What on earth is cottagecore or a dark academia aesthetic, or the "Renegade" dance and why are you suddenly hearing Dream by Fleetwood Mac everywhere? It's all because of TikTok, the video-sharing platform designed for short videos that teenagers can share with their friends – and the whole world.
And that's exactly what parents are afraid of, particularly following the recent death of a 10-year-old Italian girl, thought to have choked herself to take part in a viral challenge on the app. Though most trends are harmless and call for a lot of creativity, some challenges have been criticized for overly sexualizing minors or promoting violence among many others. Although governments have tightened controls over apps such as TikTok by appointing local representatives, not all content can be moderated enough or in time, especially when the app has over 800 million active users.
If your child is on TikTok, media experts suggest you ask yourself these three questions.
The most important thing a parent of a child starting out on TikTok can do is to make sure set the child's profile is set to private. That ensures that their posts on the short video platform can only be seen by people who they've allowed to follow them.
To protect against unwanted contact by strangers it's also recommended to make sure that only friends can send messages or leave comments on videos.
All this should be private by default for anyone under the age of 18. As of January, TikTok stipulates a minimum age of 13 to sign up and the age of 18 for full access to features, such as private messaging, making an account public and allowing strangers to comment on videos.
However, many minors are believed to lie about their age so they can sign up and gain full access, which adds to parents' woes about which age is right to allow children to sign up to social media accounts.
"The issue of age verification – so-called age gating – is an industry-wide challenge that we are working on together with authorities and our industry partners," TikTok said as part of a recent campaign to protect minors from grooming.
Pending the ongoing debate about whether or not TikTok's efforts to check the age of users is effective, parents are advised to make sure their child isn't secretly posting videos that can be seen and commented on by the hundreds of millions on TikTok.
TikTok's lip-syncing performances are something many children will be reluctant to carry out in front of parents. And while you should honor your child's right to privacy, you also should not leave them alone to deal with the risks.
"It's a good idea for parents to get involved and try out the app's functions together with their child," says Kristin Langer, a media coach specializing in adolescent use of social media.
Deborah Woldemichael, who works with an EU-funded initiative aimed at protecting children online, has this advice for parents: "If they allow their children to use it, then they should accompany them and support them if there are problems."
Parents should go through the account settings together with their children and also regularly check what their child is watching on TikTok and whether the app is causing them stress.
However, parents need to be prepared for discussions about TikTok's settings for public and private videos and comments and to be able to explain why they think posting videos to a potential audience of millions is dangerous.
Another tip for parents is to find out what the child wants to achieve with their performances. Is it about copying pop stars or people they see on TV? This could also be done in a smaller group. Why not rehearse something for the next family gathering?
Or is it about becoming famous? TikTok stars earn a lot of money as influencers and are given clothes, make-up and electronics for free.
"This is a welcome opportunity to research together with your child how much work being an influencer really involves. This includes finding out who actually makes the decisions when making a video," suggests Langer.
By the age of 12 (or earlier), teenagers no longer want to hide away and instead want to feel like a pop star and get recognition. They want more than just their friends or family to see their videos and posts, says Langer.
To keep the rest of the world outside, parents might try the following: "How would you feel if this video of you was performed in the reception area of your school or in the town center?" It wouldn't just be seen by everyone, but total strangers could save it forever – just TikTok videos?
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