TikTok’s skyrocketing popularity over the last year has parents wondering: What is Tiktok and is it safe? A video-sharing app created in China in 2016, TikTok social media gained 60 million users in the United States during 2020, bringing it to more than 100 million users here and 689 million internationally. TikTok is now the most frequently downloaded non-gaming app, with 2020 revenue estimated at $1 billion. TikTok even helped to kick off the 2021 Super Bowl, with a TikTok Tailgate featuring Miley Cyrus.
The majority of TikTok users are teens and young adults. By fall 2020, 69 percent of US teens were TikTok users, with slightly more female teens than males, according to Business of Apps, which provides data and analysis on the app industry. And 29 percent of teenagers now say TikTok is their favorite social media platform, as compared with only 4 percent in fall 2019. The biggest TikTok star so far is a teenager: dancer Charli Grace D’Amelio, age 16, who has 105 million followers.
In addition, more than 6 million users have taken TikTok’s 15Minutes4Me test, a mental health screening tool. While the accuracy of the 25-question quiz is not verified by mental health professionals, “it may bring attention to mental health struggles and help people to prioritize self-care,” says Kristin Wilson, LPC, Newport Academy’s Vice President of Clinical Outreach.
Who Is On TikTok Social Media?
The original TikTok was named to represent the sound of a ticking clock. The app was created in China in 2016 and owned by the Beijing tech company ByteDance. In 2017, ByteDance purchased the lip-syncing app Musical.ly and combined the two apps under the name TikTok. The rebranded TikTok was launched in 2018, for both Apple and Android smartphones and other devices. By December 2020, the TikTok app had been downloaded 6 billion times. And as of early 2021, TikTok was poised to introduce new e-commerce features, according to the Financial Times.
Here’s a look at who is on TikTok social media and how often they use it.
- 66 percent of TikTok users globally are under the age of 30.
- In the United States, 60 percent of TikTok users are between the ages of 16 and 24.
- In 2020, 18 percent of internet users around the world between the ages of 16 and 64 used TikTok.
- As of August 2020, 100 million people in the United States used TikTok on a monthly basis, and 50 million used it daily.
- A little over half of those on TikTok use the app on an iPhone.
- TikTok users spend an average of 52 minutes per day on the app, with younger teens spending 80 minutes a day.
- Users open the app an average of eight times a day, and use it for about five minutes each time.
TikTok users are officially supposed to be at least 13 years old. However, it’s not difficult to find a way around the age-verification process. Therefore, there are quite a few tweens on TikTok social media as well as teens.
TikTok has created its own celebrities, whose videos become launching pads for their IRL careers. Lil Nas X became a star after releasing his song “Old Country Road” on TikTok. A pair of identical twins from Germany, Lisa and Lena, used the app to launch their own clothing line after their account became the most popular on TikTok.
What Teens Do on TikTok Social Media
Because it’s associated with Musical.ly, people often think TikTok is an app for lip-syncing or karaoke. But it is more like Vine, a video app created by Twitter and then shut down in 2016. (Vine’s creator launched a new version, Byte, in early 2020.) TikTok users create 15-second videos using the app’s editing, animation, and special effects tools, such as filters. They can string the short videos together to create longer ones of up to one minute long. Then they share their videos on the platform, and other users can like them and comment on them.
The videos typically reference Gen Z pop culture, like video games and memes. (Memes are ideas, images, or activities that are copied, with small variations, and spread online via social media.) Teens can share videos of themselves and their friends dancing, singing, skateboarding, performing gymnastics, doing comedy routines, or conducting science experiments. If they like a video, they can create their own version using the same music. Or they can select music and other sounds from TikTok’s library of clips, or use their own recordings. They can create “duets” by copying videos and adding their own video beside the original. They can even record themselves reacting to another user’s video and then share that reaction.
Teenagers also engage in TikTok challenges on the app. They can click on hashtags to find various challenges that are trending. For example, #purpleshampoo will lead you to a series of dozens of videos of users trying a purple shampoo. Or users might post videos of themselves dancing to a new pop song, putting on or taking off makeup, pretending to have special powers, or rolling on the ground like a tumbleweed. (The#tumbleweedchallenge was launched by talk show host Jimmy Fallon.)
The Positives of TikTok Social Media
One New York Times writer called TikTok “the only truly pleasant social network in existence.” In part, that’s because TikTok can inspire creativity and community. Teens get together with friends to make videos, or share their own style and creations. Moreover, many of the videos are lighthearted and funny.
Furthermore, there are no display ads or news on TikTok, so teens aren’t exposed to scary events or to constant marketing. (Some brands, such as Hollister and Kool-Aid, work with TikTok influencers to create viral campaigns.)
Is TikTok Safe for Kids?
Is TikTok safe for teens? There are a few areas of concern regarding whether TikTok is safe for kids or not.
- Inappropriate contact with strange adults: This a common concern regarding many social media platforms. On TikTok, it’s easier for people you don’t know to view your content than on sites where you see only posts from friends.
- Cyberbullying: There have been some reports of teenagers bullying or harassing on TikTok, via the comments that users can leave on others’ videos.
- Exposure to disturbing content: TikTok teens may be exposed to videos with violent or sexual content, or videos depicting self-harm. In addition, some of the popular music used on the app contains profanity and sexually explicit lyrics. The lack of substantial oversight or enforced guidelines on TikTok, like those some other social platforms have begun to review and adopt, have resulted in inappropriate video posting.
To protect teenagers against inappropriate contact with other users and disturbing content, parents can make sure that teenagers set their TikTok accounts to private. Hence, only people they approve can follow them, comment on their videos, or post hearts on their videos.
In addition, parents can turn off all commenting in their teen’s account, hide the account from the search function, block messages, and prevent other users from posting reactions to their videos. Furthermore, TikTok allows users to filter out spam, certain keywords, and negative comments, and block other users’ accounts.
Finally, if parents aren’t comfortable with their kids posting videos, teens can watch others’ videos without creating an account. Most important, parents can pay close attention to how much time their teen spends on TikTok social media, and keep an eye on what they’re watching and posting.
Perhaps most revolutionary of all—parents can collaborate with their teens to make videos to post on the app. Teens might not be receptive—but if they are, it can become a fun family activity that gives parents a glimpse into what their teens are doing on TikTok.