TikTok has been a source of refuge and fun for so many, both before but especially during the pandemic. Like YouTube, Instagram, and many apps before it, TikTok users are seeing a rise in “Challenges”; some are harmless, some are not. Whether coming from a Hollywood celebrity, a popular musician, or a digital influencer – challenges are being shared and our kids are looking to recreate them for either entertainment, a sense of belonging or a desire for their 15 minutes of fame.

What should parents know? How can we help kids use TikTok in safe & healthy ways?

In our 18th episode of the Managing Family Life Online Webinar Series, we discussed TikTok challenges with Diana Graber, founder of Cyber Civics/Cyberwise, and author of “Raising Humans in a Digital World: Helping Kids Build a Healthy Relationship with Technology.”  If you are completely new to TikTok, take a moment and read our overview from last summer as a refresher.

Although this episode focused on a variety of topics from security settings to digital literacy to specific online challenges, here are a few key takeaways:

  • Before diving into a challenge, dive into the safety features. TikTok has many features and settings designed to help families with the safe and secure use of their app. Here are some incredibly helpful features:
    • Family pairing allows parents to limit the amount of time, type of content, and connections with others.
    • Restricted mode limits the appearance of content that may not be appropriate for all audiences. Found under the “Digital Wellness” setting, parents can limit the time spent and content seen on the app, even without Family Pairing enabled.
    • Discoverability helps parents limit the searchability of the content on your child’s account, limiting it to friends rather than the wider world. The tool also prevents other people from seeing what videos your child has liked.
  • Not all challenges are created equal. TikTok is usually known for fun dance routines or funny filters but should be noted that dangerous challenges have also emerged. For every fun, family challenge like the blinding light dance or drinking cranberry juice to Fleetwood Mac, there is inappropriate, dangerous or overtly sexual content on the app. The ‘blackout’ challenge, which encourages people to try and pass out by restricting their airflow, has resulted in the death of a child as young as 10. A full list of these dangerous challenges/trends was collected and shared here by Newsweek. Be informed about these, talk to your kids about what they are doing and seeing on TikTok, and discuss why some challenges are ok while others are not.
  • Parents & schools should prioritize digital citizenship and literacy. What most kids do not realize is that participating in a challenge or app is more than a moment in time. They may seem fun now, but their participation could haunt them for the rest of their life.  Ask kids to think about what they are doing online and how they might feel if the whole world could see it forever.  Privacy settings can help them avoid such issues down the road, but the best setting?  Thinking before you post.
  • We are all responsible for our own app usage. Although societal norms happen in a group setting, it is the contributions of individuals that help build that momentum. We may wish that apps or social media companies would design their products to avoid negative issues, but we need to acknowledge the role we play and how we can better arm ourselves and our children with proper digital hygiene. Take the time and ownership to read the full privacy policy of any app/service with your kids and go over the full safety features with them and why using them are important. By taking this time to both educate and discuss (maybe in some cases debate) these matters as a family, you will help the next generation become better, safer, smarter digital community members.

To hear more on this topic, listen to the full conversation here. We also have a full list of tips for safe and healthy social media use which can be found here.

If you are interested in learning more on this topic some additional resources include:

For more about our webinar series, visit /internet-safety/webinars

Lynette Owens

Lynette Owens

Founder and Global Director of Trend Micro's ISKF

Lynette Owens is the Founder and Global Director of Trend Micro’s Internet Safety for Kids and Families program. With 20+ years in the tech industry, Lynette speaks and blogs regularly on how to help kids become great digital citizens. She works with communities and 1:1 school districts across the U.S. and around the world to support digital literacy and citizenship education. She is a board member of the National Association of Media Literacy Education and serves on the advisory boards of INHOPE and U.S. Safer Internet Day, and on the national advisor council of Media Literacy Now.