Understand the phenomenon that is TikTok, including the dangers it poses to kids, and learn how to protect them with parental controls and monitoring apps.
Why is TikTok so popular? What’s the formula that makes this recent arrival to the social media scene a stratospheric success? How can this app get to know its users in a way that almost feels like an intimate relationship? What’s the effect it’s having on our lives and what can happen if kids are given unfettered access to it? I was recently invited to comment about TikTok on Univision national news, I just got a sound bite in, but there is plenty more to say. I don’t think that parents understand what we are dealing with here and unlike Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat, TikTok is in a league of its own. Let’s unpack some of it here.
In a recent investigation, the Wall Street Journal created 100 accounts to try to reverse engineer the TikTok algorithm and in less than 2 hours, the algorithm was able to identify the unexpressed interests of these test accounts.
No matter what you are interested in, consciously or unconsciously, your behavior “speaks” when using the TikTok app. Your unexpressed interests are taken into account by observing how you behave and carefully quantifying every move you make, how long you watch, how fast you scroll and what you ultimately react to.
Kids can find anything they want and don’t want on TikTok. I’ve personally seen a slew of sexualized content not appropriate for minors that runs rampant on the platform but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. If you want to have a field day and get an idea of what people are waking up to that’s contained in TikTok these days, you should read the parent reviews on Common Sense Media and also in the app store where you’ll frequently see the words: hate speech, obscenity, sexually charged content and that’s just the beginning.
Challenges are another type of content that is being shared and a new one seems to pop up every week. Crazy stuff like choking challenges to pass out, where teens have actually died, skull breaking challenges, stacking milk crates and climbing, potentially falling from heights and breaking bones. Dry scoop challenges where people are eating protein powders, pre-workout challenges that are full of caffeine to get a rush and potentially causing stress and even heart attacks. Back cracking, scalp popping, Benadryl overdosing, sticking gorilla glue in your hair, consuming nutmeg to get high, and sticking quarters in between a charger and the wall socket to create a short circuit. Scared yet?
We are completely unprepared, untrained, and uninformed about what happens on TikTok when in the hands of a teenager or a young kid. You could say that about any social media platform but TikTok takes it to a whole new level.
The interesting thing is that you’ll probably read reviews complaining about the other side no matter where you fall in the political spectrum. If you were going to design a widely adopted app to divide us as Americans, TikTok would be it and that’s just the beginning.
The Boston attorney general is launching an investigation nationwide to determine whether TikTok is promoting its platform to kids, young adults, and teens and what are some of the potentially harmful mental health consequences. You know that by the time the government is involved, it’s too late for too many kids out there. This means that they are seeing an increase in mental issues in kids, teens, and young adults and they are seeing the growth in depression, self-harm and social pressure overall and they set out to connect the dots. They are going to attempt to look into TikTok’s black box and try to understand how it can have such a powerful grip on youth worldwide.
What’s a parent to do? My opinion may sound harsh but if you can help it, ban TikTok from your kid’s life for as long as you can. I understand that this may not be a viable option for many parents because their teens are already under its spell and the social pressure may be too much for them. Do not think for a minute that if your kids have a good head on their shoulders that this app is not going to fight like hell to change that so in that case, you need to use an app that’s going to help you monitor what’s going on.
How do you control your kids or at least understand what they are doing and watching on TikTok and other social media platforms?
The reality is that kids are savvy and if you restrict their account with parental controls and they know it, they might find a way to circumvent it and one of the ways is by simply creating a new account that you don’t know about with no age or content restrictions since TikTok doesn’t verify the age of the users.
Another solution is to use a parental control and monitoring app that will notify you when they see something fishy in their behavior on social media, online or in the content that they are even exchanging with other people, be it friends or anyone else with direct access to your kids via instant messenger in its countless forms.
The conclusion? It’s obvious that we’ve gone too far and it’s obvious that we need to do something about it as a society but as a parent, you need to empower yourself and do what you need to do to make sure your kids are safe. Like with drugs, once they cross to the other side, it’s incredibly hard to bring them back so it’s up to you to take it as seriously as it is and take the action that is appropriate for your family today.