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TikTok: A Ticking Time Bomb for Teens

Written by Evolve's Behavioral Health Content Team​:

Alyson Orcena, LMFT, Melissa Vallas, MD, Shikha Verma, MD, Ellen Bloch, LCSW, Lianne Tendler, LMFT, Megan Johnston, LMFT

Meet The Team >

Some call the app “digital karaoke.” On it, teens can create 3-15-second videos of themselves singing, lip-syncing, dancing, or doing anything at all – antics and silly pranks included — to background music. The videos, by default, loop on repeat, making it often addictive to keep watching.

Popular TikTok videos mostly show young adolescents, often provocatively dressed, dancing or singing to popular songs or lyrics from movies. Songs are often explicit—containing swear words or sexually suggestive terms. TikTok has its own celebrities, teens who have become famous and amassed millions of followers for their short videos

Is TikTok Safe for Teens?

The app is most popular for children under 16. Unfortunately, this makes it popular with pedophiles as well as child traffickers. In fact, so many instances of sexual crimes have taken place on the app that several countries (like Indonesia, for a while) have banned or blocked the app altogether. Sexual predators can try to seduce young adolescents and teens by sending provocative and inappropriate messages to their videos.

“Underage girls may receive a disproportionate number of creepy comments on the app,” writes Owen Phillips on Medium. “TikTok isn’t the only platform where underage users are hypersexualized. But the behavior is more severe on TikTok because teen users create videos that respond to the lyrics of explicit songs.”

The “For You” Feature

Additionally, TikTok’s “For You” feature—where users can discover other popular or trending videos of adolescents—makes matters worse. By default, every user’s account is public (although you can set it on “private” if you wish). This page, a feed of recommended videos based on recent history, can often expose adolescents to unwanted attention from pedophiles or strangers who frequent the page searching for vulnerable teens to interact with.

And of course, there are entire videos that are completely inappropriate for teens to be watching. Reviews on Common Sense Media report that many users make adult-content videos that can be classified as pornography.

Safety on TikTok

There are several ways you can try to make TikTok a safer experience. Firstly, the app’s Restricted Mode setting filters out inappropriate videos you won’t want your teen to watch. And of course, parents can instruct their teens to set their profiles to private so strangers can’t watch them.

However, the keyword here is “try.” There are no guarantees your teen won’t figure out a way to bypass these restrictions or change their profile to “public” when you’re unaware.

Should I Let My Teen Download TikTok?

Due to all of these concerns, at Evolve we believe that parents should not allow their teen to download TikTok.

Many parents, like the one below  who posted the following review on Common Sense Media, agree:

“…when left to her own devices, I found my 10 year old lip syncing to suggestive lyrics she didn’t even understand. And dancing and gesturing the way a rock diva does…What’s worse is that the rating system becomes addictive…She and her friends kept pushing the envelope to see how many “likes” they could get. What originally was supposed to be a private account became public for the thrill of getting the approval of strangers. Definitely started off sweet and innocent, then due to these unsavory lyrics, went down a bad path when I wasn’t watching.”

We find that TikTok is simply a ticking time bomb for adolescents and teens.

Our Behavioral Health Content Team

We are an expert team of behavioral health professionals who are united in our commitment to adolescent recovery and well-being.

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