Parents' Ultimate Guide to TikTok

Is TikTok safe? How does it work? And can I do a duet with my kid? Everything you need to know about this popular musical singing and sharing app.

With so many social networks to keep track of, it's not surprising if your kid's obsession with the TikTok app leaves you scratching your head. So what is it exactly?

TikTok is a free social media app that lets you watch, create, and share videos -- often to a soundtrack of the top hits in music -- right from your phone. It was originally available as musical.ly in the U.S. but was rebranded when the two apps merged in August 2018. With more than 100 million users, Tik Tok is incredibly popular, owing in part to its slick mash-up of features from other kid favorites. As with the lip-synching app Dubsmash, users can watch and record videos of themselves lip-synching to popular music and sound bites. As they did on the now-defunct Vine, kids can create short, shareable videos ranging from funny to serious. And just like YouTube, Tik Tok is an interactive world of videos that lets you connect with friends and admirers through likes, comments, and even duets.

TikTok even spawns its own celebrities. Back before TikTok acquired musical.ly, overnight sensations like Baby Ariel and Jacob Sartorius gained internet fame on the app, especially with kids and teens. Since then, even more stars have joined the list.

But with so much information out there, it can be a challenge for parents to know if it's really safe. While TikTok videos are mostly harmless, creative fun, there are real concerns about kids using the app. As with any social network, you have to use privacy settings to limit how much information you and your kids are sharing. Kids can post stuff without reviewing or editing it first. And other issues have dogged the app: reports of online predators using the app to target younger users; an FTC suit for violating children's privacy law; and serious software glitches--including one that could have allowed the company to collect user data

Read Common Sense Media's full review of TikTok, and help your kids use it safely with answers to parents' most frequently asked questions below.

What is TikTok?
How safe is TikTok?
How does TikTok work?
Is TikTok appropriate for kids?

What age is TikTok recommended for?
Can kids under 13 use TikTok?
How can you make your TikTok account private?
How do I delete a TikTok video?
How can I delete a TikTok account?
How can I use TikTok with my kids?

How do you do a duet on TikTok?
What are TikTok Challenges?
Does TikTok have parental controls?
How can I monitor my kid's activity on TikTok?
What if my kid wants to get famous on TikTok?
Should I be concerned about TikTok's security?

 

What is TikTok?

TikTok is a social network for sharing user-generated videos, mostly of people lip-synching to popular songs. It was originally called musical.ly (pronounced MU-zik-lee). Users can create and upload their own videos where they lip-synch, sing, dance, or just talk. You can also browse and interact with other users' content, which covers a wide range of topics, songs, and styles. These videos can be grouped by hashtags, which often correspond to challenges or memes.

How safe is TikTok?

Using any social network can be risky, but it's possible for kids to safely use the app with adult supervision (and a private account). When you sign up for TikTok, your account is public by default, meaning anyone can see your videos, send you direct messages, and use your location information. Parents should make sure to turn on all privacy settings for accounts kids are using, so only people you know can interact with your videos or message you on the app. That means either opting for a private account or changing the settings for comments, duets, reactions, and messages to "Friends" instead of "Everyone." You can also turn those features off completely.

How does TikTok work?

Tik Tok users sign up with a phone number, an email address, or a third-party account such as Facebook and Instagram. Once logged in, you can search popular creators, categories (comedy, animals, sports), and hashtags to find videos. Or you can use your phone contacts or social media followers to find friends already on the app. Many kids on Tik Tok like to create videos, but plenty of people don't post themselves -- they just use the app to find and follow content creators.

Is TikTok appropriate for kids?

Because of TikTok's emphasis on popular music, many videos include swearing and sexual lyrics, so it may not be age-appropriate for kids to use on their own. It's also easy to find people wearing revealing clothing and dancing suggestively, although TikTok won't let you search for objectionable content such as "sex" or "porn." If you supervise your kids and stick to songs you already know from the radio, TikTok can be a kid-friendly experience. Users can also earn TikTok Reward points by inviting friends to download the app, and then they can redeem those points for coupons from brands like Sephora and Uber. It's also possible to spend real money by adding virtual coins to your Wallet.

What age is TikTok recommended for?

Common Sense recommends the app for age 15+ mainly due to the privacy issues and mature content. TikTok requires that users be at least 13 years old to use the full TikTok experience, although there is a way for younger kids to access the app. Anyone under the age of 18 must have approval of a parent or guardian -- but there are plenty of young tween users.

Can kids under 13 use TikTok?

If your younger kid or tween wants to use the app, there's a section of the app for kids under 13 that includes additional safety and privacy features. Kids can only see curated, clean videos, and aren't allowed to comment, search, or post their own videos. However, the lack of these features makes it unappealing for most kids, and bypassing that section only requires entering a false birthdate, so it's not perfect. The section is only available in the United States. It was introduced in 2019, after TikTok settled with the Federal Trade Commission for child privacy violations from TikTok's predecessor, Musical.ly. 

How can you make your TikTok account private?

