When it comes to social media, TikTok is the app to beat. TikTok (formerly Musical.ly) has rapidly gained popularity among teens and tweens since its launch in 2016. As “a destination for short-form mobile videos,” users upload videos of themselves lip-syncing, telling jokes, dancing, etc.
For parents of teens and tweens who use the app (or keep asking to), it’s helpful to know what it is, its pitfalls and dangers, and how to talk to them about it in order to help them pursue abundant life in every area of their lives.
How does it work?
TikTok’s main features are:
- Video Creation: Create, edit, and post videos.
- Effects: Apply filters and other Snapchat-like effects to videos.
- Messaging: Have text-message-style conversations with others.
- Video Viewing: Watch others’ videos, and like, comment on, or share them.
- Profile Viewing: Like Instagram, users can view others’ profiles, which consist of a profile pic, following/follower stats, and a feed of their posts.
- Livestreaming: Streaming video in real-time.
A lot of teens use TikTok to post videos of themselves lip-syncing and/or dancing to their favorite songs (that’s how Baby Ariel got started). Some sing or play instruments along with another song. Some create comedic skits, while others make DIY (do-it-yourself) videos with music as a background track. Many make videos and duets to participate in a trend or meme. Check out this list of all the things found on TikTok.
How do I create a video?
After you’ve created an account, tap on the plus sign in the middle of the bottom of the screen to create a video (you’ll have to enable access to the microphone and to the camera to do so). You can choose music for the video right off the bat by tapping “Sounds” at the top middle of the screen, which will bring up the music library sorted by themes (image). There’s also the option to shoot a video first and add music afterward.
Options when posting (mainly located on right side of screen):
- Toggle between the front-facing camera and the back camera.
- Choose different recording speeds.
- “Beauty,” which removes wrinkles, shininess, redness, freckles, etc.
- Instagram-esque filters.
- Record hands free.
- Turn the flash on or off.
- Snapchat-esque effects (this graphic changes periodically).
- Upload a video from the camera roll (which can be longer than 60 seconds).
- Photo templates (choose between different pre-made templates and upload your own photos)
At the bottom of the screen, you can toggle between 15-second and 60-second videos. To record, one simply holds their thumb on the button. By releasing, it will stop shooting and allow you to edit that “segment,” then continue shooting more segments or post it. One can post a video publicly or privately, as well as share to other social media platforms that have already been connected to TikTok or choose to save it as a Draft. Check out the “Using TikTok” category on their website for more detailed descriptions of all of its features.
Enabling parental controls
As long as a user has access to their account, they can make their account public, direct message anyone, and view any videos. But TikTok does offer Family Pairing, which allows parents to remotely disable DMs, set time limits, and enable content restrictions, rather than having to do everything from their kids’ devices. The catch: Parents must have their own TikTok accounts (boosting TikTok’s numbers), and their kids must allow them to link the accounts to each other (a privilege they can revoke at any time). But it’s worth being on any app your children are on anyway in order to keep an eye on things and understand what they’re experiencing. If you have kids on the app, make sure to enable the feature right away.
TikTok also offers a feature called Digital Wellbeing (image), which is accessed via Settings. It offers a Restricted Mode (which uses an algorithm to attempt to limit videos that may not be appropriate for all audiences) and Screen Time Management (no more than 2 hours on the app per day). Both of these are protected by a passcode (different from the account password), meaning a parent can set the passcode and not give it to the child.
However, because the app doesn’t make you log in every time you open the app, it’s possible for a parent to pick the Digital Wellbeing passcode (which is required to be reset every 30 days) and the account password, then not tell the child what it is. That does mean that a parent would have to enter the password for the child any time the app asks for it, but because users are required to enter the current password in order to reset the password, it would limit some functionality.
A caveat, though: If a child gets annoyed by this and hasn’t really built up their account, they can easily just log out of the account and create a new one without the parents knowing. This is why it’s important to not simply put strict boundaries on a phone without talking about them first. We highly recommend our Parent’s Guide to Smartphones, Parent’s Guide to iOS, Parent’s Guide to Android, and Parent’s Guide to Internet Filtering & Monitoring for more on this perspective.
For way more info on everything TikTok has to offer and how you can help your teen to navigate the app, check out our Parent’s Guide to TikTok here!