Rowan J. Chetner is our kids columnist who focuses on Toronto teens. Chetner is a Grade 11 student at a local high school.
By now, you’ve definitely heard of TikTok — the app that has taken over teen lives. And with schools closed and all activities cancelled for the foreseeable future, chances are your kids are spending a lot of time on this app.
But what exactly is TikTok and why are young people obsessed with it? And is it safe for teens to be using? Don’t fret parents: I’m here to tell you what you need to know.
TikTok is a social media app that features a variety of videos that can be no longer than one minute. The videos (called TikToks) feature comedy sketches, people voicing their opinions or making jokes, and the famous TikTok dances. TikTokers make dances to short audio clips, share them, and people pick them up, copying their fellow TikTokers or adding their own twist.
Videos from people your teen follows, videos from popular creators, and videos getting a lot of likes, comments or shares appear on the For You page of the app, which is a curation of an endless stream of TikToks.
So parents, now that you know what is so mesmerizing about TikTok, let’s address some of the concerns. You may be worried about your teen being plastered all over the Internet.
Ensure your teen’s account is private so they have control over who sees their videos. If an account is private, they can accept or deny the people who want to view their TikToks. Their TikToks will also never appear on the For You page, eliminating the chance of them becoming TikTok famous.
If your teens refuse to make their account private, you should have a frank talk with them about the dangers of giving strangers access to their videos.
Another issue that worries many parents is the sexualization of their teenagers. Many people on TikTok dress in revealing clothes, obviously a source of concern for parents. Again, discuss this with your teen. Chat with them about what is appropriate attire, the importance of keeping their account private and the consequences of sexualizing themselves online.
Another issue that can arise is time management. Of course, if your teens are scrolling the app for hours, that is a problem, and you should talk to them about limiting screen time.
Worries aside, it’s important to remember that TikTok is a way for teens to express themselves. The problems the app brings are not unlike any other social media platform, and the same privacy measures should be taken.
For parents who are unsure how to have these conversations, my advice is to make it personal. I would want my parents to tell me about their own experiences. Did you ever neglect to protect your privacy and suffer the consequences? Tell me about it. Explain that you don’t want this to happen to me. But in the end, empower me: Tell me I’m smart and capable of making the right decision, and that you are confident that I will.