To make your TikTok account private, go to your profile page and select the three-dot icon in the top-right corner. Select Privacy and Safety. There, toggle the switch for "Private Account." You can also select who can send you comments and direct messages, and who can do a duet with you. Using the "Friends" setting or turning those features off completely limits contact with strangers.

How do I delete a TikTok video?

To delete a TikTok video that you have posted to your account, select the video you want to delete from your profile. From there, tap the "..." icon in the bottom-right corner and select Delete or the trash can icon. You will be asked if you are sure you want to delete the video. Then it will be removed from your profile.

How can I delete a TikTok account?

To delete a TikTok account, go to your profile, then select the "..." icon in the top-right corner. Select Manage My Account. From there, you must add a phone number if you haven't already. This must be a working number, as they will text you a code to verify the number and later to verify deleting the account. Once you've added a phone number, an option at the bottom of the Manage My Account menu will appear that says, "Delete my account." Tap the phrase, which will lead you to a new page prompting you to enter a verification code. Choose "Send Code" to receive a text message with the verification code. Enter the number, then select Continue. You will be given information on what is entailed in deleting the account. Choose Continue once again for a final confirmation that you want to delete your account, then tap Delete Account. 

How can I use TikTok with my kids?

You can provide a buffer between kids and iffy content by watching with your kids and making videos together. Offer to hold the camera or turn it around to do a selfie duet. You can post it or save it as "private" so only you can see. The app also lets you share videos by email, text, or other social media where you can better control who sees it, so kids can perform for friends and relatives instead of a wider network of people.

How do you do a duet on TikTok?

TikTok has a feature that allows two users who aren't in the same place to perform a duet. Both users must follow each other to make it work. One user creates and posts a video, and then a mutual follower can tap the "..." icon at the bottom right of the video and select "start duet now!" The second user can then lip-synch along with the first person, either swapping back and forth or in a split screen.

What are TikTok Challenges?

Challenges are any idea that goes viral. They can be songs, activities, or dances that start trending and then get copied by users on the platform. Sometimes they're spontaneous, but sometimes they're planned out by brands, musical artists, or influencers for marketing purposes. Most popular challenges, such as the intricately choreographed dance number Renegade and pranks such as the backwards hoodie fridge mixup are harmless. But some, such as the skull-breaker, are really dangerous. Learn more about viral internet challenges and how to talk to your kid about them. 

Does TikTok have parental controls?

TikTok allows parents to set time limits, filter mature content, and disable direct messaging for kids' accounts. You can enable time limits and the content filter on your kid's phone and protect the settings with a passcode, but to disable direct messaging you need to use the app's Family Pairing feature. (Family Pairing also gives you access to time limits and content filter settings.) You'll need your kid's phone to sync the settings.

Here's how to enable screen limits and filter content: Go to your kid's account and tap the three dots at the top right of the user profile. Then select "Digital Wellbeing" next to the icon of an umbrella. From there, select the features you want to enable:

Screen Time Management. This setting limits users to a maximum of two hours on the app per day, but you can limit it to 40 minutes. If you're only enabling this on your kid's phone, choose a passcode to lock the setting.
Restricted Mode. This blocks mature content, but even with the filter on, kids using the app on their own might come across age-inappropriate videos. Lock the setting with a passcode.

To set up Family Pairing so you can manage the above settings plus disable direct messaging, first download TikTok onto your phone and create an account. Then, make sure you have your kid's phone and their TikTok log-in handy.
Family Pairing. On both phones, tap the three dots next to the user profile; tap Family Pairing and sync your account to your kid's via the QR code. 

Keep in mind kids can always re-download TikTok and create a new account using a different phone number or email address, so any controls you enable aren't foolproof.

How can I monitor my kid's activity on TikTok?

Other than Restricted Mode, there's no way to filter out content on TikTok, so parents are encouraged to share an account with kids under the age of 13. This will let you keep an eye on what your kid is viewing and posting. Parents of older kids who are more resistant to monitoring can ask about their favorite video creators and get to know their videos (with or without your kid). Also, take the time to regularly look at the most popular songs, videos, memes, and challenges.

What if my kid wants to get famous on TikTok?

While the safest way to use TikTok is with a private account, the social nature of the app and the rapid success of its stars might have your kids begging to set it to public. There's huge enticement to get famous, which could encourage kids to do things they wouldn't normally do to get a larger audience. They may also become obsessed with "likes" and virtual approval. Encourage and model safe behavior, and make sure to set limits on the type of information your kid shares.

Should I be concerned about TikTok's security?

Many people and organizations—including the U.S. government and companies like Wells Fargo—are worried that TikTok's parent company ByteDance (based in China) is using the app to spy on users in other countries. Investigations of TikTok found that the app's privacy policy and data collection practices aren't actually any worse than other social media apps, and that the concerns about spying are probably overblown. (However, the company does surveil users of the app in China.) 

That said, TikTok doesn't necessarily have a perfect record when it comes to privacy and security. For example, they only recently fixed a bug that allowed the app to access users' clipboards (where things you copy and paste are stored) every three seconds, even when they weren't using the app. They also illegally stored minors' data