Dear Lifehacker, My daughter's primary school is in the midst of a TikTok craze. All her classmates use the app on their parents' phones to create duets and share music videos. My daughter doesn't want to be left out, but I have read disturbing reports about the safety of the app, particularly when it comes to online predators. On a scale of one to ten, how dangerous is TikTok for kids? Thanks, Unmusical Mother
The truth is, all social media apps are potentially unsafe for children - but the same can be said of trampolines or crossing the road. Like so many things in life, it all comes down to effective parenting.
For those not in the know, TikTok (formerly musical.ly) is a music video creation app similar to Vine - users edit and upload short clips of themselves dancing and lip-syncing to snippets of music. The app is especially popular with children and young teenagers.
The app has been banned in some Australian schools; in large part due to bullying in the comments and the prevalence of "sexualised" dance moves. (You can blame mainstream music videos for this - the kids are just emulating what they see.)
A dad named Jack R. says just about every week, his 9-year-old son asks if he can use the app Musical.ly. His son's best friend has been telling him that everyone at school has an account. After hearing the kid beg all summer, Jack finally decided to download it onto his own phone and sign up himself so that he could look into the privacy settings and "see how stranger-danger it was."
When he entered his gender (male) and birthday (he's 32), Jack says he was bombarded with content he never expected.
In addition, the app has the potential to attract unwanted attention from strangers when videos are set to public. Anyone can download the videos without permission and it's possible to message kids directly through the app.
Fortunately, it's easy to switch accounts to private. This means only you and approved TikTok members (i.e. - your daughter's friends) can see the videos that she posts.
How to make your Musically account private
To make your TikTok account private, click the icon in the lower right and go to Settings. Scroll down to 'private account' and move the slider to the green position. That's it!
Naturally, you should instruct your daughter to ask you first before she attempts to add anyone to the 'approved' list. The same goes for other users' accounts that your daughter wishes to follow. You should also vet anything she wants to upload before it goes online. Presumably, your daughter doesn't have a phone of her own yet, which should make things much easier to monitor!
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