01 APRIL 2020

Social Media and TikTok

Before I unpack TikTok, I would like to make comment about social media and children. Every day, I am asked about the magic age that kids need to be in order to make relationships in those spaces; yes, I said relationships. Being social is making relationships. So, my first piece of advice is to assess what your child’s most important relationship is like, the one they have with themselves. Are they resilient? Are they confident? Are they courageous? Can they stick up for themselves and others because at some stage online, they will need to. And, if you’re not involved in their online life, they will need to do this all by themselves, or with other kids of like ages guiding their decision-making. Are you happy with that?

Your child is ready to use social media when they can make a relationship and when they can break a relationship. The latter is important; in order to have healthy interactions, your child needs to be able to recognise manipulative and toxic behaviours and have strategies to either stand up to them or walk away from them. They also need to have a transparent enough relationship with you, to ask for help if something curly happens (because it definitely will) or if they need to talk about how they are feeling, after seeing something sexual, confusing, scary, hilarious or harmful (because they will be exposed to suicide ideation and self-harm). That’s when they are ready to play with other humans, in a largely unsupervised playground, where they are going to come across people who will want a variety of things from them. Oh, and they will be doing all of this before their brain can process consequence (this develops in their 20’s).

It is not the place of the social media platforms to protect your children, it is yours. Every moment of every day, money will trump your child’s safety, their mental health and their physical health. These platforms are built for maximum engagement because that’s how they make money. They don’t care about your children.

In the past four weeks, I have been asked questions about TikTok by schools and parents alike and increasingly, there are concerns around behaviour, privacy and bullying, grooming, sexualized content, mental health issues, shame and mindless time-wasting. TikTok is engaging and there is some really funny stuff on there but bear in mind that everything your child sees, leaves a cumulative mark on their heart and on their brain that affects their views about themselves and the world they are growing up in.

TikTok Facts:

It is a short format, interactive, video-sharing app that is free to sign up to and allows users to watch, make and share 15-second videos.

  • It is owned by ByteDance (a privately held company headquartered in Beijing, China).
  • TikTok requires Australian-based users to be 13+, Common Sense Media recommends 15+ (https://www.commonsensemedia.org/blog/parents-ultimate-guide-to-tiktok).
  • TikTok collects information.
  • In the US, TikTok offers a children's version of the platform, but this is not available in the Australian market.
  • Parents can use a digital wellbeing feature in the app to limit time spent and the appearance of content that may not be appropriate for all audiences.
  • Challenges feature regularly, some are fun and harmless, but some, like the current ‘skull breaker’ challenge, may have contributed to people being physically harmed.
  • Users over the age of 18 can buy ‘gifts’ in the form of vouchers, they can give gifts to others and they can make in-app purchases.
  • Even if your account is made private, bio, username and any profile information will still be visible to all users.

My Advice:

  • At the very least, follow TikTok’s recommendation for the appropriate age of sign up which is 13+. I wouldn’t let my 13 year old use it.
  • Set boundaries with your child before signing up. This is an explicit, sit-down chat about privacy, what they are allowed to share online and the way that they are representing your family online.
  • The second you have signed up, adjust the privacy settings. The default is a public profile. Remember that your child’s profile information will still be available to all users.
  • Use the in-app wellbeing settings to set time limits straight away, and to filter content. Note to self, you can’t set time limits under two hours and adult content will still most definitely slip through this filter.
  • Check in regularly with your child and talk about their online life. Be appropriately in it with them. We have a very “us and them” concept of social media with our children right now, which is not in their best long-term interests.

This advice is written by our well-being partner, Rachel from Stymie. For more information on Rachel and the important work she does through her organisation Stymie, please visit about.stymie.com.au