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TikTok: What You Should Know About It

TikTok: What You Should Know About It

Why is TikTok so popular, what are the pros and cons of using it, and should your teens be on it?

TikTok has been downloaded more than 1 billion times in 2 years. Its short videos are mesmerizing kids, teens, and even adults all over the world. In fact, TikTok is one of the fastest-growing and most popular apps in the world, according to Business Insider. But like any exploding craze, there are questions, hiccups, and concerns—especially among parents. We spoke with social media experts and the parents of kids swiping through every day to understand why the app is consuming a generation.

What is TikTok?

TikTok is a short-form video-sharing app similar to (the now-defunct) Vine, with videos ranging from 5 seconds to 1 minute, according to Rafael Sales, data strategist at Sparkloft Media, a social media creative agency. Users scrolling through can find comedy, music, dance, and drama. Martin Stoll, CEO of Sparkloft Media and father of a 12-year-old and 10-year-old, explains that because TikTok is a very visual platform, it is perfectly suited to a younger audience. Think about it: What is more entertaining to a 10-year-old than 30-second videos you can react to with a sticker? Brands are even using it as a marketing tool: For example, Nike in Milan worked with athletes and TikTok influencers to create three challenges encouraging girls to show off their sports skills. The challenges garnered more than 100 million views and 540,000 likes—and inspired 46,000 user-generated routines in response.

RELATED: 3 Ways to Keep Your Kids Safe Online

Why is TikTok so popular?

One very obvious reason the app has become a worldwide sensation is, simply, because it’s entertaining. The short videos will make you laugh, sing, and mimic the creativity of others. As a result, its content is spreading like wildfire.

TikTok has also gained followers for its ability to hook into its users’ preferences using an algorithm: If you like “challenges” where people mimic choreography to a Mariah Carey song, for example, the app will continue to feed you similar videos. “TikTok will quickly adapt to your taste to offer the most relevant, interesting, fun, quirky, head-turning videos that you’ll never want to stop watching,” according to the company.

The strength of this algorithm has its pros and cons. On the one hand, once the app gets to know your 13-year-old daughter, she will likely be consuming content that is suited for her (rather than, say, sexually explicit dance moves and cursing that is not). On the other hand, if your son is participating in a viral challenge and his account is public, his video may be seen by millions of people whom TikTok has also targeted as interested in that content.

Controversy and Concerns About TikTok

Any product that takes off this quickly doesn’t do so without a hitch. So far there has been controversy due to TikTok’s Chinese roots and the rumor that it is being used as a “giant data vacuum” by China, according to Stoll. The company was also accused of censoring political content. Individuals have claimed their accounts were suspended for posting videos related to the Hong Kong protests and Chinese detention camps, according to The Washington Post. U.S. senators are investigating these allegations and TikTok has made official statements regarding the concern, claiming it’s committed to earning the trust of its users and happy to participate in any investigations.

Should your teens TikTok?

Luckily for parents, there are privacy and safety settings, as well as Screen Time Management and Restricted Mode options, according to Sierra Filucci, editorial director of Common Sense Media and mother of a 15-year-old. Parents can set these using a passcode. TikTok also requires users to be at least 13 years old and receive a guardian’s approval if they are younger than 18.

Filucci, however, thinks parents should get to know the app before allowing access. “If parents are more hands-on, monitoring what kids are doing, have checked out the app, and feel comfortable with the content they see, then they can make the determination of whether or not their kid is ready for it,” she says. “I’m comfortable with my 15-year-old using TikTok because we talk about it a lot, I have a lot of visibility, and cursing isn’t a problem for me. It may be for other parents.”

Like with any social media, parents should have a conversation about TikTok and the responsibilities involved with posting on the internet, Stoll suggests. If safety boundaries are set, you familiarize yourself with the app, and you direct the conversation toward opinion rather than judgment, the app can open the door to laughter, bonding with your kids, and even creativity.

“Sometimes [my 15-year-old daughter and I] just lay on the bed and scroll through,” Filucci says. “I think it shows her I’m not dismissive of this thing she loves and that I can laugh along with her to the funny things.”


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Melissa Wickes

Author: Melissa Wickes, a graduate of Binghamton University and the NYU Summer Publishing Institute, is the production editor for NYMetroParents. She's written hundreds of articles to help New York parents make better decisions for their families. When she's not writing, you can find her eating pasta, playing guitar, or watching reality TV. See More

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