What is TikTok and is it safe for you or your kids to use?

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve most likely heard of TikTok, the latest social media craze to capture teens and kids across the country. But what is the TikTok app? Are there age restrictions? Is TikTok safe for young adults to use?

Here’s what you need to know about the popular music video app before you let your kids create their own TikTok content.

What is TikTok?

TikTok may seem new on the scene, but an older version of the media app called Musical.ly was actually launched in 2014 in the U.S. After an acquisition by the Beijing-based media and tech company, ByteDance, Musical.ly merged with a similar Chinese app called TikTok in 2017. 

At first glance, TikTok looks a lot like the late app Vine, with more emphasis on amateur music videos. But ByteDance says the platform “extends beyond music to comedy, performance art and more.”

TikTok is free to download and allows users to view videos from others as well as create their own to share. Like YouTube, the app has spawned a large library of content for users to interact with (via likes and comments) and has even produced a few of its own internet celebrities. 

Is TikTok safe for kids?

With usership trending towards the younger crowd, many parents wonder if the popular video sharing app is safe and appropriate for their own kids to explore. As with any social media network, the majority of TikTok content is harmless, but there are privacy settings you can utilize to make sure your kids are being safe.

Go private

For starters, all new accounts are public by default. This means that anyone can view and share your content, send you direct messages and even use your location information. Opt for a private account, similar to Instagram and Twitter, or customize who can comment, react and message your account. Settings will include the option to enable “Friends” as opposed to “Everyone,” so for best results, choose “Friends” only. You may also opt to restrict all interaction from your child’s profile by disabling comment, reaction and messaging completely.

Proceed with caution

Although TikTok only requires users to be 13 with the approval of a parent or guardian, Common Sense Media recommends only users 16 and older use the app due to mature content. Create your child’s account yourself and be sure the correct birthdate is entered upon registration. This will give users under 13 access only to the “Restricted Mode” portion of the app featuring curated, clean content. 

TikTok also offers settings to specify blocked search terms and a Digital Wellbeing feature with screen time limits and filters for inappropriate content. Parents can create and lock these settings in place with a four-digit password that only they know. 

It’s important to note that content filters and restrictions on TikTok are not perfect. The app also contains mature content for adult users, so there’s still a chance that younger users could come across something age-inappropriate.

Finally, adults also need to be aware of security concerns involving TikTok. A cybersecurity firm, Check Point Research, released a report in January noting significant vulnerabilities in the app that might allow hackers to access user data. The New York Times reported that concerns about the app’s security were so high that several U.S. military branches banned use of TikTok on government-issued smartphones. So, it’s not just the kids who need to ask the question, “Is TikTok safe?” 

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