she was filmed singing “rise and shine” to her daughter Stormi – has became a TikTok meme. The hashtag #RiseandShine has since broken records, having being viewed more than 1 billion times on the app.

Is it safe?

As with any social media platform, parents should be aware of the risks it may pose to children.

“TikTok is a popular service with young people as it is somewhere they can socialise with friends and have fun,” says Laura Randall, associate head of child safety online at NSPCC, “but it also poses significant risks as we know that a worrying number of children are being contacted via apps with livestreaming functions, such as TikTok, by abusers who are using them as a hunting ground.”

“It’s possible to run into inappropriate comments and videos,” adds Ray Walsh, digital privacy expert at proprivacy.com. He adds that TikTok’s privacy settings can be “tricky to set up” and can result in unwanted followers.

“The first thing for parents to check is that their child has set up their TikTok account using their real age,” says Walsh. You have to be over the age of 13 to set up an account, and Walsh warns that using a fake DOB could lead kids to be exposed to content that isn’t suitable.

Next, it is important to make your child’s account private as this will ensure it is not visible to the general public. “Comments can also be restricted to ‘from friend’s only’ which will vastly reduce the opportunity for kids to see inappropriate comments.”

“Finally, parents can use the app ‘Digital Wellbeing’ menu to implement ‘Restricted Mode’, which will mean [inappropriate] videos will be excluded from their child’s feed,” says Walsh.

Randall adds that it’s vital for parents to talk to children about their online lives in the same way they would ask them how their day was. This can involve discussing what personal information they should and should not share, or pointing out that their new online friends might not always be who they say they are.

To help families explore the pros and cons of sites together, in partnership with O2, the NSPCC has launched Net Aware, which helps parents keep their children safe by helping them explore in-app features such as privacy and GPS locator settings. Parents should visit net-aware.org.uk for more information.

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