Parenting has never been an easy task, even before the need to worry about safety on apps like TikTok. Now, in the current age of social media and exposure to digital trends, parents are faced with new challenges of weeding out the parenting advice available on the internet and the responsibility of policing and protecting their children in the digital world. Social media platforms can become havens for children becoming the targets of online predators, accessing sexually explicit or violent content online, and cyberbullying. One of the fastest-growing social media platforms is TikTok, a free platform where users can create, post, and watch short video clips. It has become increasingly popular among celebrities from all fields and is widely used by children and young adults.
According to recent reports, about one billion active TikTok users are spread across 154 countries! There is also an overwhelming amount of parenting information on TikTok – #parenting has 26.6 billion views on TikTok alone, while #parentingtips and #parentingadvice have 4.5 billion and 450 million, respectively. So, it is no surprise that millions of parents are looking on this platform for “hive advice” from other parents and “health experts” for parenting advice. While some could be sharing honest parental experiences and helpful advice, many of these are geared towards boosting business for various products or even spreading harmful or dangerous views to targeted audiences.
Here are a few tips to help exercise caution while following parenting guidance on TikTok or other social media platforms.
- Be careful about adopting methods that promise unrealistic outcomes. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is! For example, be leery if a parent urges you to buy a very expensive brand of healthy foods. Consider the person’s intentions- whether it is to genuinely help or to promote selling a product. Although there is nothing wrong with creators monetizing their content, it should not be done at the expense of safety.
- When in doubt, check the credentials of the person claiming to be a parenting expert, a psychologist, or a physician. There are a lot of deceivers on social media offering false or even dangerous advice. A simple Google search can give you details about this person and even reveal cautionary alerts online about their credibility.
- Do not hesitate to get second opinions about these trends from people you trust and directly interact with, like your pediatrician, teachers, or your child’s counselor.
- If it makes you uncomfortable, anxious, or inadequate as a parent, log out. The advice you adopt should align with your values and approach to your child’s well-being. A message from a colorful video of a few seconds duration might not work for you and your lifestyle in real life.
- In addition to regulating their children’s screen time and use of digital devices, parents should become aware that their own screen time can lead to distracted parenting.
As parents, we strive to keep our children safe, whether at home or at school. We also have a responsibility to protect our children in the digital world. While some of the content can be harmless and fun, there are distressing and potentially harmful trends that your children can find on these apps. Here is some info to help guard your child’s best interest on TikTok.
- TikTok requires that users be at least 13 years old to use the basic TikTok features, although there is a way for younger kids to access the app where additional safety and privacy features apply. Kids younger than 13 can only see curated, age-appropriate videos and aren’t allowed to comment, search, or post their own videos. This is based on the age the user claims they are when they create their account, though, so you may want to check your child’s.
- Privacy settings- Accounts of TikTok users under 18 are set to private by default and allows only people that the user approves as a follower to view their videos. However, even if the account is set to Private, be aware that your child can be exposed to sexual or violent content that is on the “public feed.”
- Direct messaging on the TikTok platform for those under 16 is not allowed. Users between 16 and 17 must actively switch their settings to enable direct messaging—monitor, who is talking to your kids on these platforms.
- To curb cyberbullying, young users 13 to 15 can choose between “friends” or “no one” to view their posts. Talk to your children about cyberbullying and foster open communication where they can approach you without hesitation if they are being bullied online.
- While the creativity behind content and video creation on TikTok can foster the young creative minds of kids, they can also become depressed or anxious if their content or posts are not popular or not getting enough views and likes. So check in with your kids about what they are creating and sharing online. Also, reiterate to them that the platform should not be viewed as a tool for personal validation or as a measure of self-worth.
- Become aware of the privacy, safety, and digital well-being options on your child’s account and monitor these settings frequently.
- Emerging research shows links between TikTok use and mental illness. For example, TikTok addiction has links to higher levels of depression, anxiety, and stress. There are also potentially disturbing videos and messages posted on TikTok that are dismissive towards mental illness and even those that encourage self-harm and violent behavior.
- Most importantly, have open, honest, and ongoing conversations about what’s happening on the various social media platforms. Discuss with them how screenshots and screen recording options can create a permanent digital footprint of your child’s interactions on the internet.
When used wisely, social media platforms can be powerful connectivity and social change tools. Parents have a responsibility to work with their kids to ensure that they have a fun and safe experience while using social media.