What Is TikTok – And Should I Let My Kids Use It?

Kids can create and share short videos – so why is it so popular?

There’s always something, isn’t there? Some new hot thing that the kids are into that seems baffling and scary – but it’s hard to tell what’s harmless and what we should really be worried about.

No grown-up can compete with a 12-year-old when it comes to adopting new technology, especially when it’s a platform built around looking cool. So we decided to break down TikTok for you – and give you everything you need to know.

What Actually Is TikTok?

TikTok is a social media platform where users create and share short videos, often with music in the background. It’s sort of like Vine (if you remember Vine). It used to be known as Musical.ly (well, Musical.ly and TikTok coexisted until the former was bought up by TikTok’s developers and merged into it). Users pick music, add filters or effects, and do the filming itself all through the app. They can either post it on TikTok’s platform or share it via Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or WhatsApp.

Who Is On It?

An awful lot of people. There are more than 500 million users worldwide, including more than 150 million in China, where the app was developed. It’s known as ‘Douyin’ there.

Regular Hollywood celebrities are on there, such as Jimmy Fallon, but the most followed are people a lot younger, many of whom are only famous through TikTok. Take 16-year-old German identical twins Lisa and Lena, who have the most subscribers, with a staggering 31.5 million. Jacob Sartorius and Baby Ariel appeared on the cover of Billboard Magazine before the merging of musical.ly and TikTok.

It Doesn’t Seem To Make Any Sense...

It does if you’re 13. As with any social network, TikTok has quickly developed its own growing language of in-jokes and memes that seem incomprehensible to outsiders, but reduce regular users to hysterical laughter.

The huge stars on it can have 20-30 million followers, but anyone not on the app could easily walk past them in the street.

So, Why Do Kids Like It?

It makes it incredibly easy-to-create cool videos. There’s music provided by the hottest acts in the world, awesome-looking filters and effects, and a potential audience of billions.

Should Parents Be Worried About It?

Like any social media site, there is the potential for all kinds of unpleasantness – from bullying and seeing inappropriate content, to being contacted by strangers. TikTok has been in the news recently after The Mirror reported finding suggestive comments, particularly on videos of young girls, trying to persuade them to post more extreme content. Live-streaming is supported by the app, along with real-time interaction from those watching, which a potential source for concern.

A TikTok spokesman told The Mirror: “We have a number of protective measures in place and are committed to enhancing them. We remove content and terminate accounts that violate our guidelines. We provide more info to assist parents and users in our Safety Centre.”

No one under 13 is meant to be able to sign up – as is the case with Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. It is age-rated on app stores, meaning it can only be downloaded with parental consent.

So What Can Be Done About It?

Having a conversation with your child about the app and how they use it is incredibly important. There are some measures that can be taken, such as children setting their accounts to private, and blocking anyone that behaves inappropriately, advises National Online Safety.

But most of it comes down to making sure that if your child is using TikTok, they must know what they should and shouldn’t be posting, what they should report immediately, and how not to place their self-esteem in the hands of the faceless strangers of the internet.

HuffPost UK contacted TikTok for further comment on the safety of the app and will update this piece when they respond. To read National Online Safety’s Parents’ Guide for TikTok, click here.