In this Monday, Sept. 28, 2020 filer, a logo of a smartphone app TikTok is seen on a user post on a smartphone screen, in Tokyo. (AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato, File)

The negative impact social media has on youth has been headline news for the past few months, with TikTok being mentioned as often, if not more, than Instagram and Snapchat.

Kimberly A. Morrow, author of 8 Pearls of Wisdom: A Parenting Guide, offers suggestions parents can use to protect their adolescents and pre-teens from the more harmful effects of TikTok.

According to Digiday.com, TikTok users spend more time in their app than in Snapchat and Instagram. The average user spends 52 minutes per day on TikTok (source: BusinesOfApps). Additionally, 90% of TikTok users visit the app multiple times a day. And to get a feel for the volume, DataReportal.com has found that TikTok had 800 million monthly active users in April 2020. That number is likely higher now, as social media usage was said to have increased as the COVID-19 raged on.

With such use has come research that shows various negative impacts on app users, especially among pre-teens. These include addiction, bullying, comparison, safety concerns (predators) and content to promotes and/or triggers self-harm and other mental health issues (source: smartsocial.com).

According to many, these fears are well-founded.

Tricia Cuthbertson told NBC News that shortly after her daughter’s friend downloaded TikTok to Cuthbertson’s daughter’s phone so the two could post and share videos, “In the matter of an hour, she has 20 followers, all men, and they were starting to make [inappropriate] comments.”

A report on WDBJ7, Roanoke, VA’s CBS affiliate, stated, “The tech website Motherboard investigated the app and found a large community of adult users on TikTok soliciting nude photos from kids. Some of those users even sent explicit videos to children.” 

One review of TikTok posted by a parent on Common Sense Media stated, “After I started exploring the app, I realize that at the bottom of the video people could put hashtags. I clicked on a hash tag, which took me to another video with a different suggestive sounding hashtag at the bottom that I clicked on, which then took me to videos that were adult content.” 

Morrow contends TikTok is not all bad, pointing out that a missing teen used a hand gesture she learned on TikTok to signal that she was in danger and needed help.

“The safety signal learned on TikTok saved a young girls life,” stated Morrow. “Parents can encourage their kids to use social media to make the world a better place.”

To do this, Morrow suggests gradually introducing TikTok to your children at 13 and not sooner; talking to them about cyberbullying; getting familiar with TikTok’s community guidelines; becoming aware of explicit songs on the app; turning on TikTok’s “Digital Well-being” settings; and knowing how and when to report a problem.

WHAT IS TIKTOK?

  • TikTok is an app that allows users to watch and upload 60 second videos of everything from dancing to lip syncing to funny animal videos and content many parents argue is not appropriate for preteens.
  • A “For You” page is curated for each user, based on the interests you choose when you make a profile. Users can follow, comment on and like each video.
  • The accounts you follow are then collected in your “Following” feed, which you can swipe through to watch. The Discover feature allows you to search for accounts and hashtags that you are interested in.

WHAT ARE LOCAL PARENTS ARE SAYING ABOUT TIKTOK?

  • Osjetta Gascey: My son is 13, and we don’t allow TikTok or any other social media accounts right now. I also use my parental controls through my iPhone to monitor his phone and set up filters for inappropriate content. He’s hearing so much already at school from the kids anyway, which allows us to have open dialogue. Between the advanced technology and video games, social media can take a back seat for now. Social media is raising some of these kids.
  • Dedrick Johnson: I do random drop-ins on everything… TikTok, FB, cellphones, texts, bedrooms, classrooms.
  • Ronda Robinson Lewis: TikTok is the devil. I’m embarrassed to say, I probably don’t monitor the kids as much as I should. I just limit their screen access time on the app.
  • Adrianne Walker: My experience with TikTok is just watching videos. I haven’t seen anything explicit. And it could just be that I don’t have the app. I just watch Tik Tok videos that come through Instagram. I’m sure there’s some dangerous things out there on it, but I just haven’t seen it. And though my husband and I don’t monitor our son’s viewing, we talk to him about the danger of online predators. And we talk about the fact that a lot of what you see on TikTok is unrealistic. I also have to say that our kids have been raised in a two-parent household with lots of love and security. We monitor who he spends time with and who he plays games with online. So, I’m hoping that all those things will combat the dangers of TikTok. Because I do realize there are kids on social media who don’t have parents who are talking to them, checking on them. My advice is old school: talk to your kids, communicate with them, have a relationship with them.
  • Courtny Fleeton: I know what each of them follow and for the most part of it’s questionable they come show me, because they like to see me go off. That’s kinda my teaching tool.
  • Claudell Cannady: I don’t monitor but I explained some dos and don’ts.
  • Pamela Walker: My son is on TikTok, but I try to monitor it as much as I can. What I hate about that app is that video clips run back-to-back without any opportunity to screen or filter out certain content. One minute we see some funny dance or situation and the next minute there is something vulgar or full of profanity. My rule is to skip the profane content. Perhaps I need to learn more about what parental controls are available
  • Swatara Olushola: My son is 11, but all my children already know that they won’t get a phone until they’re 18 (if they want one).

WHAT ARE THE POTENTIAL NEGATIVE EFFECTS OF TIKTOK?

(source: smartsocial.com)

  • Addiction: Since the app boasts an “endless stream” of material, students are likely to spend a long time in the app and might even become addicted to watching the videos for hours at a time.
  • Bullying: A high school principal in New York tells Smart Social Founder Josh Ochs that students are being bullied on TikTok. Some students are making fun of each other’s videos, while others are making videos just to ridicule their fellow students.
  • Comparison: Some students make outrageous, and even dangerous, videos to get more likes and followers. Hashtag challenges are an easy way to gain likes, but some of the challenges are not appropriate for tweens and teens.
  • Safety Concerns: Apps like TikTok can easily be used by predators to solicit minors because the app makes it easy for strangers to direct message children. “There are no restrictions as to who can join the app and it is used internationally, connecting virtually everyone,” explained Digital Family Expert Theresa Desuyo, at the parental control software company Qustodio.
  • Mental Health: Some experts report it can be easy to come across triggering content on the app that could promote issues like self-harm or eating disorders.