Is TikTok Harmful For My Daughter?
What parents most need to know about the popular social media platform.
Posted Aug 03, 2020
TikTok has frequently appeared in the news during the past few weeks. Government officials around the world are citing security concerns, worries about user privacy, and possible data breaches by ByteDance, the Chinese-owned company that owns TikTok. A few weeks ago, top U.S. officials stated that a ban on TikTok was being considered. Days ago, the media released a quote from the President stating that he is going to ban TikTok, although no action has yet been taken at the time of this writing.
The initial announcement that TikTok might be banned sent panic to millions of tweens and teens around the world. A teen I know very well (i.e., my 15-year-old daughter), said she and all of her friends feverishly worried, “What would we do without TikTok?” They simply could not imagine their lives without it.
While the controversy is certainly far from over and comments about TikTok security concerns are well beyond the scope of this post, I thought it would be a good time to describe the popularity of the TikTok app and what parents can do to guide their daughters regarding its use.
What Is TikTok?
For parents who are not yet aware, TikTok is a social media app used to post and view short videos. TikTok enables users to create video clips (the average video is 15 seconds) using multiple tools like a music library from which to choose the music in the video (enabling the user to dance and lip-sync to the song), sounds and filters, the ability to create “Response” videos, and even a way to post a “Duet” with another user by duplicating the original video and adding themselves in. Users can post or search using hashtags (to find new challenges, jokes, memes, etc.), and like other social media platforms, users have the ability to follow accounts, “like,” and comment on others’ videos. If your daughter creates a video, she can post it publicly (for anyone to view) for Friends (so that only her “friends” can view) or Private (in which only she can view). In addition, while anyone can follow her account (a “follower”), a “friend” is someone who sent her a request to “friend” that she accepts (and they agree to follow her back).
However, her feed (i.e., the videos that appear as she scrolls through) is driven not only by her friends’ feeds (i.e., what her friends are currently posting) but also by a page called “For You” that is derived of posts placed there by an algorithm that determines her preferences based on videos she has previously interacted with or watched.
Is TikTok Really That Popular?
This app is a big deal to most teens, but especially to teen girls. Some 60 percent of TikTok users are female, and 60 percent of users are between the ages of 16 and 24 (80 percent of users are under the age of 34). TikTok has been downloaded over 2 billion times globally, according to Sensor Tower Store Intelligence estimates. Not only are teens downloading the app, but they also use it frequently and for long periods of time. TikTok has 80 million monthly active users in the US. According to a recent report, in just one year, the average minutes per day that U.S. teens spent on TikTok increased by 116 percent to 82 minutes per day.
Why Are Parents Concerned?
TikTok is confusing to parents for many reasons. Lately, they are hearing about its potential security risks in the news. They worry about violations of their children’s privacy and misuse of their data. These concerns primarily have to do with the ownership and control of TikTok but have nothing to do with the content on the app itself.
But parents are also concerned about the content their daughters might see on the app. As a parent of a daughter, you might be concerned about her exposure to sexualized images, graphic lyrics, and mature themes on the videos. You might also be concerned about what your daughter is actually posting and who is viewing her videos. These are legitimate concerns that should be explored with girls, especially for ones who are already sensitive to rejection, prone to social comparison, and who are already experiencing bullying and victimization offline.
Guidelines for Parents
Here, I will highlight two considerations for parents in exploring the intent behind posting and viewing videos and how to enhance a daughter's safety and well-being when she uses TikTok.
Concern: What is your daughter trying to accomplish with her posts? Is she creating dance challenge videos alone or with friends? Is she posting videos to dance challenges with the hopes of gaining attention? Does she base her sense of identity or success on how “popular” she is on TikTok? In other words, are there unmet needs she is trying to fulfill through TikTok that will leave her feeling empty and dissatisfied?
Connect: Ask your daughter to re-envision her intentions for her videos. Can she start to spend time with friends practicing and creating funny TikTok dances or creating imaginative edited videos? Can she start to socialize and have fun with these videos, just to entertain herself and her friends? Can she begin to enjoy the innovative production process of the videos, not for the purposes of likes or followers, but for creativity, quirkiness, and connection?
Concern: The default setting of TikTok is set to public and its hard to know who is watching your daughter's videos.
Connect: Consider the following safety tips summarized from Common Sense Media and Protect Young Eyes. Have a conversation with your daughter about why these setting changes are important.
- First, switch to a Private (versus Public) setting
- Opt out of using personalized data on the app
- Change all safety settings to “Friends” to limit who can interact with her videos
- Change the “Allow Others to Find Me” so that she doesn’t show up in searches
- Enable “Restricted” mode to help block mature content
I encourage you to explore these ideas with your daughter. Can she view TikTok as a place where she can create videos for fun, imagination, and connection—safely, and with limits—rather than for attention and conformity? As parents, we can support our daughters as they gain a new perspective on this wildly popular app.
Common Sense Media (2020). Teens, Tweens, Tech, and Mental Health: Coming of age in an increasingly digital, uncertain, and unequal world. Retrieved: https://www.commonsensemedia.org/research/tweens-teens-tech-and-mental-health