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When I mention TikTok to anyone over the age of about 30, the usual response is a kind of blank stare. ‘What’s TikTok?’ they ask, saying ‘TikTok’ in the same slow, confused way that my mum says ‘mobile data’, sounding out every syllable with equal emphasis, like it’s a foreign language.
Chances are though that even if you don’t use TikTok, your young adults do. As we all know, responsible parents take internet safety very seriously and definitely don’t just watch Gardener’s World pretending not to have noticed that their teen is an hour over the screen time limit.
Seriously though, it is important to at least have an understanding of what TikTok is about, and how to use TikTok’s safety and security features, even if you’d rather be planning next year’s borders. It’s important to understand how to use it safely.
I’ve put together a TikTok guide for parents to help you get to grips with what it’s all about.
What is TikTok?
TikTok is a free app for 13+, (available on Android and IOS), that lets you record, share and watch short videos. They often involve goofing around to popular music, (I said ‘popular music’ in my head like an old person – ‘ooh is that in the hit parade?’), and TikTok can actually be influential in turning songs into hits.
Belle uses TikTok a lot for making short dance videos or odd montages where she jumps in the air and lands in a different outfit. The last thing that Belle made and showed me was a short video, set to music, of her pushing one of Joey’s toy cars slowly towards a woodlouse on the carpet. No, I don’t understand either, but this is what counts as funny nowadays apparently. My point is that there is a massive range of content on TikTok and it’s a great platform for exploring your creativity.
Once you’ve downloaded the app it’s easy to set up an account – either link up via an existing social media channel or using your email or phone number, plus your date of birth.
The homepage is extremely easy to navigate. Suggested content will appear for you – random popular things initially, like Cara Delevingne playing the guitar behind her head on the Tonight Show – and for each video you can use the icons on the right hand side to interact by liking, commenting, sharing, or visiting a profile. From a user’s profile you can choose to subscribe to their channel.
Swipe up or down to move through videos. The more you hit like on the stuff you like, the more TikTok will personalise your content.
I’m not going to pretend that I understand all of the teenage boys pranking each other, or the dances or anything like that, but I have to say that despite that I found it pretty hypnotic. There’s a massive amount of creativity on TikTok because everything can be done directly on your phone. You don’t need fancy cameras or editing equipment, so there are no barriers to entry.
How do I make a TikTok video?
Okay, so in THEORY this is easy – you hit the ‘+’ button on your profile and off you go. In practice, for me at least, it was HARD. Partly I just had no clue where to start or what to create, partly I’m old and don’t understand technology and some of it was sheer intimidation at the incredible talent evident in so many of the videos I watched. It’s all there though – filters galore, special effects, stickers, music – everything you need to make something super creative.
Scrolling through my homepage it’s obvious that if you have enough imagination, you can do pretty much anything. It’s just a matter of time surely before I can create something like this?
One way to ease yourself in if imagination isn’t your strong point is to look at the latest hashtag challenges. A hashtag challenge is a kind of competition, a way to encourage creativity and help people connect through shared activities and feel more like part of a community.
For example, when I was writing this there was a hashtag trending called #GWRdayrollwithit, which was a challenge for Guinness World Records Day to try to beat the world record for the most toilet rolls balanced on your head for 30 seconds. By searching for this hashtag under the ‘discover’ tab you can see all of the attempts and if you include the hashtag in your own video you become part of the challenge.
How do I make a TikTok account private?
TikTok is continuously working to create a safe and positive environment for its users and there’s already an online safety centre with lots of information, and community guidelines that set out respectful and appropriate use of the app. However, it’s really important as a parent to be able to help your teenagers use TikTok wisely.
One easy security measure that you can take as soon as you set up a TikTok account, and which I’d definitely recommend for younger teens, is to set your profile to private. To make your TikTok account private, simply click on the three dots in the top right hand corner of your profile, then go to ‘Privacy and Settings’ and then ‘Privacy and safety’.
You’ll then see lots of privacy settings, including the option to set your account to private and to switch off the ‘allow others to find me’ feature, which means random people can’t find you through search. Both of these are recommended for younger users. You also have to option to restrict other TikTok features, like commenting, messaging and duets, to just your friends, which seems like a sensible thing to do.
How can I limit TikTok screen time?
If you’re worried about your teenager spending hours a day scrolling through TikTok videos, (which I’m beginning to see could be easily done), then you’ll definitely want to check out the screen time management feature, found in the settings under ‘digital wellbeing’. Within this menu you’ll find two features – TikTok screen time management and restricted mode. Screen time management allows you to set screen time to 40, 60, 90 or 120 minutes per day and enabling restricted viewing mode filters out content that may be inappropriate for minors.
The great thing about both of these TikTok wellbeing features is that they are password-protected, so as the parent you can set a four-digit code and only you will be able to change the settings.
And that’s about it!
I hope my introduction to TikTok has helped you to get to grips with how TikTok works and how you can support your teenager in making it a creative and fun place to be. If you want any more TikTok safety information you can always have a watch of their fun safety videos.
(Is it even used as a verb? Probably not. Hey ho.)