As fall rolls in and the school year is in full swing, the same question is being posed repeatedly from parents: What is TikTok? And the natural follow-up question: Why are kids crazy over this?
Let’s start with the first question. The simple answer is TikTok is an app for creating short videos and sharing them, just like any other social media platform. However, unlike other social media platforms, the short, 15-second videos replay in a continuous loop and demonstrate entertaining lip-sync, dance, and comedy. Accounts can be public (sharing with any other user on the platform) or private (sharing only with approved friends on the platform).
Where did TikTok come from?
Does this app sound oddly familiar? It might, as it was originally known as Musical.ly which also became very popular with kids anywhere from 8-18 years old. TikTok was originally created by a Chinese company, ByteDance, and was not available in the United States. In November 2017, ByteDance purchased Musical.ly, and in August 2018, they shut down Musical.ly and merged it into TikTok. Essentially, TikTok is a more robust version of Musical.ly with a far larger, worldwide audience.
How popular is TikTok?
It is widely popular! Here are a few statistics for you:
- TikTok has 500 million active users worldwide. As a point of comparison, Snapchat has 190 million active users.
- In September 2019, TikTok became the #1 free non-gaming iOS app in the US.
- TikTok is the topmost downloaded app in the App Store.
- More than 1 billion videos are viewed every day.
- 56% of TikTok users are male compared to 44% female.
- The average time spent on the site is 52 minutes per day creating, viewing and sharing videos.
What do I need to know about TikTok to keep my child safe?
Quite honestly, the concerns around TikTok are like other social media apps: privacy, content, and connection to other users on the app. Here are some things to consider:
- Accounts automatically default to public when they are created. Make sure that your child’s account is set to private and periodically double check that your child has not switched back to public. Many kids want to connect to as many people as possible and will change the setting back to public.
- The app has an age restriction of 13 years. This essentially means that the app is not safe nor appropriate for younger users. While many children just want to create the videos, remember that they can search and view any public videos. There is content on the site that is highly inappropriate for younger kids. If your child is using this, consider using it with them so you can see the content that is being viewed.
- Direct messaging is available on TikTok. This allows users to communicate with each other within the app itself. Many parents, as a safety measure, periodically check their children’s text messages in an effort to know who they are communicating with and fail to realize that most social media apps have direct messaging features that performs the same function as texting. The main difference is that no phone number is needed. So, any user on TikTok can communicate with friends or strangers on the platform, through the direct messaging feature. Again, privacy settings are important to consider with direct messaging
Kids are finding TikTok to be wildly entertaining, and it provides an excellent space for creativity and connection with others when used safely and appropriately. If you are still wondering what the attraction is and how to interact with your child, you are not alone. Take 2 minutes to view this lovely video created by Reese Witherspoon who asks these same questions to her 15-year-old son.