TikTok: Avoiding the Downside

By Nadja Streiter, LMSW

TikTok, the current king of social media, is one of the most popular apps in history for young people. It offers a great space to express creativity, share thoughts on important topics, showcase talent, and just be silly. 

But don’t be fooled. TikTok also comes with a range of issues that you should be aware of if your kids are deep into this white-hot app. On the spectrum of concerns—from somewhat benign to seriously problematic—consider the following: 

  • Like most social media platforms, TikTok can easily turn into a huge time suck for users; successful app developers are great at keeping users scrolling and clicking, and TikTok is no different.
  • Kids can spend real money on TikTok by adding virtual coins to the app’s point system.
  • Many TikTok videos include swearing, sexual lyrics, and suggestive dancing that might not be appropriate for your child’s age. More troubling, your child may be able to view content that encourages dangerous challenges, graphic violence and sexuality, and interacting with unsavory adults.
What Can You Do?

While it may feel as if you’re helpless in the face of this juggernaut, you’re not entirely at the mercy of TikTok—or other social media platforms. Following are a handful of tips to help you monitor and manage your child’s social media use:

  1. Co-watch as much as possible. Demonstrating interest in your child’s interests is a great way to stay informed and connected. It also provides an opportunity to discuss family values, challenges, and how to navigate peer-pressure.
  2. If your kids are under 13, do not allow them to download the app. Clever kids find ways around this so consider using a parental control app.
  3. Make use of TikTok’s Family Pairing tool. Parents and teens can customize safety settings, control the amount of time spent on TikTok each day, limit the appearance of inappropriate content, restrict direct messages or turn messaging off completely.
  4. Keep your child’s account private or use the friends setting to minimize contact with strangers. This will likely be hard with older teens making watching together even more important. You don’t have to watch every video together, but it’s a good idea to watch just enough to promote conversation and connection.
  5. Reach out to an experienced professional if digital media becomes a problem in your home or if you think it is having a negative impact on your child’s mental health.

Nadja Streiter is a clinical social worker and therapist who specializes in Technology and Video Game Addiction.

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